Indiana Jones 5 Has A Secret Weapon That Will Save The Franchise

In Susan Lacy's 2017 documentary about the mind behind the first four "Indiana Jones" installments (the aptly titled "Spielberg"), the actor behind the franchise's titular hero, Harrison Ford, describes the films' focus as follows: "They're made for the filmgoer. They're meant for the pure joy of entertainment. Which doesn't mean that they can't be emotionally involving [and] smart from time to time, but they have to be satisfying entertainment." 

Ford's astute assessment speaks volumes about where an arguable full half of the franchise went wrong, and also serves as both a warning and a guiding ethos for any future additions. While 1981's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" changed the moviemaking landscape, and 1989's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" added layers to Jones' character, introduced Sean Connery into the equation, and gave audiences the most metaphorically elevated iteration of a MacGuffin to-date, the same can't be said for either 1984's problematic "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" nor 2008's reviled "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" both of which arguably failed to meet Ford's proposed requirements. 

Now, after a series of delays, fans are once again bracing themselves for potential disappointment with the 2023 release of "Indiana Jones 5." Luckily, James Mangold's upcoming installment has something the two aforementioned misses did not: pitch-perfect timing. 

Indiana Jones 5 cast the right actors at the right time

To paraphrase a famous line by Will Ferrell's Mugatu, the cast of "Indiana Jones 5" is so hot right now. 

For starters, as The Hollywood Reporter confirmed back in 2020, Mangold will give Spielberg a much-needed break from the franchise, and though their characters have yet to be announced, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Mads Mikkelsen are both slated to star in the upcoming film (per Deadline). To say that Waller-Bridge — still riding the deserved wave of success from both "Fleabag" and "Killing Eve" — has become an international phenomenon would be an understatement. That she's disinclined to put herself at the center of all that attention (per Harpar's Bazaar) only makes her more irresistible to fans, and it's fair to assume that fandom will show up in droves to see the film. As for Mikkelsen, his ascent from Danish film star to international sensation has yet to peak, despite his joining the MCU, landing in the Star Wars Universe, and rescuing the Wizarding World immediately following "Hannibal." Finally, Mangold's wide-ranging portfolio (and the lack of apparent auteur-ego demonstrated therein), coupled with the success of both "Logan" and "Ford v Ferrari," puts him in the perfect position breathe new life into a narrative nearly snuffed out by its most recent chapter.

All this is to say nothing of the welcome reemergence of Antonio Banderas on the (big) big screen, the addition of Shaunette Renée Wilson ("Black Panther"), and the long-awaited return of Ford as Jones. Granted, no amount of zeitgeist-relevance or talent can save bad writing, but when it comes to putting butts in seats, it's a fairly reliable recipe for success. 

The story's (potential) setting is more relevant than ever

Though the plot of "Indiana Jones 5" has yet to be revealed, photos of the cast and crew recreating the Apollo 11 Ticker Tape Parade (per IGN) suggest that part of the narrative takes place in one of the most politically and culturally tumultuous and transformative years in American history: 1969. The timeline makes sense from an in-world and audience perspective, as it puts us just twelve years out from the events in 2008's "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," and just three years shy of a real-time update. More importantly, it will ensure the film's contemporary relevance, without requiring it to spoon-feed viewers subtext in a way wildly out of keeping with the franchise's light, Saturday matinee serial inspiration. 

Given the era's many parallels to today — e.g., related but unique civil rights movements and a widespread mistrust of the establishment that varies across generations (via Insider) — the film's potential engagement with the period will allow it to be, as Ford said, "emotionally involving," but in a way that doesn't clash with or overtly complicate its straightforward adventure story tone. What's more, according to the film's IMDb page, actor Andy M Milligan will portray an S.S. Nazi. While it's unclear whether Nazis will come into play via flashbacks or "Crystal Skull"-prompted time travel (per Den of Geek), one thing is clear: in the real-life 2020s, with Nazism rearing its ugly head once again in the extreme alt-right (and on an international scale, per The New York Times) the franchise's return to Jones' old foe has never been more warranted.

The world is ready for an Indiana Jones adjustment

Speaking of Indiana Jones foes ... 

The IP is overdue to address of its most problematic elements, many of which angered audiences even at the time. In Laurent Bouzereau's "Indiana Jones: Making the Trilogy," Spielberg addresses the controversy surrounding "Temple of Doom," saying, "People felt we were attacking Eastern Indians, which we weren't, you know, we simply chose a cult from ancient history" (via YouTube). Sadly, the film's portrayal of that cult is the least of its issues.

As Little White Lies' Saffron Maeve writes, "['Temple of Doom'] is a film made by people who know very little about the culture they are depicting...The film mobilises its Indian characters with childlike irresponsibility, caricaturing both cultural and religious beliefs for cheap laughs. And as usual, Indians are the punchline." From its humorless and patently racist dinner party to its white savior storyline, to its extreme exotifying and stereotyping, "Temple of Doom" cast a long shadow over the franchise's legacy — one that "Indiana Jones 5" is primed to move past. In 2023, no filmmaker, not even one tipping their stylistic hat to classic Saturday matinees, would be foolish enough not to consider their treatment and depiction of BIPOC characters and various cultures. 

Nor, for that matter, would they be foolish enough not to consider their treatment and depiction of women.

Out with Willie Scott, in with Waller-Bridge

To Kate Capshaw's dismay, audiences loathed her character in "Temple of Doom." "[Willie Scott] did not represent a strong female at all," Capshaw confesses in Bouzereau's film, adding "there was no humor when [feminists] looked at her" (via YouTube). Spielberg's own thoughts on the insufferable, screaming Scott provide further insight into what, exactly, Capshaw hoped viewers would see. "She was like Carole Lombard for me," he says — "she was a comedienne" (via YouTube). Perhaps Capshaw's knack for slapstick felt very funny indeed while filming, but the end result is a shrieking and inept female protagonist who appears to have been written by someone who's never actually met any female — "strong" or otherwise — in real life. 

In fact, excepting Karen Allen's Marion, the leading women of "Indiana Jones" are nonsense people. Worse yet, their nonsense is neither humorous nor enjoyably melodramatic or cartoonish. Instead, it just sort of hangs there, bumming everybody out and ensuring the movies' misguided attempts at homage inevitably read like good old-fashioned sexism.  

Thankfully, in casting Waller-Bridge — whose current best-known persona is actually funny, referential in her own way, and more than formidable enough to handle one archeologist — "Indiana Jones 5" has chosen wisely. For once, the punchlines might land, the slaps might stick, and the film's leading lady will be in on, as opposed to the butt of, the joke. 

Audiences are ready for a non-MCU blockbuster

When the upcoming installment was first announced back 2016 (via Variety), its original release date was July 2019. This would have wedged it between "Avengers: Endgame" — Marvel's (and the film industry's) biggest debut to date (per CNN) — and the December release of the ill-received "Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker." Not only would it have been unable to separate itself critically and conversationally from a film many felt forever damaged Ford's other most iconic franchise (via Forbes), it would also have had to claw its way back to relevance during peak MCU mania. While the notion of superhero movie fatigue was creeping into the conversation as far back as 2016 (per Rolling Stone) we hadn't yet reached that inevitable precipice where predictive think pieces were finally reflected by reality. 

But in 2022, the lackluster release of "Thor: Love and Thunder" officially signaled a turning point. As The Wall Street Journal notes, "since the beginning of 2021, the average global box-office gross of the six films produced by Marvel has fallen to $773.6 million — roughly half the $1.5 billion average of the previous six films." That's good news for any and all other franchises, including "Indiana Jones." Had the film been released any sooner, viewers may not have been as desperate for another option. And yet, there is some irony in a Spielberg creation swooping in to save us from MCU overload.

Timing is everything

As David Edelstein reveals in "Spielberg," early critics of the director "saw Spielberg as a repressive force [who was] bringing in a kind of empty escapism," and as Janet Maslin adds, "there were people that blamed him for ruining the movies." If all that sounds vaguely familiar, it's because it's exactly what many contemporary directors have said about superheroes (via People). But in the movies, as in life, timing is everything. And in this case, it just so happens to be the upcoming film's secret weapon.

It's been roughly five decades since the commercial success of "Jaws" and "Close Encounters" earned Spielberg a whole heap of haters (only to be universally critically revered in later years), over four decades since "Raiders of the Lost Ark" inspired an entire generation of archeologists (per National Geographic), and in 2023, it will be healthy 15 years since the misstep that was "The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" left fans both jaded and confused. Combine that with MCU fatigue, and the fact that the potential setting and subject matter of the new "Indiana Jones" are becoming increasingly more relevant — and the math speaks for itself. The industry, and the audience, are ready for a return to the franchise's former greatness.

Of course, that highly scientific, perfectly balanced equation notwithstanding, we're still talking about an officially untitled film that's currently on its fourth release date. If Mangold and Disney miss their 2023 window, "Indiana Jones 5" will belong — like so many of our intrepid hero's most coveted artifacts — in a museum.