Full of action. A+ production values and boasting a killer finale, ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ is so good it’s almost enough to make you forget about ‘Crystal Skull’

One last ride: Harrison Ford returns in ‘Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny’ (with a blurred Phoebe Waller-Bridge in the background).

Although some 15 years have elapsed since the culture-crippling travesty of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – a wholesale insult to fans that was so bad South Park had to devote an entire episode to shredding it – we’re all still in various stages of recovery, so deep are the wounds it inflicted.

Reasonable it is then that the one thing we didn’t want from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was another mega-sized, mega-budgeted mound of steaming lameness.

At a guess, everyone involved with Indy V was similarly averse to again dumping on the franchise’s fan base, from director/co-writer James Mangold to executive producers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who directed Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, Last Crusade and – difficult as it still is to believe – Crystal Skull.

Theory though it is, they all probably re-watched Skull a few times to make sure they avoided the idiocy, then revisited the first two films (Raiders and Doom for those who have just come out of their coma) as a reminder about why the world fell in love with Harrison Ford’s adventurer archeologist in the first place.

Whatever refresher course they put themselves through, it’s worked.

The new film is a marvellous – absolutely marvellous – revival of the Raiders spirit, delivering a terrific story with lashings of action and a killer final reel that might just gift fans with the best payoff yet – quite fitting given that this is intended as the final film in the series, with Ford insisting it’s his last ride with the signature whip and fedora.

After a ripper opening sequence set on a Nazi train that establishes the cosmic import of the “dial of destiny” – an ancient Greek device that can allegedly bend time – we are introduced to the latter-day Indy.

With A+ production values oozing from every frame, he’s teaching class in 1969 New York just after the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

As the city celebrates the astronauts with a colourful parade, Indy is reacquainted with his goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), daughter of Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), Indy’s deceased pal who also coveted the Dial, which is in two parts, naturally separated by great distance to keep them out of the wrong hands.

Those wrong hands belong to Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), a Nazi scientist Indy fought with on the train for possession of half the dial. Voller is now an American citizen working for the government and he wants the dial so he can harness its power to travel back in time and change history.

So the race is on to find the missing half of the dial and see what happens when it’s assembled.

In terms of pacing Mangold keeps things moving smoothly and briskly, having proved his chops helming such works as Cop Land, 3:10 to Yuma, The Wolverine, Logan and Ford v Ferrari.

The big sell, though, is the meticulous manner in which the central mystery as to where the heck the story is going slowly swells until it assumes centre stage, overwhelming everything else by making tension the key focus of attention.

It’s some accomplishment that a franchise film of such heft – the reported budget is $US300 million (give or take) – prioritizes audience engagement with the narrative so deep into the film over all the razzle and dazzle.

It’s so rare seeing such an old-school storytelling quality in a 21st-century tentpole movie, and Dial of Destiny pulls it off superbly, complete with a fistful of beautifully conceived twists and turns.

The visual effects work is typically great, though the most impressive feat lies not in all the requisite set pieces with chases and explosions, but in the digital de-aging of Harrison Ford’s visage, which in the opening segment set in 1944 looks astonishingly time appropriate. It really is amazing what they can do these days.

Similarly, the recreation of 1969 New York, with many shots looking deep into the streets, are so realistic and full of exacting period detail one wonders how soon it will be before we see such work in the service of a non-action film.

(On the same thought, Peter Jackson’s 2005 take on King Kong also offered a startling recreation of old New York, only to have a giant monkey rampage through it.)

The one sizeable disappointment with the film is that so many of the action scenes, for all their scale and sweep, are too generic, looking too much like the action we see in other blockbusters.

When Raiders came out in 1980 the action sequences devised by Spielberg and Lucas set a new standard. That was fortified in 1984 by Temple of Doom. The sequences were thrilling and technically masterful – and all in the pre-digital age.

Alas, there’s no ambition here to match that.

The action reels in Dial of Destiny have the same rhythm as other big films, with an edit every second or two and the compression of digital work with practical work making it hard to tell actual stunts from digitally created moments of mayhem.

There’s some really good stuff, with the tuk-tuk chase through Morocco a highlight.

Still, the prevalence of key-screen shots and impossible camera angles – only made possible through digital wizardry – keep the action in Dial from rising above fray. A reference point is Jurassic World: Dominion, which arguably had action scenes of a higher calibre.

To his eternal credit Ford, now 80, plays into his age as Indy faces a reluctant retirement from academia. Motivated by a hunger for one last adventure and his hatred for the egomaniacal Voller – after all, didn’t America fight World War 2 to crush the Nazis? – Indy cuts an exasperated figure as he pursues a relic that might well make him part of history.

In main support as Helena, Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) does fine work as Indy’s sardonic sidekick, alternating between comic relief, fellow adventurer and snide capitalist. Admittedly, her likeability slides all over the scale, but at least that makes her interesting to watch.

Yet it’s veteran Danish wiz Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal; Druk) who gives the film it’s most intriguing character, playing the power-crazed Nazi to a T as Voller’s magnificently deranged plans for the future of humanity come to dominate the story. Gotta love this guy for being so boss.

When it comes to casting, kudo must go to Karen Allen, who was so memorable as Indy’s partner in Raiders. She scores fourth billing in the film’s closing credits, above Antonio Banderas who has a notable role.

Judging from the screen time she occupies her agent certainly earned their fee.