How do you solve a problem like Indiana Jones? As filming begins on chapter five of the swashbuckling archeologist’s adventures, the more pertinent question might be how Lucasfilm and new director James Mangold give Indy one last hurrah without ruining his legacy.
It’s been known for decades that Harrison Ford always preferred doing the Indiana Jones movies to Star Wars, largely because he always found himself playing second fiddle in George Lucas’s space saga – even if Ford ended up being the only one of the original trio to really carve out a subsequent career as a Hollywood A-lister. In Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequels, on the other hand, there was never any question that Ford was front and centre. A hamfisted attempt to usher in a potential successor in 2008’s Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Shia LaBeouf’s leather-clad greaser Mutt Williams, turned out to be even less popular than Lucas’s god-awful CGI gophers.
So what now, with Ford 79 next month, and LaBeouf presumably airbrushed from the picture? Mangold, director of the Oscar-winning Walk the Line as well as the excellent superhero noir Logan, has replaced Spielberg at the helm of a film that will reportedly see Indy caught up in a 1960s adventure involving the space race between the US and the Soviet Union. Mads Mikkelsen, who is confirmed to join the cast, is rumoured to be playing a former Nazi scientist recruited by the Americans to help them beat the communists.
Where the poorly received, infuriatingly madcap Kingdom of the Crystal Skull really went wrong was in its inability to understand that just because Indy’s previous adventures had delved heavily into the realms of fantasy, that did not mean audiences were ready for an instalment that loses touch entirely with reality. Lucas has spent the intervening years trying to persuade us you really can survive a nuclear blast by hiding for a few seconds in a standard domestic fridge, but when your movie’s scene becomes shorthand for the tendency of a plot to swirl into abject nonsense, there’s a problem. Those Amazonian aliens may not have been any more preposterous than the murderous avenging angels hidden in the Ark of the Covenant, or the 700-year-old (though strangely modern-accented) Grail knight of Last Crusade, but they certainly looked phonier.
The confluence of Nazis and space in the plot unfortunately brings to mind the execrable Iron Sky movies, and you wouldn’t have put it past Lucas to attempt something similar with a storyline that wound up with Indy battling the last remnants of the Third Reich on the blimmin’ moon – plenty of room for dodgy CGI that way. And yet the Star Wars creator stepped back from Lucasfilm the best part of a decade ago now, and is not expected to be involved in cooking up the story this time around. This, at least, should come as something of a relief.
It’s also exciting to see Fleabag’s Phoebe Waller-Bridge as part of the ensemble, though we don’t yet know who she’ll play. Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood does not appear to be back, despite marrying Indy at the end of his most recent adventure.
The biggest question here will be whether Mangold chooses to ignore Indy’s advanced age or accept that Ford (quite reasonably) needs to take a back seat when it comes to the action scenes. The problem here is that to take the latter option would be to advance suggestions that the new episode should never really have been put into production in the first place – what is the point of Indy if he’s not escaping giant boulders or careering through the desert at 70mph? Even worse, the reality is that taking the other option might just make the infamous fridge scene appear perfectly plausible by comparison.