When Steven Spielberg coaxed Harrison Ford to don his battered brown leather jacket and fedora once more for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, the weight of expectation bore down on the pair like a booby-trapped boulder.
Almost two full decades had passed since The Last Crusade, which reunited the morally grey grave-robbing archaeologist (briefly depicted as a young man by River Phoenix) with his estranged father, as portrayed with curmudgeonly charm by legendary Bond star Sean Connery.
But countless adults who’d grown up besotted with the whip-cracking found their hopes blown sky-high by the infamous fridge nuke scene, Cate Blanchett’s dubious Russian accent and the controversial pivot into E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial territory.
Fifteen years later, and some might be understandably trepidatious going into Dial of Destiny. Especially with Spielberg bowing out and James Mangold stepping into the breach, though granted he brought Hugh Jackman back to grouchy old man Wolverine with aplomb in Logan. So does he stick the landing?
The short answer is a rip-roaring yes. Put aside fears of our AI overlords putting actors and filmmakers out of business for the moment, at least Ford is very much still with us, even if the still-got-it octogenarian has been freakily Instagram filtered into his youthful visage for the barn-storming opening sequence.
Set in dying days of WWII, the Nazis have all-but lost and Hitler’s tenuous-at-best grip on sanity has broken, so it’s up to Mads Mikkelsen’s twisted physicist Jürgen Voller and King Kong actor Thomas Kretschmann’s Colonel Weber to boost outta occupied France with a train-full of stolen loot. That plunder apparently contains the Spear of Destiny aka the Lance of Longinus that supposedly pierced the side of Jesus on the cross.
Only it’s a fake, and the real bounty that has also drawn an undercover Indy and his best bounty-hunting mate Basil Shaw (a delightful as ever Toby Jones) to the belly of the beast is Ancient Greek physicist Archimedes’ fabled Antikythera. The Dial of Destiny of the title, of which Indy conveniently has one half, is rumoured to have incredible abilities we are reliably informed aren’t supernatural, but actually driven by real-world mathematics (hogwash, but let’s roll with the spin).
Flash forward to the late 60s, another world and time, and a careworn Indy is licking his wounds after separating from Raiders of the Lost Ark love interest-turned-wife Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) after personal tragedy drove them apart. But when goddaughter Helena Shaw (irrepressible Fleabag genius Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up, it’s not long before she’s dragged him back into (and matching) his pugnacious Nazi-punching ways.
Turns out Voller survived a bridge plunge and is after their half of the dial and the location of the lost piece, abusing its powers so he can fulfill his dream of resurrecting the Third Reich through those totally legit mathematical equations (lol).
Logan star Boyd Holbrook is remarkably good at being creepily bad as his neo-Nazi right-hand man and they’ve brought Olivier Richters’ man mountain goon along for the heavy lifting.
If this New York-set (Glasgow filmed) middle act lags a little, thanks to a slightly convoluted subplot involving Shaunette Renée Wilson’s hoodwinked CIA Agent Mason, then the film really kicks into high gear once Helena and Indy embark on treasure-hunting globehopping via a spot of double crossing and a helping hand from franchise returnee John Rhys-Davies’ fez-wearing Sallah.
Ford seemed on cruise control in his returns to the Star Wars and Blade Runner universes, but his mischievous sparkle’s back in full force here, handling the nods to entries past with the necessary emotional oomph.
Waller-Bridge is spectacularly cheeky fun as the marbled sass-talking Shaw, who is far from a stock-standard sidekick and gives Indy almost as hard a time as the baddies. As does Ethann Isidore as her Short Round-like kid enforcer Teddy, heaps of fun, with plenty of scope for this double act to pick up the baton sans Indy if the infernal forces of IP continuation want to spin that dial some more. Mikkelsen is far too good at playing psychos and relishes the moustache-twirling here.
The only let down is a perplexingly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Antonio Banderas, no fault of his, though props to Mangold for leaning into the lashings of homoeroticism served up on Captain Renaldo’s boatload of saucy sailors.
You can feel the director’s love for the source material in his gung-ho screenplay, co-written with Edge of Tomorrow siblings Jez and John-Henry Butterworth and Jurassic Park scribe David Koepp. There’s definitely a touch of Logan to this hangdog tale of a hero at the end of his journey, thankfully less nihilistic here.
This is, after all, a movie in the old-school mould of the Saturday afternoon adventure.
Phedon Papamichael’s workaday cinematography, much crisper in Nebraska, isn’t quite up to the technical mastery of Spielberg’s expertly staged shots, but Dial of Destiny is still big and beautiful, right down to the inevitable tomb of doom sets that feel at one with the originals and a finale that’s right out there in the very best way.
If the audience at Sydney Film Festival’s closing night gala are anything to go by, applauding with gusto in the opening gambit, then there’s still plenty of love buried deep in the hearts of fans from way back, and sometimes nostalgia is well-earned and worth digging up. I’m still da da da dah, dah dah dah-ing to John Williams’ magnificently rousing score and cannot wait to see it again. So speed dial your tickets.
Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny is in cinemas on 29 June.