Can 'Indiana Jones 5' Find Redemption?

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones 5 has a production date. But, can they give us what we need to make a truly great sequel?

At the Rakuten TV Empire Awards in London, Steven Spielberg confirmed that Indiana Jones 5 will start filming in April 2019. It’s exciting in the sense that we’ve finally got a confirmed start date for production. That said, this isn’t quite a news item. It certainly isn’t the first time we’ve hit the this-is-not-a-drill stage. However, this update does put Spielberg on schedule to meet the previously targeted release date of July 10, 2020.

The confirmation is kind of a big deal, though. It’s been a long wait since 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. By the time Indy 5 is in theaters, it’ll have been 12 years. It’s not quite as long as the 19 years between The Last Crusade and Crystal Skull, but it’s up there. In 2016, Disney announced that the franchise would definitely be back for a fifth film. Their targeted release date at the time? July 19, 2019. About a year ago, the film was pushed back to a 2020 date.

In that sense, it’s very easy to anticipate a scenario where this sequel to a movie which was not popularly received might simply continually slide off into the distance, a year at a time. It’s nice to see the maestro himself declare that the hunt for museum relics of great power is back on. The question, then, is what will Spielberg and his team do to improve on their last outing?

Last year, screenwriter David Koepp definitely stated that Harrison Ford would be back, but Shia LeBeouf would not. I suspect that’s still largely fine by LeBeouf, who undeniably made his own bed in that regard. John Rhys-Davies said a few months ago he’d really like to see his character Sallah come back. While it would be a welcome return, Indiana Jones has never been about building a returning cast, in the same way, a franchise like the Fast and Furious flicks. They accumulate characters like trading cards. Even though Tokyo Drift is the best and gave us the series’ Harrison Ford/Han Solo character. But, I digress.

The Indiana Jones franchise is about old school adventure, impossible odds, and the literal battle between the forces of Good and Evil. Dr. Jones is a mix of Humphrey Bogart’s style, James Bond’s casual fearlessness in the face of danger, and Ethan Hunt’s puzzle-solving skills. But, really, the characters are all inspired by the dashing heroes of early cinema’s matinee serials. That sense of fun and adventure as those heroes saved the world is what inspired George Lucas to develop the character.

Crystal Skull focuses too much on Indy’s personal family drama. If anything, it feels like a retread of the territory covered in The Last Crusade, which didn’t work perfectly the first time around. That failed dynamic hurt some of the charms of the character. Indy can’t be played for laughs as an old-codger. That isn’t who he is. J.J. Abrams knew that when he brought Ford’s Han Solo back for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Yeah, there was baby daddy drama. But, god damn if Han wasn’t in the mix of things doing his Han stuff.

Actors get old. So do characters. We all do. That’s all fine. But, Indiana Jones was never the kind of series built on the evolution of the character. Neither the filmmakers nor the public gave a hoot about the timeline and the evolution of Indiana Jones. Keep in mind, Temple of Doom is a prequel. Most elements are not carried over from film to film and those that are don’t maintain any sense of consistency. For example, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) goes from a wistful slightly passed his prime version of Indy to a dotty, clueless old museum curator.

Indy was never that kind of character. Crystal Skull doesn’t work in that regard because Spielberg and company forgot that type of character development wasn’t really a core part of the series. In the old serials, the inspiration for this franchise, it was always about getting on to the next adventure. That focus is why they adopted the title format of “Indiana Jones And The” after Raiders of The Lost Ark. It’s the adventure and the hero that matter.

So, what can they do to fix that? God help us, they need to give us a new adventure. Free of history. Let’s meet new old colleagues, or whatever. It doesn’t matter. It just needs to be new. We’ve been to Egypt, India, the Middle East, and all over South America. Let’s go somewhere else. Let’s explore some new holy relic filled with mysterious purposes and unimaginable powers.

It can’t be in the United States. That’ll likely step on the ground already well covered by the National Treasure franchise. It can’t be in China, as The Mummy franchise has already covered that. Offhand, the Kingdom of Zimbabwe would be great. The location and empire have some historical weight to them. There would be room to find some mythology suitable to the good versus evil mythos of the franchise. And, maybe they could handle the diversity better than they did in Temple of Doom. Please?

And for goodness sakes, the CGI work had better look good. Come on, folks. Some of that work in Crystal Skull is just atrocious. So, all in? Indiana Jones 5 needs to refocus on an adventure with Indy as the core character. They need to bring us to a new environment, free of all that familial baby daddy possible future of the franchise nonsense. Ford is Dr. Jones. Give us that, old school heroics, and a new setting.

Show us what you’ve got, Spielberg, Koepp, and Ford.

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Writer for Film School Rejects. He currently lives in Virginia, where he is very proud of his three kids, wife, and projector. Co-Dork on the In The Mouth of Dorkness podcast.