Last week, it was announced that Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford were reuniting for a fifth Indiana Jones movie to be released in 2019. Predictably, the Internet lost its collective minds in geeky ecstasy. But should they have? (Short answer: NO. And grow up.)
Do-Do-Do-Do-Do-Do-Doo (it’s the theme). The whip! The fedora! “I hate snakes!” “Kali-Ma!” “You chose … wisely.” The same director! The same star! No mention of George Lucas! INDIANA JONES!!!
Okay. Let’s step back. No, not to the 1981 when a gold statue and a rolling boulder became one of the most iconic cinematic images of all time. No, not to 1984 with “Anything Goes” in Mandarin, monkey brains, and the realization many years later ‘wait, that was a prequel?’ No, not even to 1989, where we’re still arguing whether or not Indiana Jones is immortal or if the immortality ‘ended’ when he crossed the seal.
Let’s take off our nostalgia goggles and travel back to 2008, 11 years before the next movie is set to come out. The summer of Iron Man. The summer of The Dark Knight. And the summer of … Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Did everyone forget about this gem? Did everyone forget how we reacted to this treasure? Or are we so obsessed with reliving our past, that the words “Spielberg,” “Ford,” and “Jones,” triggered some Pavlovian response that wiped our minds clear of the worst inter-dimensional aliens since the Enterprise-A entered the Delphic Expanse.
While it would be nice to believe that we’re going to return to the glory days of the 1980’s, the most logical place to look for past performance is honestly but unfortunately, Crystal Skull. For starters, they rehired the David Koepp, the same writer as that movie. Sure, David Koepp is a veteran at popcorn movies with more than 25 years of experience, ranging from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to the original Spider-Man to Spielberg’s War of the Worlds to Angels & Demons and its upcoming sequel Inferno. But he also wrote Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a movie that confused set pieces with plot worse (or is it better?) than any movie not made by Michael Bay. (“Nuking the fridge” was far from the worst thing about that adventure, but it’s the easiest shorthand reference. Kind of like Jar Jar Binks was with The Phantom Menace.)
But Koepp is one of this new movie’s (presumed) lesser problems; movies like these often place the screenwriter as quite low on the totem pole. The biggest problems are probably the two biggest selling points- Spielberg and Ford themselves. Crystal Skull reflected where Spielberg and Ford were at that point in their lives, and they’re probably still closer to who they were then then who they were during Temple of Doom. Harrison Ford has gotten older. It’s a fact of life – it’s possibly the only fact of life – and aging limits what one can do physically, as well as how a person presents themselves. You can hire all the stunt people and CGI artists in the world to make Indy seem agile, but they won’t return us to the brash, cocky archaeologist/professor. To be fair, Ford still has a lot of charisma, but Skull played more off his age (Mutt: “What are you, like 80?”) than his personality.
And what of Spielberg? He is still chasing the universally beloved popcorn movie that has eluded him for the past 15+ years. Could he get it with The BFG, coming this summer? What about nostalgia-obsessed Ready Player One, coming 2018? It’s certainly possible, but they’re likely to be far more kid-friendly (and CGI-heavy) fare than Indiana Jones at his peak. While I fully recognize that computer effects are part and parcel of today’s movie making experience, it’s also what brought us swinging monkeys and this thing. Of course, maybe I’m just being overly cynical and a stereotypical online “hater.” Could they have learned what didn’t work from that movie and try to fix it for this one? It’s certainly possible. It’s also certainly possibly that they learned that name alone can rake in $800 million worldwide so why try and force the issue?
Of course, I fully acknowledge the various arguments to the contrary. Ford provided The Force Awakens with the perfect emotional link to the original three films; the new film would have lost something significant without his presence. But Han Solo is a much different, and more complex, character than Indiana Jones. The Original Trilogy gave him a character arc, from rogue to hero. Indiana Jones is, and has always been, a one-dimensional action hero. Arguably the best to ever grace the silver screen, but that is not the role for a 70-year-old (though Scott Glenn certainly makes it work as Stick in Daredevil). Regardless, Ford’s age is an issue, and the movies already know it. Crystal Skull made plenty of comments and cracks about his age (his son Mutt comments on it, he rues the passage of time and the deaths of all his friends, etc.), and this movie is going to find him over a decade later? They’re not going to be hanging a lampshade on his elderly status, they’re going to be hanging an entire chandelier. The Force Awakens didn’t need to comment on Han Solo being old because his character is given to change. Indiana Jones, on the other hand …
Another potential tactic is that this movie can be a baton passer – Mentor Jones gives his hat to the next generation of adventurer. But we saw them try that before. It was called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and starred Shia LeBeouf (who at least isn’t Jai Courtney, heir apparent to John McClane). This approach has several pitfalls of its own. Unlike Star Wars (sorry to go back to that well, but it’s probably the most apt comparison), Indiana Jones isn’t about a galaxy or a collection of characters, it’s about one guy. His name is in the title of 75% of the movies plus a TV series (which shows that you don’t need Ford to play the character…but it helps). Finding someone to pick up the mantle will not just be difficult, but will be ultimately disappointing. (And I am fully aware that they are actually going to try and replace Harrison Ford with a Star Wars prequel (I mean ‘Story’) built around pre-A New Hope Han Solo – but that’s an article for another time, as well one on the supposed Die Hard prequel.) Indiana Jones is part of our zeitgeist, anyone else trying to be him (even if not named ‘Indiana Jones’) will be a pretender to the throne. The Adventures of Jones’ Protege will likely end up as another disposable action franchise of one or two movies ready for a reboot three years down the line.
Naturally, this leads to the bigger question of, what would a sequel/sequel franchise be? The first three Indiana Jones movies worked because they were a throwback to the serials of the pre-WWII period (many of which are available on YouTube and fun to watch) when archeology was in vogue with adventurers like Percy Fawcett, Howard Carter, and Richard E. Byrd making discoveries that thrilled the imaginations of the public. Then World War II happened and interest died down. As we recovered from the conflict, horror and sci-fi stories captured more interest and became the genres du jour. Will the new 1950s/1960s-set movies pay homage to the true spirit of Indiana Jones by placing them in a B-movie framework, or will they just be the same collection of Indy tropes and visual/audio cues that have been ingrained in us for 40 years? We know the answer. Do do do do.
As of late, Harrison Ford seems to enjoy returning to his old roles. He’s even coming back for Blade Runner 2, in a move with. which I also have problems. It will either unfortunately answer the age-old question of whether Rick Deckard is a Replicant (regardless of the answer, the ambiguity is one of the movie’s strongest points), or greatly exaggerate his importance by making him some sort of ubermodel for the Replicants forgetting that the original’s power was that he was just an average, every man/man-bot. Though I am looking forward to when he eventually reteams with Tommy Lee Jones, for The Fugitive 2: I Still Don’t Care.
Some of these movies, including the new Star Wars ones, have potential based on the unknown. We’ve seen what happens when Indiana Jones comes back after his supposed Last Crusade, and it’s not good. For all the wide-eyed, slack jawed excitement over the initial news, please remember that Crystal Skull gets the same response as The Star Wars Prequels – we refuse to acknowledge its existence. There is no reason to believe that Indy 5 will be any different. But at least we might get another Plinkett review out of the deal.