Recent casting news about Indiana Jones 5 has us looking back at old, controversial interviews. Can the franchise reboot be successful?
The rumors about Indiana Jones 5 have been going on ever since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the internet’s post-Guardians of the Galaxy fantasy of seeing Chris Pratt in the role only served to get fans more hyped about it. In March 2016, Disney confirmed that a fifth movie will be premiering in 2020, and hinted that it might be the start of — you guessed it — a reboot.
This week, Entertainment Weekly interviewed David Koepp, the screenwriter for the upcoming film. He confirmed two facts for us: Harrison Ford does, in fact, play Indiana Jones and Shia LaBeouf will definitely not appear.
It’s not really a surprise that LaBeouf won’t be returning. The famously controversial actor was painfully honest about his feelings for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in a 2010 interview, disappointed with his own performance and even more so with what the studio had made of the movie. It’s unsurprising that Disney decided not to bring him on a second time — but some of his remarks do ring true, and are interesting to re-examine in this post-reboot-craze world.
“Look, the movie could have been updated. There was a reason it wasn’t universally accepted. […]We need to be able to satiate the appetite […] I think we just misinterpreted what we were trying to satiate.”
Harrison Ford was quick to address the issue with his usual matter-of-factness in an interview with Details (the original of which is no longer online): “I think [LaBeouf] was a f*cking idiot.”
But LaBeouf pointed out a question that’s important for any studio returning to a universe with a built-in fandom: What do we want to see in Indiana Jones 5? Is it Harrison Ford in a hat? Is it creative stunts and CGI? Is it the thrill of an archaeology-centered plot?
There is no right or wrong answer, but the answer is important. Crystal Skull was an okay movie with a great cast, but it made little impression on its audience. Why was the reception so different from the one the main trilogy received, and how can Indiana Jones 5 avoid the same pitfalls?
Switch up the formula
LaBeouf noted that Crystal Skull needed an ‘update’ — and that while the studio realized that there was an audience for the movie, that audience’s needs weren’t correctly interpreted. Besides the alien twist, Crystal Skull didn’t stray too far from the formula we’ve come to expect from old adventure franchises’ return to screen: it even incorporated the usual passing-on-the-torch of the reluctant hero to a young, daring successor.
Indiana Jones 5 will be the first Indiana Jones movie not written by George Lucas, which might bring much-needed freshness to the franchise. But Koepp’s story still seems to revolve around something comfortable. According to Entertainment Weekly, “the plot will involve ‘some precious artifact that they’re all looking for’ throughout the film.”
While Indiana Jones is beloved for its theme song and the old-fashioned romance of an adventurous archaeologist, that’s not necessarily all we need from it right now. A new film should bring in new elements, especially in an age that’s very different from ‘80s, or even 2008. What makes Indiana Jones’ adventures meaningful in today’s world? It might not be the finding/stealing of artifacts from foreign cultures (or the ancient aliens theory, for god’s sake).
The ‘Logan’ treatment
There’s a reason everyone keeps invoking Logan when it comes to character reboot-finales: it simultaneously turned a genre on its head, brought closure to a beloved character, and surpassed the movies before it. Some of the strengths of Logan, well-applied, could do a lot for Indiana Jones 5, which needs to strike a balance between a nostalgic reboot and what’s probably going to be a finale of sorts. While Ford might be present for this film, it seems unlikely that he would sign up to reboot a franchise without end in sight.
That’s not to say that Ford leaving would necessarily mean the end. Disney might bring in new characters for us to love, and even with Mutt Williams out of the picture, there might be a chance of seeing a new successor to Ford’s Indiana Jones.
But between Crystal Skull and Logan, it’s clear that the usual successor formula doesn’t work. If Indiana Jones 5 wants to bring in a new lead, this new apprentice should be someone very different from Jones himself — someone that is not the young, angsty-yet-daring boy we all expect. It’s surprising character dynamics that make a story fascinating, and a reboot like this could definitely use that element.
Let the legend end
This is clearly the last thing Disney wants to do, and even Spielberg made his position on killing off the lead character clear:
“The one thing I will tell you is I’m not killing off Harrison [Ford] at the end of it.”
But this franchise can’t go on forever, as beloved as it is. Stories without an end become long and boring very quickly — as we’ve unfortunately seen with Pirates of the Caribbean — with installments so similar that they start to blur together. Maybe Indiana Jones doesn’t have to die for the story to end, but Disney needs to have a finale in mind, and commit to it.
Audiences might have a hunger for the classics of the past that needs to be satiated — but don’t overfeed them. Give them a hint of the past, and then serve something new that can stand on its own. Otherwise, like Crystal Skull, this reboot will leave little more than vague, bitter memories for both the audience and the creators.