1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark changed the way adventure movies were made, a near-perfect combination of writing, directing and acting that ushered in one of cinema's greatest heroes, Indiana Jones. None of the sequels have ever quite hit the same spot, with 2008's Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a real letdown. Now, Indy is back for one final hurrah in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which has plenty of things that work, and quite a lot that doesn't.
For this film, series veteran Steven Spielberg hands over the whip to James Mangold, who directed the brilliant Logan. Mangold has clear respect for Spielberg's history with the franchise, with plenty of callbacks to Spielberg's past. But as good a director as Mangold is, he's no Spielberg, and though this is a step-up from the last film in terms of its direction, Spielberg's absence is felt often.
Spielberg's departure is most keenly felt in the set-pieces. Although the opening de-ageing sequence involves an almost Spielbergian-level of energy and tension, it's the standout moment of the film. The rest of the action, including a horse escape through a New York moon day parade and a Tuk Tuk chase in Tangier, is safe and unremarkable, with nothing on the level of Raiders' truck chase or Crusade's tank battle, although Indy's age is a significant factor.
At two and a half hours, the film is too long, and the pacing is unwieldy, with long stretches of heavy exposition, intrusive CGI and Indy often being overshadowed in his own story. The first hour is classic Indy, fitting well within the history of the franchise, but the much debated climax is a mess, with vast leaps of logic required for it to work (although suspension of disbelief has often been required for an Indy film, it's a step too far here)
Fortunately, the movie works better in the quieter moments, the periods where the focus is on the man underneath the fedora, where John Williams strikes up the Raiders March and the wave of nostalgia hits. This has never been a series about stunts, or globetrotting, or artefacts, it's always been about Indy, his flaws and foibles, his mistakes and regrets.
His son Mutt does not appear in this one, but his absence is explicitly referenced, as is the breakdown of his marriage to Marion, two significant moments that have made him a feeble, jaded human being. This is, at its core, a story of Indy coping with a world that is changing, that he doesn't have any joy in anymore.
Harrison Ford brings his a-game to the movie, drawing on four films' worth of history in a performance that never misses a beat. He's well supported by the other cast members, including Phoebe Waller-Bridge as Indy's goddaughter Helena, Antonio Banderas as Renaldo, John Rhys-Davies and Karen Allen as old faces Sallah and Marion and Mads Mikkelsen as the sadly underused villain Jurgen Voller, who is a mixture of the first films Belloq and the third film's Donovan. Alas, Short Round doesn't make an appearance, but Ethann Isidore's Teddy functions in much the same way.
Did a fifth Indiana Jones film need to be made? No. Does Dial of Destiny do enough to justify its existence? Partially. It doesn't reach the heights of Raiders or Crusade, yet nor is it as mean-spirited as Temple or as lazy as Skull. In the end, this is Harrison Ford's show and neither this film, nor Indiana Jones the character, would mean anything without him.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is out in cinemas now.