Bringing back Indiana Jones in the 2020s is a potentially risky business. When your hero is trafficking in pillaged artefacts, can he really claim they belong in a museum any more? Shouldn’t he be returning the golden idol to its Peruvian tomb, before slotting the poison darts back in their silos and heaving the boulder back up its launch ramp?
In his first adventure in 15 years, Harrison Ford’s Dr Henry Jones dodges these ideological pitfalls as nimbly as he does the actual pitfall ones. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is every inch a replica of the standard Indy experience, with subterranean booby-trapped dungeons, an escape from a Nazi fortress, a chase through a North African bazaar, and an ever-so-slightly irritating younger sidekick (in this case Teddy, played by the 16-year-old French newcomer Ethann Isidore).
Unfortunately, though, it ultimately feels like a counterfeit of priceless treasure: the shape and the gleam of it might be superficially convincing for a bit, but the shabbier craftsmanship gets all the more glaring the longer you look.
At 80 years old, Ford himself really gives it his all, even though the role initially requires him to look like he’d rather be anywhere else. It’s now 1969, and just as he retires from his archeology lecturing post at a New York university, his goddaughter Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) tumbles back into his life: she’s on a hair-brained mission to track down Archimedes’s Antikythera – the Dial of Destiny of the title – after her late father Basil (Toby Jones, good value in flashback, in a mad squirrel sort of way) was driven half mad by the quest.
One half of the device sits in Indy’s office archive. But the other is goodness knows where, and it’s also being hunted by both the CIA and a German scientist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who Indy thinks he might just recognise from a scrape in the Third Reich years beforehand. (This adventure comprises the prologue, in which AI technology has been used to pretty convincingly de-age Ford to his Raiders of the Lost Ark vintage.) So off everyone goes on a globe-trotting chase for the lost cogs, whose ultimate purpose is left so vague for so long that you sometimes sense that the film is trying not to spoil itself.
What set apart Spielberg’s masterful three original Indiana Jones films – and, to a lesser extent, the underrated fourth, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, from 2008 – was the sheer balletic spring in their tread. They actually moved like page-turners, as if they could hardly believe how exciting the stories they were telling were, and the most memorable comic details (think Raiders of the Lost Ark’s sieg-heiling monkey, or its master swordsman felled with a single bullet) were carried off with pure blink-and-miss-it showmanship.
Here, though, the action is generic and clunkily staged – for all the local detail in every individual shot of the heavily advertised tuk-tuk chase, it might as well be taking place on an endless conveyor belt. As for the comedy – well, Waller-Bridge has clearly been given the instruction to “just do Fleabag” but she’s operating without Fleabag-level material here, and her frequent attempts to juice up the clumsy gags with her trademark winking delivery tend to fall flat. (While she’s perfectly decent in the role – and every bit as much the hero of the piece as Ford – audience members unfamiliar with her television work may be puzzled as to why she’s here in the first place.)
Director James Mangold – the man behind such sturdy entertainments as Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma and Le Mans ‘66 – must have struck Lucasfilm as a safe alternative pair of hands when Spielberg stepped down from the job in 2020. Perhaps that’s the problem. The film is loaded with mayhem but painfully short on spark and bravado: there’s no shot here, nor twist of choreography, that makes you marvel at the filmmaking mind that conceived it.
Even the unapologetically pulpy climax, in which the dial’s time-travelling powers are finally put to use, feels frivolous and offhand. As the antikythera does its history-altering thing, you can’t help but wish someone would twist it back to the point at which this film was commissioned and say: “Actually, do you know what? Four were enough.”
Cert 12A, 154 mins. In cinemas now