It is strange to see Harrison Ford, one of America’s living cinematic legends, continue to return to his most iconic characters in stories that cast them as sad old septuagenarians wasting out their days at the bottom of empty bottles wishing away bad decisions and endless regrets. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was the start of the trend, with Han Solo reduced to an absentee father with an evil son; Blade Runner 2049 continued the trend by casting Rick Deckard as a recluse, mourning his supposedly dead child; and so it is that Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, perhaps the sequel audiences wanted least, gives us a hero whose happy endings have all been stolen once again. Who asked for this?

Mutt, the son Indy never knew he had before meeting him in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, has been killed while serving in the U.S. Army. Indy’s wife, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), has left him. All that Henry Jones Jr. (forget the Indiana nickname; that’s a name he hasn’t used in decades) has left is his job, his shitty apartment and the booze that keeps things manageable. Jones wants to die. The world doesn’t need him anymore.

Unfortunately for fans of the franchise, Dial of Destiny and the powers that be who insisted on another story about Indiana Jones couldn’t figure out why audiences needed to see him again, either. Director James Mangold (also credited as a writer along with Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and David Koepp) has crafted a lethargic, unnecessary story with little spark that never quite settles on a real call to action for the character. Unlike even the much-derided Crystal Skull, there’s very little in the way of iconic imagery or imaginative set-pieces. Love it or hate it, Indiana Jones surviving a nuclear blast in a lead-lined 1950s refrigerator has persisted in popular culture. There’s nothing like that this time around. It’s all mundane, weightless action building up to a finale that makes the aliens at the end of the last movie seem grounded. Who thought any of this was a good idea?

The story picks up with Jones on the day of his retirement, depressed and aimless. He’s quickly drawn into a new adventure due to the actions of Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), his never-before-mentioned goddaughter who happens to be a thief and rogue in search of a rare artifact to sell. Helena’s pursuit of the titular Dial of Destiny — a device designed by Archimedes that can supposedly control time — has landed her on a CIA watchlist at the behest of Colonel Voller (Mads Mikkelsen), an ex-Nazi who earned favors from the United States government by designing our moon rockets. After trying to rip off Indy, Helena absconds with half of the Dial. He has to chase her while also wrapped up in a murder investigation left in the wake of her theft, with him as the prime suspect. What follows is a two-hour game of Indy and Helena trying to complete the Dial while pursued by their foe.

There are a lot of problems with Dial of Destiny, the most crucial being that the story has no narrative engine. Each Indy sequel finds the hero building a new family around a mission he’s initially reluctant to take. In Last Crusade and Crystal Skull, that also means reconnecting with old family. It’s not inherently a problem for this newest story to borrow that form, but after a story about his father and a story about his son, it’s fundamentally a little odd to use his goddaughter as the driving emotional connection. It just doesn’t sing the same way, which means the other story scaffolding needs to do more lifting, and none of it works. The connection to the CIA and the Operation Paperclip of it all (when the U.S. recruited Nazi scientists for our space program) is unintuitive and jumbled; Voller is bland and uninteresting; and everything about the Dial feels like a fetch-quest in the worst sort of way. None of the characters provides anything emotional onto which you can latch.

Aside from the core lack of characters, the film also lacks the creative texture of its predecessors. The key to Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s four films is that they’re all inspired by serials they had grown up with, and their historical settings reflect the tropes of those stories in a playful and exciting way. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Last Crusade are beloved because they feel like modernizations of 1930s serials; Temple of Doom is less beloved but no less accomplished, despite the fact it dives thoughtlessly into the more racist elements of Hollywood entertainment of the era. Even Crystal Skull is unapologetic in its devotion to 1950s sci-fi films.

There are moments in Dial of Destiny that feel like Mangold and company are aiming for a more morally complex, “end-of-an-era” Indiana Jones, befitting the late-1960s setting and what would then be a nascent New Hollywood vibe (which is, ironically, what Raiders was initially built to push against as that era waned). But all of that takes a backseat to the adventure story that never pops.

Harrison Ford is 80 years old. Nobody expects him to be performing his own stunts, and yet there’s a bizarre imbalance at play where the early sections of the film rely excessively on facial replacement technology to depict Indy riding horses, running around on moving trains and even scuba-diving before the finale sidelines him as a wounded old fogey while Helena gets all the big action beats. Her character notwithstanding — never developing beyond one note into someone Indy should care about — it’s just so odd from a storytelling perspective. The pacing is so lethargic and so unfocused that by the time we arrive to Indy outright asking to die, nothing feels earned or meaningful.

I’m not opposed to the Hollywood habit of bringing back baby-boomer and Gen-X heroes as an avenue for exploring the scary nature of aging and the impermanence of success; it’s not like Ford is the only actor in any such film to be given a death deemed unbefitting the statue of his characters (though for some reason Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which actually did it right, was the one most hated by fans). It’s certainly odd, though, that this is the third time in the past 10 years we’ve witnessed Ford’s legends become bad fathers with nothing to show for their lives as they become relics in their own lifetimes. Particularly because we’re living in a world where the leader of the United States seems to be an octogenarian who has finally achieved his lifelong dream in his sunset years after raising a family he values. It may be uncool to point to Joe Biden in a positive light, but if that’s a story we’re seeing play out at the center of America’s cultural lens, why are we still sitting around wondering how fucking miserable it must be to age like normal people? 

I was born in 1989, seven months after Last Crusade was released. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull bowed when I was 18, and it’s reasonable to say mine is the last generation with any real nostalgia for Indiana Jones and his stories. My older relatives couldn’t give less of a shit about seeing more of him after Skull left them so disappointed, and most folks younger than me grew up without older generations throwing the character in their face quite like other 1980s franchises that ended when they should’ve or got viable continuations into the new millennium. Sam wrote his review for those people, and his sentiment that Last Crusade should’ve ended everything is on the nose.

But I was someone who has grown to like Crystal Skull, to see the value in Spielberg and Lucas’s attempt at giving Indiana Jones one last ride into a new era of genre storytelling. There are merits to their creative excess and, at the very least, that movie ended with a nice sign-off for the whole cast. I had hoped Dial of Destiny would do the same, and it just fails on every conceivable level. It’s not even an interesting sort of bad. It’s just bad, a movie without a purpose for existing creatively or commercially, destined to be forgotten.