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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

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.

The good news is that it isn't a disaster. It's a respectable, competent addition to the series and Indiana goes out on a high. I loved the nods to the past but also enjoyed Mangold’s attempt to show growth in the lead character.

So the boulder of intellectual property and franchise brand identity rolls on, bringing us Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth film in which the legendary archaeologist and whip-cracking adventurer is back for another go-around. He is, of course, played by the legendary Harrison Ford, now 80 years young, but carrying it off with humour and style and still nailing that reluctant crooked smile.

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.

Ford remains on charisma overload. Even when the machine around him is on autopilot, he brings his weathered gravitas to perhaps his most significant character.

All the hallmarks of the series are there as you’d hope them to be, lovingly preserved like archaeological treasures.

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, 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.

There is a prologue set in the dying days of World War Two has 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.

They grab what the Germans want: the extant half of a much-desired artefact created by Archimedes, the Dial of Destiny, which allows its owner to control the forces of space and time, but which Archimedes prudently split into two and hid the other half.

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.

The film jumps forward to 1969 and 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, so soon the goodies and baddies are chasing each other through the usual caverns, temples and dusty marketplaces of the Mediterranean Basin.

It brings back old characters, 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.

Mangold and his team dutifully crank out the action sequences.

It has zip and fun and narrative ingenuity with all its MacGuffiny silliness and the Dial of Destiny is put to an audacious use which makes light of the whole question of defying aging and the gravitational pull of time. Indiana Jones still has a certain old-school class.

Indy’s final date with destiny has a barmy finale that might divide audiences — but if you join him for the ride, it feels like a fitting goodbye to cinema’s favourite grave-robber.

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