“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” avoids the curse that befell its even-numbered predecessors, so score it 1,3,5,2,4, with this fifth adventure – the first not directed by Steven Spielberg – trailing the best two but ranking ahead of the others, especially “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” in 2008. Feeling the years and the miles, Harrison Ford cracks the whip for the last time, in a film that offers the requisite thrills and proves fairly emotional before it’s over.
Lucasfilm brass obviously liked what they saw, tasking director James Mangold (“Ford v. Ferrari”) with overseeing a “Star Wars” movie after he turned in “Dial of Destiny,” which features a world-weary Indy in 1969, looking out of place in that tumultuous period and weathering personal losses to go with various aches and pains.
Before getting to that, though, the film kicks off with a rousing 20-minute-plus flashback sequence, boasting some of the best de-aging technology witnessed yet, as the archaeologist and a colleague (Toby Jones) battle a train full of Nazis in the waning days of World War II.
Although they’re seeking the usual priceless relic, they actually stumble upon the MacGuffin that drives the action, an invention of the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes with the potential to achieve astonishing objectives to rival the Ark of the Covenant and Holy Grail. The object also catches the eye of a Nazi scientist (Mads Mikkelsen, whose reputation as a can’t-go-wrong villain, from James Bond to the Harry Potter franchise to “Doctor Strange,” is well served here).
Leaping forward, Indy is on the verge of retirement from a university gig when his old pal’s daughter, Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge, perfectly credible in this mostly serious, swashbuckling role), waltzes into the picture seeking his help finding the aforementioned Dial of Destiny, with the Nazi and his henchmen, naturally, in hot pursuit.
Globetrotting adventures follow, and while Indy (and Ford) can still credibly pull off action sequences, the movie wisely acknowledges the passage of time, with Indy more than once noting he’s getting a little long in the tooth for these sorts of shenanigans.
Frankly, the “Indiana Jones” franchise would have been well-served by quitting when Jones and company literally rode into the sunset at the end of 1989’s “The Last Crusade,” but lobbying for such restraint ignores the sequel-hungry nature of the movie business. That disclaimer noted, “Dial of Destiny” delivers a credible and even somewhat poignant continuation of the character’s arc, including the amusing wrinkle of seeing him chafe against the Hippie culture of the late ’60s.
The notion of Indiana Jones himself becoming a relic from a bygone era shouldn’t be lost on anyone, and building such an exercise around a now-80-year-old lead imposes certain limits. But the film can still rely upon a few extremely durable assets, from Ford’s charisma to the giddy thrill of hearing composer John Williams’ fanfare struck up at theater-quality volume.
Although he’s about a decade older than Indy is supposed to be in most of the film, Ford is hardly slowing down, with current TV roles in “1923” and “Shrinking” to go with Marvel’s upcoming “Captain America” movie.
Even so, “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” serves as a nicely symmetrical bookend to his near-half-century run as an action star, and a role he’s inhabited for more than four decades. In that context, even with the movie’s dry patches, there’s enough here to make it well worth seeing Indiana Jones ride into the sunset – metaphorically, if not literally – one more time.
“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” premieres June 30 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.