With the much anticipated release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull due out this week, we have to ask ourselves this question: Will a fourth installment into the series be welcomed with open arms or met with criticism? Some controversial early reviews have suggested that the film ranges between bad to decent. Well I have news for Indy fans: Even if the film is considered “mediocre” when it gets released next week (this weekend at Cannes), it might STILL be one of the better fourth installments in movie history!
It’s proven that Hollywood is run by trilogies. Most storylines are built to follow the characters through three adventures such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and now Iron Man. Some are so successful that sequels get tacked on to original films, like the Matrix, Shrek, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Most self-respecting franchises end at number three. Some are received poorly (like most of last year’s third installments with the exception of The Bourne Ultimatum and to a lesser degree Ocean’s Thirteen) and some serve as a fitting end to a story — Return of the Jedi, Return of the King, Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (just kidding).
But a fourth movie? Fourth installments usually happen several years after the third, creating a sizable gap for movie producers to both reap the benefits of the original franchise and then get desperate for another hit. Because, no one plans a “quadrilogy.”
That all being said, here are some notable 4th Movie Disasters:
National Lampoon’s Vegas Vacation / American Pie Presents: Band Camp
These were two films made way beyond their primes. Chevy Chase and co. dragged the bottom of the barrel for jokes and even made a mockery of the terrific Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie. The same went for American Pie. After American Wedding had modest success the producers decided they wanted to make a new series of straight-to-DVD stories that are tacky, unfunny, and make me dislike Eugene Levy (which I never thought was possible). Band Camp was the first movie to be released in 2005 and it has spawned a new trilogy of American Pie films (including Beta House and The Naked Mile). These two are examples of when raunchy comedies get desperate, fat, and selfish.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers/Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter/Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
All entries in slasher series; all are sh*t. I mean look at the title to Friday the 13th! The Final Chapter? So where did A New Beginning, Jason Lives, The New Blood, Jason Takes Manhattan, The Final Friday, and Jason X come from? Halloween 4 is bad too, but not so colossally bad that its unwatchable; just bad in that same-old-formula way. And that same-old-formula rule applies to 80’s comedies as well, like Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol and Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love (this was actually a TV movie in the early 90’s).
Lethal Weapon 4/Live Free or Die Hard
These I wouldn’t categorize as terrible movies, just ill-conceived. I actually quite enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard and Lethal Weapon 4 had some fun action (including a really spectacular highway chase involving a house on wheels), but neither movie really added to the franchise. People will still watch the original trilogies over the newer movies any day. Who’s a better villain–Gary Busey or Jet Li? I’m with Busey any day! Alan Rickman or Timothy Olyphant? Rickman’s Hans Gruber chilled me to the bone as a kid, whereas Olyphant’s poorly named “Thomas Gabriel” does all his work with a cell phone in hand.
Batman and Robin / Superman 4: The Quest for Peace
Perhaps the two best reasons for how comic book movies can go terribly, terribly wrong. Batman Forever and Superman 3 took their share of flack when they came out. Notably, “Why are all of Batman’s villains in blacklight?” or “What the f*ck is Richard Pryor doing in this movie?” But these 4th installments made them pale in comparison. Batman and Robin gave us the whiniest Robin we’ll ever see, the crappiest villains (including the manhandling of Bane), nipples, and a hero (played by George Clooney) that couldn’t have been more bored by what he was doing. Superman 4 gave us an embarrassing villain no one asked for (Nuclear Man?), ignoring the spectacular rogue’s gallery of established Superman villains (where is Brainiac? Darkseid? Metallo?). We had to put up with another schticky Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor and a ridiculous love triangle between Clark/Superman, Lois, and Lacy Warfield (played by Mariel Hemingway).
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
I may take some flack for this one, but let me qualify. Goblet of Fire is my favorite book in the series, so maybe the Mike Newell film just rubbed ME the wrong way. I thought the action was unnecessary and detracted from the story (that whole dragon chase just irritated me), I thought Ralph Fiennes’ first appearance as Voldemort was more cartoony than chilling (he was much better in his one scene in Order of the Phoenix), and I thought everybody’s haircuts were ridiculous. The only fun segments of the film are the teenagers dealing with their emerging hormones, but the book handles all this with ease and fluidity. Maybe it’s the fact that Goblet is the best book, or maybe it’s because it had to follow Prisoner of Azkaban, the only Potter movie that’s been as good as the novel, but whatever it is, Goblet of Fire is just a bad movie.
And finally, the 4th installment that broke billions of hearts:
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Save for a breathtaking light-saber fight at the end of this two and a half hour film, there’s nothing redeeming about this experience. The pod race takes up 20 minutes of film which has very little to do with the plot (yes I know it serves to showcases Anakin’s skills and doesn’t it free him from slavery?) and George Lucas created a backlash that lasted all summer when he conceived the racist, ubonics-speaking Jar Jar Binks (for which he’s never been forgiven). The boy was a horrible actor, Ewan McGregor looks bored, the dialogue is stupid, and the two interesting characters (Darth Maul and Qui Gon Jin) are killed!
Honestly, this is what should scare Indy fans the most. I know Spielberg is directing and Lucas isn’t nearly as hands-on as he is with his other endeavors, but caution should still be taken. Besides Star Wars, Indiana Jones is the only other 4th installment people have been waiting fervently for. It’s not like a comic book movie where you can take an established villain and have years and years of stories to pull from. It’s not like a slasher flick or raunchy comedy where you can rely on a formula, and its ok if the movie doesn’t succeed because the expectation were probably not that high to begin with. Indiana Jones was an original creation. The story matters. The characters matter. The adventure needs to be grand, and it needs to give us that sense of wonder that made the original films stick above your garden-variety action flicks. The stakes are high, almost as high as they were for the Phantom Menace. Spielberg and Lucas need to prove to us that this story NEEDED to be told, not that it was made to quench the thirst of Indiana Jones fans.
So, like I said before, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull could very well be the best 4th installment a series has ever had (that distinction currently rests with Thunderball, the 4th Bond film). But that’s only because the bar is not set very high. It’s kind of like a basketball player getting a breakaway jam — all he needs to do is get the ball in the hoop, but too many people try to be fancy and clank it off the rim.