Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, review: Harrison Ford carries this ragged exercise in nostalgia

The new Indiana Jones movie, the final instalment of the saga that began over 40 years ago with Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981), has been causing pandemonium in Cannes. The press and the public alike have been fighting for tickets. The number of paparazzi swarming around the Grand Theatre Lumiere, where it showed, has risen significantly. The Dial of Destiny may be screening out of competition but it’s the one world premiere that everyone wanted to see. An added piquancy was lent by the fact that Ford has already confirmed this will be his last performance as Indiana. At the world premiere, the craggy old actor was very emotional as he received an honorary Palme D’Or from the festival director Thierry Fremaux.

Ford is in typically redoubtable form in The Dial of Destiny but the film itself is sprawling and very uneven. It starts promisingly with an action sequence toward the end of the Second World War in which somehow, using the magic of CGI, Indiana is shown as a youngish man tussling with the Nazis. This is when he first encounters the fiendish Jurgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen). This prelude offers exactly what you expect from an Indiana Jones adventure: chases, explosions and an epic fight sequence on top of a runaway train. Toby Jones registers strongly as Indy’s companion, Basil Jones, a diminutive, eccentric but staunchly heroic English academic who helps Indiana stay alive.

We’re then whisked forward to the late 1960s, the era of the Beatles and the space programme. Indiana is in New York, on the verge of retirement from the university where he teaches. His students can barely stay awake in his classes. Basil’s daughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) turns up at one of his lectures. He’s her godfather but hasn’t seen her for years.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harrison Ford in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (Disney)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harrison Ford in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (Disney)

Ford’s age isn’t ignored. In fact, it’s one of the wellsprings of the plot. Age has made Indiana Jones even more crotchety than he was in the previous four movies. There are constant references to his aches and pains, his “crumbling vertebrae” and his diminishing stamina. He’s referred to as an “ancient grave robber” at one stage. Nonetheless, he still climbs up rock faces and brandishes that old bullwhip with the elan that generations of fans have grown to love.

Helena reminds him of the mysterious ancient dial that he found on that runaway train during the war. He is soon competing to retrieve it with Voller, who has changed his name and is now working on the American space programme. The dial was designed by Archimedes thousands of years before. If its two halves are brought together, its owner will be able to leap across time.

The movie consists of a series of chases and fights linked by ever more improbable plot twists. The action is often very inventively staged. James Mangold, who has taken over directing duties from Steven Spielberg, sets a breakneck tempo. One bravura early set-piece involves Indiana riding a policeman’s horse down into the subway with his antagonists in hot pursuit.

Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (AP)
Mads Mikkelsen and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (AP)

Waller-Bridge’s Helena is a disconcerting presence: an intellectually brilliant adventuress who is also a mercenary and con artist. Her partnership with Indiana is a little strained. There’s obviously no romantic spark between them – he’s far too old for her. She is incongruously cheerful, whooping excitedly in one scene after someone close to Indiana has just been killed.

Tonally, the film wavers. It pulls in too many different directions at once. On the one hand, this is an exercise in affectionate nostalgia. On the other, like its predecessors, it’s an old-fashioned matinee adventure in which characterisation is deliberately broad. Certain episodes are knowing and ironic while others seem painfully naive.

Fans of the franchise will still find plenty to savour. Indiana and Helena tussle with insects and hang from the wings of planes. There are scenes of deep sea diving and sequences set in caves. However, the screenplay, by Jazz Butterworth, John Henry Butterworth and David Kopek, sometimes seems like a mish-mash of elements from the older movies thrown together in scattergun fashion. In the final reel, the film slips into outright absurdity. Harrison Ford is the hero of the hour. He never loses either his scowl or his doggedness. He plays even the flimsiest scenes with conviction and dry humour. His performance carries the movie. Age cannot wither him in the slightest but the franchise itself is looking a little ragged. This is a good moment to put a full stop on it.

Dir: James Mangold; Starring: Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davies, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook, Ethann Isidore, Mads Mikkelsen.

‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ is in cinemas from 30 June