With news earlier this week that a fifth Indiana Jones movie is on the way, pretty much everyone rolled their eyes at the thoughts of facing into another Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The 2008 entry to the franchise, although a commercial success, was a critical failure. Nobody liked it. How could they? It had Shia LaBeouf aping Marlon Brando, you had CGI monkeys, Steven Spielberg wildly out of step with what audiences expected and Karen Allen - the brilliant Karen Allen - shoehorned in for little or no reason. She deserved better. The few rays of hope for Crystal Skull came from Cate Blancett and her Ukranian mind-control expert and infusing Indiana Jones with the paranoia of the Cold War. That part worked. Everything else didn't.
Harrison Ford, for his part, filled out his part with a decent amount of charm and updated the character to include his now legendary gruffness. There were more than a few winks to the audience about his advancing years, not to mention the fact that Ford's willingness to hurl his body headlong into the action was still present. He could slide back into the leather jacket and hat without skipping a beat; it's just a shame the next story was so weak.
That fault lay with the various scripts that passed through several hands before whatever it was arrived on-screen. Frank Darabot, for example, took one pass at it. The alleged script that landed online - before being quickly suppressed - was beautiful and had everything we'd hoped for a fourth Indiana Jones. The blame, therefore, must rest with David Koepp's take on the script. While the film left it somewhat open for Shia LaBeouf to take on the mantle and become the next Indiana Jones, the revulsion was such that it never came to fruition. Thankfully.
So, what now? How can they honestly expect an audience to become excited about Indiana Jones? And furthermore, why are they doing it? The reason is simple. The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams' hugely entertaining take on Star Wars reminded audiences that, when given a decent script, Harrison Ford can actually be just as wily and charming as he's ever been. Ford's always had an uneasy relationship with his previous characters; whether it be Rick Deckard, Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Ford himself believed the knives were out for him with Crystal Skull, but the real problem with it was that it was just bad.
The only way that Indiana Jones can possibly be attempted for a fifth time is if there's a soft reboot. Basically, do what they did with Star Trek - take certain aspects of the original, but make it relevant to both those that remember the original and entice a new audience. Harrison Ford will be 78 when the film is released in 2019. Sean Connery, when filming The Last Crusade, was 59 when he played Henry Jones, Sr. Like it or not, Harrison Ford simply can't do the same level of action or stunts that is called for with Indiana Jones.
Here comes the harsh truth. There needs to be a passing of the torch with Indiana Jones V. That needs to happen either through Jones' retelling of a story in his earlier life - ála The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles - or, perhaps, recasting Shia LaBeouf's character. Even if Harrison Ford is still game for a laugh and wants to continue throwing himself off tanks and riding horseback, the audience just can't buy it anymore. Consider how bad the CGI was in Revenge of the Sith. Ian McDiarmid, the actor who played Palpatine, was unable to complete the complex lightsaber sequences and had to use a stunt double for the majority of these scenes. You look back now and it's patently obvious which is which. Sure, you might have Liam Neeson fully prepared to murder half of Paris to convince people he's an action star, but those films are so ridiculous as to be laughable.
Indiana Jones was an old-school swashbuckling adventure. While it didn't necessarily have a basis in reality, it was convincing for us. Trying to get Harrison Ford to crack his whip and make us believe that he can survive the bumps and bruises of yesteryear isn't going to fly. Let someone - Chris Pratt or Alden Ehrenreich being the two most obvious choices - take the reigns and bring in a new generation along with it. Steven Spielberg, as well, should pass over the director's chair to someone else. There's an entire stable of directors who grew up watching Indiana Jones, learning how to block and pace a scene, how to infuse it with comedy without it being silly and who learned the value of economic dialogue. Directors like Jeff Nichols, Gareth Evans and Edgar Wright could easily bring back the enthusiasm and the buoyancy of the original series.
Spielberg, whether he likes to admit it or not, has become too caught up in technical exercises rather than crafting an entertaining story. Bridge of Spies, although it was serviceable, was perfunctory in how the story was told. There was something almost procedural about it. Meanwhile, The BFG - from what we've seen so far - looks more like a special-effects reel than an imaginative retelling of one of the greatest children's novels ever written. Sparing CGI, a focus on real locations with real stunts - that's what made Indiana Jones great. When they visited Petra in Last Crusade, it felt like they were really there - because they were. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, it really did feel like Ford was taking every punch and scrape. There was a texture to it all; rough, unbalanced, craggy - just like Indiana Jones himself.
If Spielberg can pull this off, by essentially breaking himself from his recent habits and refocusing on what made Indiana Jones so special, there's something to hope for here.