Spielberg has announced that Indiana Jones 5 will start shooting next year. But like the Ark of Covenant, some things are best left alone.
Watching Indiana Jones gallop off into the sunset in 1989’s The Last Crusade, with his trusty companions and once-estranged father now firmly by his side, it felt like the heady exploits of Indy had drawn to a satisfying conclusion. Steven Spielberg’s triumvirate of rollicking adventures had their devoted legion of fans (even for the unfairly maligned Temple of Doom), who had been offered a fitting send-off for their hero. It took the Lucasfilm creative team almost two decades to lure the audience back into the seasoned archaeologist’s world, and what tantalising treasure/artefact was used as the bait? That’s right, aliens.
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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was largely reviled by hard-core fans, and proved that straying from the formula and veering even further into B-movie territory wasn’t the way to progress the character. One of the main problems with Crystal Skull can arguably be attributed to the cinematic age we’re living in, where anything is seemingly possible to achieve with CGI. Gone was Indy’s rather lacklustre vine swinging to escape the clutches of an angry tribe; in its place was a perfectly executed Tarzan-like treetop race with a troop of digital monkeys, filmed against that bland over-lit artificial backdrop, which Indy himself wasn’t even involved in. Therein lies the problem with the character.
The fourth in the Indiana Jones saga was a bloated, hackneyed mess, but in amongst all the tired tropes, schlocky digital work and wasted supporting players, Indy himself was still very much game. Harrison Ford has always given 100% when it comes to his iconic characters, but there’s one undeniable and ever-present opponent in this era of this career – old age. Ford still looks in remarkable shape for someone well into their seventies, but even in the more physical scenes he was involved in during The Force Awakens, it was clear this was an older guy who didn’t quite have that spring in his step anymore.
This was far from an issue in his portrayal of an elderly Solo, but leaning on him to take the sole reins for another action adventure is a big ask and a large leap for the audience. It’s unlikely Ford (who will be 76-years-old when the next Indy goes into production) will be able to perform the physical feats he was even capable of 10 years ago in Skull, but matching him with a younger stuntman or masking his limitations digitally would be a disaster. He was so brilliant and brimming with gravitas in last year’s Blade Runner remake precisely because Deckard was an older, haunted man. While still called on to bring a physicality to that role, it was Ryan Gosling who largely did the heavy-lifting.
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There’s been talk online during the announcement of Indy 5 of those wanting a prequel-like yarn with Ford essentially bookending the film. These commentators have clearly forgotten about the 20-plus episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series from the early 90s (admittedly, an easy thing to do). There was also a passing of the baton in Crystal Skull between Indy and his son, Mutt, although it’s highly unlikely Shia LaBeouf will be returning next time around, given the underwhelming reception he received, and indeed, his own disparaging remarks about the film.
It’s clear that even those enthusiastic for the character’s return are aware of the constraints. If that’s the case, why revisit? Something like Star Wars has legs because there’s so much to potentially pull from in that universe, whereas Indiana Jones is a smaller intimate series, dependent on being led by the titular character. Perhaps this is the intended farewell Spielberg wanted all along, and freed from the shackles of his pal Lucas’ creative demands, he has something pretty wonderful up his sleeve.
Whatever happens, it’s doubtful he’ll be able to conjure up anything as fitting as that sweltering sunset.