One of the most beloved heroes in cinema history returns for a fifth and final crack of the whip. Normally, nothing is final in Hollywood, but given star Harrison Ford is 81 next month, his claim that he’s done with the character should be taken seriously. It’s 15 years since audiences last saw him in 2008’s Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, a misfire that left fans reeling. Can the globe-trotting archaeologist make up for past sins and go out with a bang?
It’s the late 60s, just after The Moon Landing. Indiana Jones (Ford) is finding life difficult as the world moves on without him. Out of the blue, he is reunited with Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the daughter of an old friend and Indy’s god-daughter. She’s after the Archimedes’ Dial, a relic said to find fissures in time. Initially reluctant to help, Jones is soon racing across the globe when a former Nazi (Mads Mikkelsen) is revealed to also be after the device.
For the first time, an Indy movie is in the hands of another director after Steven Spielberg bowed out. Given Spielberg’s cinematic grandeur is what made the series legendary, James Mangold has some big shoes to fill. Happily, the Logan filmmaker crafts an Indy adventure that feels authentic. The bright, colourful cinematography gives us a sense of place, and offers enough outlandish action to satisfy the most die-hard fans. An opening sequence, featuring a de-aged Ford playing a younger Indy, is a bold and nostalgic gambit, offering a glimpse of what you’ve missed.
After an exciting first act things slow into a familiar rhythm of chases and puzzle solving. It’s entertaining, but stretches out too long and struggles for a signature moment. Most of Crystal Skull’s risks didn’t pay off and there’s a sense this team decided to play things safe.
The real fight on their hands is the bitter truth that this film simply isn’t necessary, and while it soars higher than its predecessor, it’s hard to imagine anyone preferring this to the original trilogy.
Co-star Waller-Bridge proves to be inspired casting. She does much of the narrative hard work, keeping Ford on his toes without stealing focus. There’s a father-daughter dynamic that works well, although the script is at pains to emphasise their differences lest anyone think a successor is being prepared. Mikkelsen is an excellent villain, proving his worth from his chilling introductory scene. Some casting choices are a little odd given their prominence in the advertising: Sala (John Rhys Davies) only has a couple of scenes, while Antonio Banderas is barely used as Indy’s sailor ally.
Ford clearly loves being in the fedora again, and does well with a tough assignment. He’s at his best when his Indiana is heavy with regret, scowling at the antics of Helena. Even the biggest fan would agree this should be the last chapter, and if it is then Dr Jones has left on an uneven but triumphant note.