“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage,” Indiana Jones once quipped back in Raiders Of The Lost Aark, the 1981 film that introduced audiences to the globe-trotting, Nazi-punching adventurer and archaeologist. Now, forty years and a lot more miles later, we are now getting Indy’s final adventure in the form of Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny and while both the years and mileage have certainly increased, betraying our hero as more worn around the edges but still up for one last adventure.
It is 1969 and a seventy-year-old Indy (Harrison Ford) is set to retire from his teaching position at New York’s Hunter College, when his god-daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) asks for his help in acquiring an object that he and her father fought to keep out of Nazi hands during World War Two, the Dial or Archemedes. Before they can even leave the city on their quest, they discover that they are not the only one interested in the Dial, and are soon on a race around the globe to find the Dial’s missing half before the sinister Renaldo (Antonio Banderas) can acquire it for his own nefarious purpose.
With this being the last time we will be checking in on Indiana Jones, at least as essayed by Ford, the film does give us an update on some of friends we have met along the way, specifically Indy’s old and resourceful friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies). Another character gets an update that is a bit of a sad gut punch, while Short, as played by recent Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, doesn’t get a mention. (Come on guys!)
Waller-Bridge’s Helena is an interesting addition to the canon of Indiana Jones characters. As an adventuress with an eye that seems more trained on fortune and glory and her own kid sidekick, she is very much in the space where we saw Indy in 1984’s Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. She is definitely after the Dial more for the financial rewards than for any other reason and her character arc away from that mindset is similar to the one Indy undergoes in Temple Of Doom. But that does not make her any kind of substitute lead for the film, taking on the role of the lead action hero by dint of her youth. Indy is still hero, even if maybe some carefully concealed stunt doubles or CG face replacement help Ford through some of the action set pieces.
If anyone has an unenviable position on the film, it is director James Mangold. Although he co-created the character with George Lucas, as the director of the previous four Indiana Jones installments Steven Spielberg has become synonymous with the series, giving its visual flair, its sense of humor, so much of its overall DNA as films. He leaves big shoes to fill for anyone. Mangold comes with a strong resume, and it serves him well here. The action sequences are staged with competence and brio. But where Raiders Of The Lost Ark redefined what an action movie can be back in 1981, Dial Of Destiny feels to be working comfortably in that redefinition and doesn’t really push the boundaries any further as one would hope this last chapter of an iconic franchise would deliver.