It has been 15 years since famed archeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) was onscreen in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and even longer since he was onscreen in a decent movie. Fans were worried if that creative flop would be the last they’d ever see of Indy, but now he has a second chance to make a last impression. With new director James Mangold at the helm, I suppose there was a chance that this franchise could have dug itself even deeper into the hole, but I’m pleased to say that this entry is not an embarrassment. It’s too bad I can’t say anything better than that, but it's more than I could say for the last movie.
An opening sequence sees a younger Indy (using not-perfect but not-distracting digital de-aging effects on Ford) rescue an artifact from Nazis at the tail end of World War II with the help of bumbling colleague Basil (Toby Jones). This sequence takes place on a moving train, so there are seemingly endless opportunities to throw bad guys off screaming. It’s fun, if a bit overlong, which can be said of all the action sequences in this movie.
Flash forward to 1969. Indy is in his twilight years, and it seems the world has left him behind. His wife Marion (Karen Allen) has left him, his neighbors wake him up with loud rock music, he can’t keep his students’ attention in class, and the university is forcing him into retirement. The only pleasant surprise in his day is a visit from Helena (Pheobe Waller-Bridge), the late Basil’s daughter and his goddaughter. She has a proposal involving the Dial of Destiny, the artifact Indy and her father rescued from the Nazis. He’s not up for another adventure, but he can help her in simple fashion, and this ironically gets him pulled into an even bigger adventure.
It turns out that the duplicitous Helena just wants to steal the Dial and sell it. She’s being tailed by the CIA and renowned scientist Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi leftover who knows the Dial’s true power. Indy just wants the Dial to be safe, and if that includes protecting Helena and her kid sidekick Teddy (Ethann Isodore) and stopping the bad guys, then so be it.
The rest of the movie is mostly just an elaborate treasure hunt where Indy and Helena navigate clues, booby traps, and conflicting loyalties in various cities, with Voller usually showing up to get everyone into an action sequence. Old friend Sallah (Jonathan Rhys-Davies) shows up along the way, as does Renaldo (Antonio Banderas), a diver Indy enlists for an underwater mission. The film’s climax sees Voller try to exploit the time-travel capabilities of the Dial. As evil as he is, I had a laugh at the idea that Voller’s master plan is technically the same thing that every time traveler wants to do.
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Until the time-travel conclusion (which is at least handled with more dignity than those aliens from “Crystal Skull”), “Dial of Destiny” is just perfectly average for Indiana Jones. Certain visual components look a little too polished to be natural, but otherwise a familiar sense of fun is still in play. Indy’s wit is as quick as ever, and of course any character played by Waller-Bridge is going to be pretty sharp too. The charm of 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is never quite matched, but that may be too high a standard. Some will say that putting a character as iconic as Indiana Jones in a just-okay movie is a disservice to his cinematic legacy, but I choose to focus on the upside of this movie being a satisfactory end note for the character compared to what it would have been otherwise.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, language and smoking. Its running time is 154 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.