Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why We're Worried About Indiana Jones 5

The long-simmering and still untitled Indiana Jones 5 has returned to the news cycle, and not for the best of reasons. Variety reports that Steven Spielberg has vacated the directors chair, while Logan director James Mangold has entered negotiations to take over as director on the project. Director swaps aren't all that uncommon in blockbuster preproduction, but this is a standout moment for the Indy franchise, as this would be the first time in the 40-year history of the series that Spielberg would not be in charge of the day-to-day on set for a feature film about the iconic character he co-created with George Lucas. 

This may simply be a move to finally nudge the sequel into production while Spielberg's 2020 is eaten up by finishing his remake of West Side Story, but this doesn't necessarily inspire confidence, either. The fifth entry in the Indyverse has been troubled from the start, and we're concerned as to whether or not this will ever get off the ground — much less what the quality of the final product might be. At this point, there's plenty to be worried about when it comes to Indiana Jones 5.

Indiana Jones 5 can't be delayed into perpetuity

Before word of the director swap-out, this fifth whip-cracking adventure had already been delayed twice; previous release dates were slated for 2019 and then 2020 before settling on 2021. This project was originally announced in 2016, and will almost certainly be delayed again in the wake of this shake-up. Considering how many projects sit in development hell for much longer, that may not seem like much to stress about. It's a little different for a Spielberg franchise, though — it's not like anybody's going to tie him up in committee and interrogate his creative vision that thoroughly.

More important than any current year count in preproduction purgatory is the fact that — to be a little indelicate — there's a more tangible expiration date on making this movie than most. As of this delay, Harrison Ford is 77, guys. It's every grown-up-kid's denial of reality to insist Ford is immortal and will forever be physically capable, but that's just not true. If this project draws out even for another three years — a relatively minor spit of time for a project of this scale — how believable, nay, responsible would it be to have Harrison Ford perform in the most physically-demanding franchise role he's ever held? Let's not forget, it would suck to be Indiana Jones.

The last Indy film wasn't exactly great

Yes, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull did make over $700 million, but its legacy as a latter-day revival of the franchise is not exactly a great one. To date, it does have a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes from critics, but general audiences poured a greater volume of distaste for the hard left turn into aliens and the incomprehensible decision to have Indiana Jones take refuge from an atomic bomb test in a lead-lined refrigerator that gets yeeted across county lines. It's not like Indy films have never been dumb before, though.

Opinions are split today with retrospective reviews that both apologize for and rebuke the film. Spielberg had to go so far as to publicly defend Lucas' script decisions several years later: "When [Lucas] writes a story he believes in — even if I don't believe in it — I'm going to shoot the movie the way George envisaged it." That's true-blue friendship that should warm the heart of even the bitterest critic of Crystal Skull, but it also means that coming back to the franchise now, even so many years later, carries the weight of that previous iteration and the implicit suggestion that it took so long to make another movie because someone was ashamed of the last one.

Shia LaBoeuf's public denouncements of Crystal Skull and his other work with Spielberg in the years since its release haven't really helped either. As you might expect, this means he won't be returning in his role as Mutt, Indy's son, further breaking continuity with the events of the past film.

A new director for Indiana Jones 5 seems like a no-win situation

Spielberg relinquishing the reigns of the Indy franchise doesn't inspire hope for the future like other situations might (see Star Wars' changing of the guard in 2012). After four films and four decades, these are endemically Spielberg films. Why bother following through if that visual artistic flavor isn't going to be there, and there are zero guarantees that whichever director that takes over will get more than one movie to more fully expand their own vision for Indiana Jones? Now, to be fair, Spielberg will stay on as executive producer in what has been described as a "hands-on" approach, but that presents a problem of its own: Spielberg possibly imposes too much and essentially ghost-directs the film, denying the replacement director their rightful opportunity to make their movie. Nobody wins in that scenario, and the end product would probably be a mess.

Alternatively, if "hands-on" is a gentle lie for the public benefit, this is an unfair setup for a director to take on a massive legacy for which they will be deeply judged, possibly to the detriment of their overall career. Lucas isn't even returning to assist, either, so that particular artistic bent we expect of Indy movies is further diluted and open to criticism when changed, no matter how well-intentioned a different director and scriptwriter might be. We just cannot see a happy ending out of trying to pull one last sequel out of this franchise, and perhaps it would be better to let it fade into the ether from whence it came for good.