The Man with the hat will be back. But this time, will it work out?
In 2012, in addition to getting the rights to Lucasfilm’s super-popular “Star Wars” series, Disney also acquired to equally iconic, if slightly less popular, Indiana Jones series, which featured four films to date with Harrison Ford as the adventurer/archaeologist with a fear of Snakes. Now, a fifth film is on the way for a July 10 2020 release date (although initial reports around this time last year gave a 2019 release date), with Spielberg back in the director’s chair and Ford once again with the hat and whip.
The original trilogy of films was well-regarded, with “Raiders” at the top. Temple of Doom was somewhat criticized for it’s heavier emphasis on action and chases rather than plot and drama, as well as it’s controversial subject matter and gore, but “Last Crusade” is generally considered near “Raiders” levels of popularity, even if some argue that it was the beginning of the franchise choosing more on slapstick humor and a more toned-down version of Jones.
In 2008, it was felt this kind of reached it’s nadir with “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull”, which brought Ford as Indy back (In a similar fashion to how aging action stars Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Bruce Willis also revived their famous characters around that time). Plus Ford had aged nearly twenty years, and we didn’t get any of the fantastic stunts or sequences from the other movies. While Indy gets a few good fist-fights in, the film’s two main chase sequences-the bicycle chase and the jungle chase-are mainly headlined by Shia Lebouf, with the first chase pretty much being the inverse of Indy’s escape from Castle Bruntwald in Last Crusade, and the jungle chase mostly focusing on Shia’s sword fighting and his monkey-swinging, with Indy not doing too much except driving and switching vehicles a few times. They seemed to be grooming Lebouf to take over the Jones mantle, although stopping short of him putting the hat on at film’s end.
The film also dealt with a few loose ends with Raiders of the Lost Ark, namely the hanger where the Ark was stored (Area 51, in an attempt to tie into the whole “aliens” aspect of the plot) and Indy’s relationship with Marion, which was actually intended to be further developed in the other films but didn’t materialize. Turns out it produced his son Mutt. Indy at the end of the movie makes up for it and marries Marion, so he kind of gets a happy ending after all. But overall, it’s agreed by fans that Indy’s last adventure was a poor entry in the series, not only for it’s humor and light tone but also due to it’s somewhat less mystical theme of Alien skulls and of course, such absurdities as Indy surviving a nuclear blast-lead-lined fridge or not.
It’s often been speculated that a lot of the absurdities could be blamed on George Lucas’s involvement as producer, especially since Lucas has recently finished his Star Wars prequels, which were of course also heavily-maligned by fans of the series; and also that Lucas’s insistence on adding aliens to the story was one of the major stumbling blocks in getting the script ready. With Spielberg still making quality films-although somewhat more dramatic ones than the escapist fare he was more famous for-and Ford not exactly at the height of his career but in still fairly good shape-Lucas was kind of the weakest link here.
I think it’s a bit telling that Harrison’s performance as Han Solo in the Lucasless “The Force Awakens”-a character he nearly really enjoyed as much as Indiana Jones-is much better than his reprisal of Indiana.
So perhaps, Disney, Spielberg and Ford can make up for the bad taste of “Kingdom” with a stronger film, as “Force Awakens” proved (well, to me, at least). There are a few problems though. Han Solo was never as physical as Indiana Jones, and Ford is nearing his 80’s, and will be 78 when the film is set to debut in 2020. Given that he was limited physically in 2008 (At age 66) in Crystal Skull, I can’t see the film-which will be released over a dozen years later-being quite as thrilling. Even with stunt doubles, CGI etc…..a 79 year old doing sometime like this:
Is stretching disbelief quite a bit…. (There’s even a few jokes in “Kingdom” about Indy’s age….”Not as easy as it used to be” “Damn, I thought that was closer” etc.)and then, there’s of course Mutt. The film’s supposed to take place after IJ5, so I wonder if Indy’s new family will be included somehow. If so, would there be a situation like I described earlier with Mutt doing most of the action? Not necessarily played by Shia Lebouf (Lebouf’s been kind of doing his own kind of strange performance art thing lately, and his friendship with Spielberg that led to him getting cast in the first place is pretty much nonexistent now) but I can see a similar problem arising.
Finally, one might ask, why not go younger, recast him in films set before, or around the other films? Well, for one Harrison Ford is largely synonymous with Indiana Jones, and has stuck by the role for nearly forty years. Even for a film series where the lead is replaced fairly early on-such as Bond-there’s still people who see Connery as the one true, James Bond despite him being only really about 9 years in the 55-year, 25 film, 6-actor series.
And technically, it’s been done.
While the River Phoenix prologue to Last Crusade was essential to that film’s plot, the Young Indiana Jones series that followed-although it had it’s good points-was largely a ratings failure (Although it did get a bit of a reference in Crystal Skull). So there might be a bit of some reluctance to continue without Ford.
Although, there were rumors that Chris Pratt-star of Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy-would fit well in a recasting. He’s kind of got the look and snark of a young Ford.
So we’ll see what happens with this film. It’s still in the early stages, and might even get pushed back further (Which is also an issue for Ford, probably.)