It was 42 years ago that Harrison Ford first stepped onscreen as archeologist Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in Steven Spielberg‘s enduring classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, a box office hit that picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Pictures and won a total of four Academy Awards. The movie arrived just a few years after Ford helped launch another popular franchise, Star Wars, and the actor was 38 years old at the time of its release. Nearly two decades passed between the third well-received Indiana Jones film and the less beloved fourth, and yet another 15 years have passed in the run-up to Ford’s final adventure. The actor is now 80, but hardly too old to say goodbye to one of his career-defining roles, and his current demeanor and energy level are perfectly matched by this latest entry in the series.
While some sequels, prequels, spinoffs, and remakes — of which there are far too many these days — go to great lengths to make a point that they’re delivering something different than what’s expected, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny leans into its identity as the fifth film in a franchise right away. John Williams‘ signature score kicks in as a de-aged Ford runs along the top of a train car, fighting Nazis just like in the good ol’ days. This prologue of sorts helps to invite audiences back for new escapades that are very much meant to feel like their predecessors over the past four decades.
The first extended scene takes place in 1944 and introduces the Antikythera, a dial designed by Archimedes in two pieces that, when put together, may give their user untold power. Hitler apparently isn’t interested, but his scientist, Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), knows he’s wrong, as does Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), who is working with Indy. 25 years later, Indy is on the verge of retiring from his teaching position when he is unknowingly drawn back into his eternal fight against the Nazis when Basil’s daughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), uses him to find the Antikythera. As always happens whenever Indy is in danger, there are countless casualties and a great deal of property damage in pursuit of world domination that can only be stopped by one fedora-wearing archeologist with a whip.
There’s a moment in Dial of Destiny where Indy is asked about magic and expresses that he doesn’t believe it’s real, but he’s seen far too much in his life that can’t be explained by science and logic. That’s a fitting way to sum up the world in which these films exist since supernatural events do occur but without any real explanation of how that works. This sequel is no exception, and it may, in fact, be the most ambitious of all the Indiana Jones movies given the direction its plot takes as the film enters its homestretch. Indy’s attitude is a helpful one for audiences to embrace with regard to this movie — just take things as they come and make the best of the hand you’re dealt. In this case, you’ll just have to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the wild ride.
After taking a bit of a break from acting, Ford has had a career resurgence of late, and he’s in Emmy contention thanks to two dramatically different television series — Shrinking and 1923. Rather than coast through his final performance as Dr. Jones, he infuses the character with his signature wit while adding a great deal of exhaustion from having been through so much and not feeling like he has much to show for it. It’s certainly fun to see familiar faces like John Rhys-Davies, while Jones and Mikkelsen fit right into this universe, dialing up the stakes in their delivery of each line as they know the fate of the world hangs in the balance — even if no one else around them is paying enough attention to come to the same conclusion.
The best part of The Dial of Destiny is, hands down, the addition of Waller-Bridge. The creator and star of the Emmy-winning comedy series Fleabag previously waded into blockbuster franchise waters as a writer on the James Bond movie No Time to Die and her voice role in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and she brings a marvelous spirit to the role of Helena, who’s seemingly unconcerned with the potential consequences of her plans not working out and far more interested in having fun along the way. She and Ford have great non-romantic chemistry, and Waller-Bridge makes for an exceptional sidekick and antagonist, two roles she weaves between throughout the film.
Devoted fans of the original trilogy may be worried about the fact that Dial of Destiny wasn’t written or directed by either Spielberg or George Lucas — they’re both aboard as executive producers — but Logan filmmaker James Mangold reliably picks up the reins. Though this story is set in a time period that feels very different from the original films, it doesn’t feel as if much time has passed since that trilogy, if that makes sense. The epic scope is still the same, with Indy’s horseback ride through a New York City subway station coming across as an over-the-top stunt that somehow feels just right for this character in the modern era.
The need for fan service feels less distracting than it did in the previous Indiana Jones movie, 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and it’s the kind of sequel that can be appreciated on its own by young filmgoers with no personal connection to the previous films. Its reported production budget of nearly $300 million does seem excessive, but the finished product looks and sounds great, especially on a big screen. Though this is surely not the last we’ll see of Indiana Jones as a character, for Ford, it’s a fitting farewell.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm.