As the tag line taught us, “If Adventure has a name, it must be Indiana Jones!” The beloved movie hero has returned for one last ride. For Indy’s final quest, director James Mangold (and co-writers David Koepp and John-Henry and Jez Butterworth) have given fans “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”.

Steven Spielberg wasn’t behind the camera this time. His first two Indiana Jones adventures (“Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) are tremendous adventure classics that solidified the character’s place in cinema history and in the hearts of moviegoers around the world.

While Spielberg’s third picture in the saga (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”) was a huge success and a fun entry, it plays too cartoonish and doesn’t have the grit and bruising excitement of the first two.

Nineteen years later came what was to be a triumphant return for the character, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”. This was the first film to feel the wrath of fans and critics alike. The script was clunky and Spielberg’s over-reliance on CGI hurt a few of the action scenes. The picture is a good time, but the overall experience was flawed.

Indiana Jones deserved one more chance to go out on a high note so here we are, saying hello and goodbye to our beloved archeologist/adventurer.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” finds Dr. Jones alive and not so well in 1969. Legally separated from Marion, living in a shabby New York City apartment, and nursing a damaged heart, the good doctor is retiring from teaching, archeology, and seemingly life.

Director Mangold had a chance to really use the 1969 setting to his advantage. It would have been a blast to watch Indiana Jones try to navigate his way through a changing country alive with flower power, Vietnam war protests, and the Civil Rights Movement. Besides a quick “grumpy old man” gag where he tells hippies to turn down their loud music (The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”) and the backdrop of a parade for the returning Apollo 11 astronauts, Mangold fumbles the film’s 1969 setting.

Before the film gets to the older Indy, Mangold keeps with tradition and opens in the 1940s with a pretty exciting action sequence. A de-aged Jones and one of his weakest sidekicks yet, Basil Shaw (a miscast Toby Jones), find themselves on a Nazi train carrying a cornucopia of stolen loot. Indy stumbles on the Lance of Longinus, (another tired biblical artifact) which leads them to the Antikythera, a contraption created by Archimedes over 2,000 years ago that allows one to time travel.

Nazi physicist Jürgen Voller (an okay Mads Mikkelsen) is seeking the same prize, but the piece that is found is only one half, and it takes both to make it work.

The opening set piece is good fun, and the de-aging looks fine. There are certainly stunts aplenty, but it is tough to praise them, as the sequence relies too heavily on CGI. From this grand opening, a major problem with the film is set into motion; Phedon Papamichael’s digital cinematography.

Mangold and Papamichael shoot almost everything too dark. The first scene IS fun but setting it against rain and nightfall hampers a lot of what the moment could be, as the digital compositions are occasionally sloppy.

The sharp cinematic look that Douglas Slocombe gave to the original three pictures is greatly missed.

In the fourth entry, Janusz Kaminski’s look wasn’t quite right for an Indiana Jones adventure either, but at least it was shot on film.

Once Indy’s goddaughter, Helena (the always welcome Phoebe Waller-Bridge) enters the picture searching for the second half of the Antikythera, the real adventure begins. Better said, it tries to, as once again, it’s Indy versus Nazis in a race against time to find a relic that could change the course of history.

Mangold and his screenwriters pepper the film with hints that they just might reclaim some of the glory of the original two pictures. They don’t, but we have a good time anyway.

The film gives us a half-assed attempt at a new “Short Round” with Ethann Bergua-Isodore as Helena’s young sidekick Teddy, more snake jokes (only now they are eels), and the return of Indy’s dear friend Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), a beloved character completely wasted.

Also given the shaft is Antonio Banderas as Renaldo, a deep-sea diving ship captain. Apparently, he and Indy are old friends. The screenplay doesn’t allow us to know anything about their adventures or why we should even care about Renaldo’s presence. To cast an actor of Banderas’ talent for such a useless character is insulting.

As Indy and Helena travel to Morocco then Greece, and on to Sicily, Mangold tries hard to catch the feeling of the saga’s patented travelogue structure. However, the director fails to properly use his locations to accentuate the action.

Steven Spielberg was a master at blending the dynamics of the action with the grand locations. Mangold uses too many backdrops and CGI trickery, never pulling back far enough to take in the majesty of the worldwide locations, failing to live up to the visual excitement of the originals.

The action moments work well enough, but don’t stand out from today’s CGI heavy action films. Even during the fun, the action is sloppily handled, proving the days of crafting classic action fueled by masterful stunt sequences planned and performed by expert teams are gone.

It can’t be said enough, too much computer graphic design hurts a film. James Mangold is a very good director, just not for an Indiana Jones film.

The screenplay rides the nostalgia train for as long as it can until its big finale, which is too preposterously silly to enjoy. Yet, a final scene closes the film with a warm surprise and a terrific final shot.

To be fair to the film, a good deal works. CGI be damned, there is fun to be had with most of the action, yet Harrison Ford does all the heavy lifting. His portrayal of the elderly (in age only) Indiana Jones has heart and hasn’t lost an ounce of mettle. Once the leather jacket, whip, and fedora go on, the hero we know is still commanding as ever.

It warms the heart to see Ford return with vigor and dig a little deeper into the character. At 80, the actor is still doing stunts and hasn’t lost a beat. Indiana Jones runs in his blood.

The days of high adventure in Hollywood productions are all but about over. With the retirement of the Indiana Jones character, they will go the way of the samurai.

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” is not a great film and suffers from serious flaws in its screenplay and execution. That isn’t to say it is a bad night at the movies.

Some moments work, many don’t, but I challenge viewers to have a bad time.


Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Written by David Koepp, John-Henry & Jez Butterworth, & James Mangold

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Harrison Ford, Pheobe Waller-Bridge, Mads Mikkelsen, Toby Jones, Antonio Banderas, Ethann Bergua-Isodore, John Rhys-Davies

PG-13, 154 Minutes, Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm, Paramount Pictures