When 1969-era Indiana Jones complains that everything hurts, it is clear that he means more than that punch to the jaw, or the bullet hole in his shoulder. Indy is now 70-something (played by a fit 80-year-old Harrison Ford), and his pain is more personal. He and Marion (Karen Allen) have separated, unable to reconcile the grief of losing their son in Vietnam. He sees an unrelatable modern world of protestors and astronauts and bored students. His own retirement party seems vaguely humiliating, like the world is leaving him behind. When his spirited goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) shows up on a quest to find an artifact (the so-called Archimedes Dial that gives the user god-like, time-bending powers) that had obsessed her own father (Toby Jones), Indy is not even sure he has it in to join her and go on another adventure. But then we wouldn’t have a movie, would we?
The whole opening sequence jumps back to the 1940s, to World War II to set the stage and introduce some important characters: Basil Shaw (Indy’s buddy and Helena’s dad) and one Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi who knows that Archimedes Dial is the true treasure among all the looted artifacts. These scenes are strangely thrilling, and I was surprised how quickly I got over the digitally de-aged Harrison Ford as I saw the younger, iconic Indiana Jones. Mads Mikkelsen’s youthful face fares less well, however, as he has an unnerving felty, poreless skin.
Luckily, when we jump back to the 1960s, Ford and Mikkelsen get to look like their weathered selves. The Nazi Voller is now an esteemed scientist, having worked in the U.S. on the V2 rocket that took men to the moon. Dr. Voller’s interests, however, are less interested in outer space—more obsessively he is still trying to get his hands the Archimedes Dial, for his own sinister plan. Indy and Helena have to get the pieces of the dial before they fall into the very very wrong hands.
This time around, the filmmakers seem to know that they have to work that much harder to erase the bad taste left by Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so they stick to the tried and true: There are fight scenes; chases on wacky, inappropriate modes of transportation (in this case tiny tuk-tuks barreling through narrow streets); wriggly snake-like things (not snakes!) at the most inopportune moments; a precocious young sidekick (Ethann Isidore); and appearances by some old, familiar faces that will honestly give fans all the feels. In fact, there are so many crowd-pleasing sequences that are nods to fans that easily half an hour could have been trimmed from the final runtime.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a apt partner/foil to the earnest Indy. Despite her warm and fuzzy introduction, Helena proves to have more of an edge. She’s super-smart and may not always have the best intentions (like the more purely “it should be in a museum!” noble Indy). She can more than hold her own with Ford.
But it is Harrison Ford that we are all here to see. He still has that sideways smirk and charm, along with the self-effacing awkwardness that helps him get out of tough situations. But what emerges by the end of this adventure is the weariness of age that Ford brings not only to the character, but seems to be emanating from the actor himself. Whatever you think of the final, mind-bending act (it worked for me), it is always grounded by Ford as the now very, very tired Indiana Jones. While Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny admittedly seems like a cash-grab Final Send Off Again! 2023 Edition, it should please fans that feel like they deserved better than the last film. As for Indy himself? He deserved this destiny.