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Father Time casts his long shadow over “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” and not just because the 42-year-old action-adventure franchise, now in its fifth installment, was already old-fashioned – a throwback to “Buck Rogers” and other serials of the 1930s – when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” debuted in 1981. Nor is that ticking of the clock that you hear merely echoed in the sound of news reports that this film will be the last outing for Harrison Ford (81 years old next month) in the title role, or that “Dial” marks the last film for composer John Williams, 91, whose instantly recognizable theme music can be heard through the new film. Franchise director Steven Spielberg, 76, has also finally ceded the reins to James Mangold (“Ford v Ferrari”), who makes a capable contribution to the canon here.
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But in other ways large and small, the hands of the chronograph are spinning out of control.
First off is the film’s prologue set in the Second World War: a derring-do-heavy flashback on a speeding train in which we watch a digitally de-aged Indy – pleasantly plausible – once again facing Nazis as he did in both the first and third films, as he and a colleague, Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), attempt to make off with the titular artifact. Also known as the Antikythera mechanism, this clocklike device is said to have been designed by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes and to be capable of predicting “fissures in time.” (Don’t ask.) This putative ability will prove significant in the climax of the story by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, David Koepp and Mangold, a supernatural tale that stretches credulity, even by the standards of an Indiana Jones movie.
Flash-forward to 1969, with a now-white-haired Indy – excuse me, Professor Jones – seen waking up from a nap (and perhaps that bad dream) to the sounds of the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour,” appropriately enough, from a neighbouring apartment. Indy collects himself and heads in to his office at Hunter College, from which he is retiring. But any quiet plans Indy might have for his golden years fly out the window with the appearance of two characters: Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a German rocket scientist now working on the U.S. space program, and Helena Shaw (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the daughter of Basil and Indy’s goddaughter. Both of them seek to possess the highly prized Antikythera (which has been broken in half, with one half missing), albeit for different reasons: Voller, a fugitive Nazi, naturally, wants to “correct” Hitler’s mistakes; Helena, a cynic who traffics in collectible antiquities, just wants to sell the thing for whatever the market will bear.
And so begins another Indiana Jones movie, very much in the mold of every other Indiana Jones movie in that it quickly jumps from New York to the narrow streets of Tangier for a chase scene with Indy, Helena and her young ward Teddy (Ethann Isidore) in a tuk-tuk in hot pursuit of Voller and his thugs. Other exotic locales follow, including the tomb of Archimedes in Sicily – an underground cave filled with “Da Vinci Code”-like puzzles to be solved with minimal effort, an infestation of icky beetles and a funhouse-style secret stone door that slides open mysteriously, defying physics but obeying all the laws of entertainment.
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Along the way, some loose ends are tied up, particularly as they apply to Shia LaBeouf’s character in the franchise, introduced in 2008’s “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” who disappeared thereafter without explanation. A supporting character from the early franchise will reappear – more than one, actually – satisfying fans but adding little to the narrative, except in the case of the second cameo, which wraps up some unfinished emotional business in a serviceable but syrupy way.
Time does have a way of catching up with you, especially in a movie that appears to be bending over backward – literally at times – to put a bow on a beloved series of films, not all of which have been recognized as paragons of logic or storytelling.
With her tartly delivered dialogue, though, Waller-Bridge does bring a certain zest to the overly familiar proceedings, and – after initially being presented as sort of, well, unlikably mercenary and at times even heartless – Helena and Indy eventually develop a nice partnership, one forged via hardship, the necessities of narrative and a third-act plot development that pushes the limits of suspension of disbelief.
But critical thinking was never a prerequisite for appreciating an Indiana Jones movie. (It is, in fact, a detriment.) And this one is no exception. If “The Dial of Destiny” takes its cast somewhere far-fetched – and boy, does it ever – it makes sure to bring us all back to where we belong, just in time for the closing credits.
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Two and one-half stars. Rated PG-13. At theatres. Contains sequences of violence and action, coarse language, and smoking. 142 minutes.