Indiana Jones is back. It's been 34 years since the film that was supposed to be his farewell outing – it even had "Last" in the title – and 15 years since he returned in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but Harrison Ford has donned his brown fedora and leather jacket for a fifth and surely final time. On this occasion, though, he is 80 years old (two decades older than Sean Connery was when he played Indy's doddering dad in The Last Crusade), and the film isn't directed by the series' co-creator, Steven Spielberg, but by James Mangold, so Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has the potential to be a disaster.
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The good news is that it isn't a disaster. It's a respectable, competent addition to the series. The bad news is that a disaster might have been more worthwhile. The Dial of Destiny takes a sudden, bold and sure-to-be divisive swerve into wacky uncharted territory in its last half-hour, but otherwise it's like fan fiction, a tie-in video game, or a branded theme-park ride, in that it's content to tick off everything you've seen in other Indiana Jones films already, but with little of Spielberg's sparkle.
Ford gives off the uncanny-valley vibe of someone who isn't quite real
The feeling that it isn't as exhilarating as you might have hoped creeps in during a prologue set in the dying days of World War Two. Indy and his buddy Basil (Toby Jones, echoing Denholm Elliott's bumbling Britishness) are trying to stop the beleaguered Nazis retreating to Berlin with a trainload of looted antiquities, and the one that catches their eye is a hand-held contraption constructed by Archimedes. Bearing a distinct resemblance to the alethiometer in Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass / Northern Lights, this steam-punk instrument doesn't just use mathematics to predict storms and earthquakes but "fissures in time", hence a Nazi physicist, Voller (Mads Mikkelsen, doing the Euro-villain thing he does so well), is keen to get his hands on it, too.
Speaking of "fissures in time", Ford has been digitally de-aged to have the smoother face and thick brown hair he had in Raiders of The Lost Ark, but he gives off the uncanny-valley vibe of someone who isn't quite real. Indeed, this over-long prologue doesn't just hark back to the train set piece at the start of The Last Crusade, it's reminiscent of Spielberg's performance-capture Tintin cartoon, in that the narrow escapes are theoretically exciting, but are too obviously fake to set the pulse racing.
What's worse is that when the film jumps forward to 1969, the CGI-heavy unreality persists. Indy is now about to retire from a dispiriting teaching job in New York. There is no sign of the wife and son he had at the end of The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Shia LaBeouf may not be missed, but Karen Allen certainly is – and in general he seems to be as much of a relic as the ones he likes to unearth. But then his goddaughter, Basil's hearty archaeologist daughter, Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), turns up to ask him about Archimedes' doohickey, which has been missing for decades – and which, wouldn't you know it, has been split into two pieces so as to add to the questing possibilities. Of course, Helena isn't the only person on its trail. Voller is alive and well and has been working for the US government (not that any satirical mileage is made of that), so soon the goodies and baddies are chasing each other through the usual caverns, temples and dusty marketplaces of the Mediterranean Basin.
Like another of Ford's so-called "legacy sequels", Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this one brings back old characters (John Rhys-Davies's Sallah has a pointless cameo), introduces new ones who are strangely similar to the old characters (Ethann Isidore plays a substandard copy of Short Round from Temple of Doom), and has the air of a film passing the torch (or whip) to the next generation. But it does all this in an even gloomier fashion than The Force Awakens did. I'm not sure how many fans want to see Indiana Jones as a broken, helpless old man who cowers in the corner while his patronising goddaughter takes the lead, but that's what we're given, and it's as bleak as it sounds.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Director: James Mangold
Cast: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Toby Jones
Run-time: 2hr 34m
Release date: 30 June
Besides, everything is smaller and cheaper than it was in the original trilogy. Indy up against the military might of the Third Reich in 1936? We could all get behind that. But Indy up against one scientist and his silent, interchangeable henchmen in 1969? It's just not such a big deal. Mangold and his team dutifully crank out the action sequences, but it's often hard to tell what's happening or why, and there is a shortage of surprising, rip-roaring moments to make you stand up and cheer, despite the best efforts of John Williams' rousing classic theme. Take an early chase in New York, for instance. It's set during a ticker-tape parade for the three astronauts who were on the Apollo 11 moon mission, so you can imagine the high jinks that Spielberg might have cooked up: some slapstick with Buzz Aldrin, perhaps, or a giant papier-maché moon rolling down Fifth Avenue like the boulder in Raiders of The Lost Ark. But Mangold and his team do so little with the parade that you wonder why they bothered staging it.
It's the same with the scenes in which Indy is face to face with some snake-like eels, and when he finds his way into Archimedes' tomb. The jokes, the zest and the exuberance just aren't there, so instead of a joyous send-off for our beloved hero, we get a depressing reminder of how much livelier his past adventures were. Considering that the screenplay is credited to four writers – Mangold, David Koepp and Jez and John-Henry Butterworth – couldn't they at least have thought of something cool for Indy to do with his whip?
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is released on 30 June in the UK and US
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