***Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for all five Indiana Jones films, including Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.***

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny was presented as the final film in the Indiana Jones franchise, which appears to be a good thing; given its less-than-stellar box office showing, it’s hard to imagine studios bankrolling a sequel. There are any number of explanations for its lack of success, but certainly one reason is the now-ubiquitous charge of “nostalgia,” the accusation that (rightly or wrongly) has dogged many recent releases.

Hollywood, we are told, seems content to recycle old concepts, catering to “adultolescents” who never escaped the centripetal force of the 1980s. This is a legitimate concern, of course, since executives tend to want a solid return on investment when hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, and an established property seems more likely to provide that. This strategy may be backfiring, however, as the last Indiana Jones adventure is only the latest in a series of flailing franchise products, from Marvel to DC to Star Wars. Perhaps Dial of Destiny deserved to fail because it was one more static entrant into a parade of less innovative entertainment products.

The callbacks to earlier moments in the series, far from being nostalgic, serve the opposite purpose: they push back against an uncritical obsession with the past.

I’d like to suggest otherwise, however. Indeed, I believe Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny represents a fitting coda to a five-film dynamic in the development of one of action cinema’s most iconic figures. Christ and Pop Culture’s own critics have identified Indy as a fundamentally static character, and in this, I respectfully but vehemently disagree. Indeed, when we step back and look at the series as a whole and on a chronological basis, we see a gradual but discernible arc in the character of Indiana Jones, from self-seeking adventurer to self-sacrificial friend and family man. It’s not quite all I would have hoped from a man who’s beheld some signature miracles out of Judeo-Christian lore, but it shows him to be far from static.

In order to describe this arc that I’m positing, it’s important first to recognize a feature I missed about the series until a recent rewatching: that even though Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) was the first film produced, its follow-up, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), is technically not a sequel but a prequel (the former occurs in 1936, the latter in 1935). This feature actually helps make the series as a whole more coherent, and as such, I’ll actually begin my analysis with Temple of Doom.

First, an admission: I love Indiana Jones and will take one of his films over virtually any other adventure feature any day of the week. That said, Temple of Doom is far and away my least favorite, in part for reasons that many other critics have already noted. It’s violent, of course, notoriously sparking the impetus to form the PG-13 rating, though honestly, I don’t know that it’s as grisly as the climax to Raiders. But Temple of Doom‘s violence is also combined with racist and misogynist overtones as well as some Buster Keaton-esque slapstick humor. The resulting film feels pretty dated to most contemporary viewers.

Its offenses to cultural sensibilities are genuinely problematic, and they can’t be fully assuaged by the assertion that some of the apparent racial tropes may have been intended as satirical cultural commentary on Western prejudices. Regardless, Indy’s callous treatment of flighty love interest Willie Scott is certainly hard to take. This is apparently director Steven Spielberg’s own opinion, as he has stated, “I wasn’t happy with Temple of Doom at all. It was too dark, too subterranean, and much too horrific. . . . There’s not an ounce of my own personal feeling in Temple of Doom.”

However, it does make more sense if we see Indiana Jones as an immature man on a lifelong journey. Most of us who look back on the span of our lives will have aspects or periods we would rather others overlook, however significant they may have been in our own development. This could be said for the Indy of Temple of Doom. Though already an archaeologist at the beginning of the movie, Ford’s character is navigating shady underworld situations and shows little connection either to academia or altruism. By the end, however, he has saved the village, admitting to a religious leader that he now understands the power of the Sankara Stones.

This resolution doesn’t exactly make Indiana Jones admirable, though. He remains cavalier in his treatment of Willie, who never appears again in the series (nor does his Chinese sidekick, Ke Huy Quan’s Short Round), and notwithstanding his dealings with the Sankara Stones, he appears to still be a skeptic the following year in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The Indy of Raiders is gruff and intractable, and despite his occupation as a cursorily ordinary academic, he remains an agent of chaos wherever he goes.

Still, when we look closely, we can see that he has grown as a character, however slightly. When we meet Marion Ravenwood, we first learn that their relationship began while she was a teenager. She tells him, “I was a child. I was in love. It was wrong and you knew it!” Though Indy questions her account of her innocence, and it could have been worse (George Lucas apparently first proposed she be 11 at the time!), most viewers will agree with Marion’s assessment, I think. Since the tryst with Marion occurred before the events of Temple of Doom, this simply adds texture to the picture of young Indiana Jones as a scoundrel.

But even though Indy and Marion bicker constantly, we are still able to see in him an affection and self-sacrificial care for her that is less superficial than his treatment of Willie Scott. Though he remains reckless, his insistence that the Ark be understood as a treasure rather than a weapon—“It belongs in a museum!”—certainly keeps us from regarding him as a rogue treasure seeker. And he sets his native skepticism aside long enough to recognize the very supernatural effect of God’s glory when the Nazis open the Ark, marking their encounter with a truly sacred relic.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) actually presents two epochs in the character’s life, both significant. It begins with an opening sequence depicting Indy as a teenager who tries to thwart the artifact-plundering of an affluent tomb raider. Though the sequence may seem disconnected from the film as a whole, it sets the stage for the father-son rivalry that will drive the movie’s emotional action and, in the process, helps viewers better understand how Indy evolved into the man he would become. The teenage Jones—in his pre-nickname iteration of Henry Jr.—evinces the wild abandon we will always associate with him but channeled in good-natured ways.

In his attempt to reclaim the stolen crucifix of Coronado, he will presage his later complaints that “it belongs in a museum.” Young Henry’s unsuccessful quest serves to illustrate his fraught relationship with his father, Henry Sr. Both share a love of the past and a desire for its preservation, but young Henry’s unruly approach merits alienation rather than approval from his stern academic father. Last Crusade thus heavily implies that Indy’s tempestuous adult career derives from both his attraction to the family business of archaeology and his inability to be the obsessive, proper scholar as embodied by Henry Sr.

In forcing Indiana Jones to confront and reconcile with his father, then, Last Crusade sets the stage for another moment of transformation in the character, one that is arguably more significant than the development we see at the end of either of the previous films. When Henry Sr. initially thinks his son has been killed in the battle on the tank (my all-time favorite action sequence, I must say), he is confronted with his own negligence, only to be afforded a second chance when he learns Indy is still alive. Indy must then act on his care for his father and test his own commitment to skepticism, passing through the three trials—the Breath of God, the Word of God, and the Path of God—to obtain the Grail. Indy correctly identifies the humble object he seeks, rescues his father, and then surrenders his pursuit of personal glory by leaving the Grail behind in the collapsing temple.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is set in 1938, just a couple years after Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Indy of the third movie still retains some signs of immaturity. He can be prideful and petulant, and he remains a commitment-phobic womanizer. But when Stephen Spielberg returned to the character after a long hiatus for 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he wisely set the action in 1957, almost twenty years in the future. This affords us an opportunity to see a very different Indy, one who has changed significantly, often for the better, and one who—far more than in the previous films—must reckon with the implications of his vices.

Crystal Skull often looks backward. Our protagonist is almost sixty, and two of the most important relationships from his youth—his father and Marcus Brody—have passed away. His freewheeling approach to archaeology has caught up to him: he is betrayed by one of his associates, he is under investigation by the FBI, and he is being hunted by Soviet agents for his knowledge. As the story progresses, he is forced to encounter even more collateral damage from his past. He meets Mutt, the son he didn’t know he had, and is reunited with Mutt’s mother, Marion Ravenwood—marking the first time a heroine would reappear in the film series.

Much hay is made about the supposed absurdity of the film, particularly Indy’s ability to survive a nuclear blast in a lead-lined fridge. Though undoubtedly silly, this is hardly the most improbable encounter in his film travels and indeed helps reinforce the fact that, in the twenty years between Last Crusade and Crystal Skull, the world has truly passed into a different era. It sets the backdrop for an Indy who is no longer young, but who must now choose if he will age well by accepting responsibility for the folly of his early years. By marrying Marion and acknowledging Mutt, Indy does so and appears ready to face the future.

But this year’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny affords our protagonist one last adventure, and in my judgment, presents viewers with a final, fully satisfying arc. What we would like to see is our hero happily settled with his bride, Marion, and content with his family at the close of his academic career. Instead, we encounter a slovenly Indy at his personal nadir, caught up in a world whose changes haven’t ceased accelerating since 1957. Crystal Skull reminded us of these changes through its nuclear explosion. With its 1969 setting, Dial of Destiny does so by foregrounding America’s moon landing over a decade later.

Like Last Crusade, however, Dial of Destiny begins with an extended flashback, in which a younger version of Indiana Jones is once again battling Nazis for artifacts, this time as WWII’s end approaches. It’s a canny move on the writers’ part, since everyone knows the franchise’s best moments have come with fighting Nazis. But it also introduces the film’s villain and a key thematic component to the storyline: the relationship of Indy and his adversaries to the past.

The critiques of Dial of Destiny’s reliance on nostalgia began to be levied long before anyone had actually seen the film, and I fear that knee-jerk reaction tainted appraisals and popular opinion when it was finally released. Far from being nostalgic, the callbacks to earlier moments in the series serve the opposite purpose: they push back against an uncritical obsession with the past (almost, but not quite, to a fault, in my opinion). The 1940s prologue quickly dispenses with the classic fascist Nazi villains, while also introducing our chief antagonist, Mads Mikkelsen’s Jürgen Voller. Far from a cackling sociopath, Voller is portrayed as a kind of doppelgänger to Indy, an academic who recognizes in his counterpart the same draw to older days that he himself feels. For Voller, though, the attraction comes with the Nazi cause, one that he feels could succeed with just a few tweaks. For Indiana Jones, the interest is in more ancient times. Regardless, both characters feel ill-suited for life on the cusp of the 1970s.

In earlier franchise successes, Indy’s mirror-image characters came not in the Nazis themselves but in their allies, the people whose pursuit of the prestige of the artifacts became obsessive enough that they justified deals with the devil: René Belloq in Raiders, Walter Donovan and Elsa Schneider in Last Crusade. As such, Indiana Jones is never truly tempted by Voller’s ideological Nazism. But Voller is correct in identifying how ill-suited Indy seems for the modern world.

Significantly, it is figures from his past that push him into the future: his past antagonist Voller initiates the search for the time-warping Antikythera, the daughter of an old colleague drags him into the search, and his old friend Sallah assists him in the quest. The film’s out-of-left-field climax finds the villain and the protagonists thrown back in time to the Siege of Syracuse (212 BC), where Indy is tempted to remain with Archimedes and the Greeks, feeling he has no place in the twentieth century. This is the ultimate exemplification of the character’s longstanding temporal sehnsucht.

In the end, Helena Shaw literally drags him back to the present day. Helena was the daughter of Indy’s colleague Basil, himself too obsessed with past artifacts. She brings him back to the present, where he is reunited with younger acquaintances (Helena, Teddy Kumar, Sallah’s grandchildren) and those of his own generation—his loyal friend Sallah and Marion, with whom he can at last reconcile. This scene suggests a healthy union of past, present, and future.

Indeed, far from nostalgia, it may promote future-thinking a little too much for my taste. One could wish Indiana Jones’s arc had allowed him to learn more from the past, to recognize the genuine supernatural efficacy of artifacts like the Ark and the Grail, and to inquire more deeply into the source of that efficacy. Instead, it feeds us the pablum of lines like, “[I]t’s not so much what you believe, it’s how hard you believe it.” This is the kind of absurd nonsense that feels distinctly of our own cultural moment and threatens to undercut the film’s more substantial themes.

Does Indy’s relinquishing of the Antikythera (like his surrender of so many other artifacts) indicate that the series’ overall message is to ignore the ancient past entirely? I don’t think we need to read it that way. All five plots demonstrate the relevance of the past to the present; and if Indy can’t remain in ancient Syracuse, his moment of contact with Archimedes at the battle is poignant, a touching reminder of two souls united in common cause across the millennia. But he cannot live in the past, either in classical antiquity or in a more recent past when the villains were easy to spot and his father and son were still alive.

His return to twentieth-century life brings him from his early days as roguish anti-hero to life in a genuine family and finally, fully into the embrace of those who can—and always have—made his life most meaningful. It’s not rocket science (or archaeology, or—alas—theology), but it is a much better place for his character to be than where he was at the end of any of the previous films. In this regard, at least, Indiana Jones finally finds his lost arc.