"We’re witnessing history," says Harrison Ford’s iconic archaeologist towards the climax of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. True enough. Officially, this fifth outing is the end of the road for Indy, although incoming director James Mangold, who similarly brought Wolverine’s arc to a close in 2017’s Logan, ensures we go out on a high.
There’s a nostalgic, old-fashioned feel to the film, a rollicking, globe-trotting ride that pits Ford’s intrepid adventurer against the Nazis once more. Certainly, it makes up for 2008’s outlandish Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, with a more grounded story. Well, until the final reel, at least… (no spoilers!)
It begins in 1944, with Ford de-aged, looking like the Indy of old. The CG work on the star impresses, even if the sequence as a whole is a little too overloaded with VFX. We find Indy and archeologist pal Basil Shaw (Toby Jones) chasing the Lance of Longinus – the blade that drew Christ’s blood – in a race against the Nazis, who are scooping up antiquities across Europe. The opener culminates in a lengthy chase atop a train, as Indy goes mano-a-mano with high-ranking Nazi Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), with all his usual derring-do.
Cut to 25 years later. On the eve of the Moon landings, Indy’s living in a crummy New York apartment (a photo of Dad, as played by Sean Connery, is on the wall – a nice touch). He’s woken up by his neighbours loudly playing The Beatles’ 'Magical Mystery Tour', though it’s fairly clear Dr. Jones has not turned on, tuned in and dropped out. He’s grumpy with these long-hairs. Even the kids he teaches at Hunter College, where he’s been for 10 years, have little interest in what he has to say.
With his marriage to Marion seemingly over, Indy is also on the verge of retirement, his days of whip-cracking long behind him… Until, that is, he’s paid a visit by his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), Basil’s offspring. She’s desperate to continue her father’s search for Archimedes’ Dial, a gizmo he believed could predict fissures in time. Trouble is, she’s not the only one looking for it. So is Voller, still alive and, under an assumed identity, instrumental in helping the US government in the Space Race. Joined by Boyd Holbrook’s ruthless muscle Klaber, he’s been tracking Helena’s movements…
As she yanks Indy into her pursuit, we discover that Helena (or 'Womba' as Indy says, using her childhood nickname) isn’t entirely pure of heart. She’s something of a chancer, with gambling debts to boot – interesting character choices that add nuance. As the action moves to Tangier and later Greece, she hooks up with her adept teenage protégé Teddy (Ethann Isidore). There’s also room for Antonio Banderas in a small role as an old chum of Indy’s, a Spanish deep-sea diver, who takes the group underwater as they continue to seek a missing part of the Dial.
Mangold doesn’t overplay the nostalgic throwbacks, although there’s a nice reference to Indy drinking "the blood of Kali" (from 1984’s Temple of Doom) and, thankfully, we do get to see an on-screen map charting the characters’ movements. There’s also an appearance by series veteran Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), although given the vitality he brings, he’s disappointingly underused. For once, Indy doesn’t have to face his greatest fear, but worry not – there are plenty of other icky things he’s forced to endure.
Mikkelsen is chilling as Voller ("You didn’t win the war. Hitler lost it," he sneers in one scene), who’s assuredly the best antagonist Indy has faced since Mola Ram brought new meaning to 'pulling the heartstrings'. Waller-Bridge makes for a good foil for Indy, calling him "an ageing grave-robber" and coming out with some choice Anglo phrases ("cheeky bugger"). And as you’d hope, Ford slips effortlessly back into the role – the wry smile, the quick put-downs ("You’re German, Voller, don’t try and be funny").
The action is slickly handled by Mangold, not least a thrilling tuk-tuk chase through Tangier. But best of all, this is an Indiana Jones film with tears in its eyes. We see the character has grown older, but not necessarily wiser. Drinking a bit too much, he’s full of regrets about pursuing fortune and glory and leaving his loved ones behind. "Family never was your strong suit," chides Helena, clearly unhappy that he hasn’t looked her up in 18 years. Ford has shown he’s a dab hand at playing the curmudgeon, so it seems apt that Mangold and his co-writers should steer the character in this direction. By the end, though, you’ll have a smile on your face, especially when it comes to the final shot: an elegant tip of the hat to one of cinema’s greatest heroes.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is in UK cinemas on June 28 and in US cinemas on June 30. For more upcoming movies, check out our breakdown of 2023 movie release dates.