The decades-old franchise ends not with a bang (bang), but with a mostly agreeable whimper.
Look no further than the James Mangold-directed Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the decade-in-the-making fifth installment in the venerable Indiana Jones series kickstarted 32 years ago by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Philip Kaufman, for a stark reminder and/or example that some franchises, uncritically beloved or otherwise, should be left in the rear-view and appreciated for the combination of escapism, craftsmanship, and Nazi punching they once delivered to eager, willing audiences. It’s also proof positive that nostalgia, that sentimental attachment to things and people from our individual and collective pasts, can’t gloss over what was, is, and always will be, an unironic attempt at profit-seeking brand management, IP strip-mining by any other unfortunate name.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens with a reminder, not necessarily of things to come story-wise, but of the past, specifically the title character, Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford), part-time archeologist and rehabilitated grave robber, doing what he’s always done best, satisfyingly punching adherents of the Third Reich in a rousing 25-minute prologue ably helmed by Mangold in agreeably Spielberg-lite mode. The back-to-the-past prologue centers on a believably de-aged Ford as Jones and Brit thespian Toby Jones as his comrade-in-archeology, Basil Shaw. Captured attempting to infiltrate a Nazi stronghold where the Nazis, facing the end of their war of conquest and genocide, scramble like rats leaving a sinking submersible, try to steal as many art treasures as they can grab before the Allies inevitably arrive and spoil their party.
For Jones (Indy, not Toby), it’s one last chance at 1940s’s-style derring-do, miraculously escaping the end of a noose one moment, stealing a motorcycle the next, and jumping onto a moving train moments later. Indy manages to save a recently captured/kidnapped Shaw while derailing the plans of an art-thieving Nazi officer, Colonel Weber (Thomas Kretschmann), and Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi scientist obsessed, like Indy, with ancient relics rumored to contain unimaginable powers, including the Antikythera, a gears-and-all mechanical dial created by Archimedes in 214 B.C.E., potentially capable of changing history.
Except, of course, it’s not quite that easy. The Archimedes dial in Voller’s hands is only half the mechanism. The other half remains unfound for most of the Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’s overlong, over-indulgent running time that begins in 1944 before jumping forward to 1969, days after the successful Apollo 11 moon landing. An aged, scarred Voller, now a respected professor and NASA scientist, still dreams of bringing fascism back into power by any means necessary. That means involves retrieving the two halves of the Antikythera, slapping them together, and letting the Antikythera work its vaguely science-based magic.
The Indy we meet in 1969, though, doesn’t look or sound like a man ready for one last, glorious adventure. He’s ready to retire from an unrewarding stint as an archaeology professor at Hunter College in New York City, leaving bored, uninterested students behind. Separated and estranged from his son, Mutt Williams (Shia Leboeuf), and the love of his life, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy lives a bleak, lonely existence, a man broken by the vicissitudes of time, questionable life choices, and regret for those choices. It’s as low as audiences have seen the once know-it-all, do-it-all adventurer who helped save the world from Nazi (2x) and Soviet (once) menaces in the past.
Not surprisingly, Indy’s low point means there’s only one direction for him to travel and it’s up: Reconnecting with his long-lost (ret-conned) goddaughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a budding archeologist and adventurer like her father and Indy. Helena wants to find the second half of the Antikythera, though at least initially, her reasons remain murky. Invigorated by Helena’s presence and the promise of a new/old life, Indy finds himself pulled into the search for the Antikythera. Not surprisingly, Voller hasn’t stopped looking either, setting himself and his fascist-minded minions, against Indy, Helena, and later, Helena’s de facto ward, Teddy Kumar (Ethann Bergua-Isidore), and stops at multiple locales, including Tangier and Greece, to add the globetrotting feel typical of the series.
Predictably filled with multiple set pieces involving trains, planes, and automobiles (among others), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny hits and re-hits overly familiar action beats, throwing in all manner of obstacles at Indy, Helena, and Teddy on the ground, in the air, and even underwater. Some play as fan service, as callbacks to earlier moments in the series, meant to initiate a Pavlovian response from nostalgic audiences. Just as predictably, those hits of nostalgic work time and again, though with diminishing returns until a slightly daft third act, bringing together the film’s themes of time, regret, and reconciling ourselves with the past, helps to send off Indy and company on a relatively high note.
As always in the now five-film, decades-spanning series, Ford can be counted on to deliver his level best, adding an overlay of perpetual exhaustion and persuasive grumpiness to his last time out as the archeologist/adventurer who first thrilled audiences 42 years ago with his bravado, resourcefulness, and indomitability. His Indy may be living under the ever-increasing realization of his own mortality, but like the most root-worthy heroes in fiction, he’s not going to go quietly into the good night. That Indy gets to fight — and presumably, beat — the living daylights out of the Nazis one last time certainly helps the fifth, ultimately redundant entry go down a little more smoothly than the 2008 misfire.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny opens theatrically on Friday, June 30th, via Disney Pictures.