What we're dealing with is the latest example of the one of Hollywood's newest trends. Namely, resurrecting an old blockbuster franchise to take advantage of the built-in audience.
Obviously this is a good from a business perspective. Filmmakers and studios are out to make money. People will generally pay money to get something similar to what they've liked in the past. I suspect that once the idea was conceived it was kind of a no-brainer, and in general, the strategy works.
But what does it do to the integrity of the franchise? The problem with the way Hollywood is approaching these "restarts" is that by definition they have to be safe bets. The idea is to spend less money up front so you guarantee a higher return. Sometimes this means not bothering to secure the original actors, directors or writers. And in my opinion, this is usually a good indication that your film is going to be sub par. We've already had to watch helplessly as they gave Batman nipples turned the Terminator into a dumb blond.
But occasionally the new team has a passion and vision for the franchise that produces a film that is worth seeing. Rocky Balboa turned out to be an interesting look at what happened to our favorite iron underdog in his later years. Casino Royale showed us what happens when 007 stops hiding behind gadgets and kicks ass. I actually have several issues with both these films, but they both have one redeeming trait: they didn't make me hate the fact that they exist.
And thankfully, neither does Indy 4.
* spoilers *
My initial reaction to news of this sequel was probably the same as everyone else's: "What? But Harrison Ford is like 60!" But after that, it only got worse. This film had a lot going for it. The main character played by the same actor, director and writers returning, a big enough budget. Unfortunately these things started to be counteracted by the injection of too much dumb. For instance:
- Shia LeBeouf as Indy's sidekick. He just helped ruin Transformers. Why add the burden of helping to ruin this as well?
- No Sean Connery. Can't really blame them for this one. They tried really hard to get him.
- Ridiculous set pieces. A geriatric Indy survives a nuclear explosion and being hurled miles away, only to get up and dust himself off without much more than an implicit "I'm getting too old for this."
- A script with plot points that are so cliched you'd think it was written in the 50's instead of being set there. I will never forgive them for going with the long lost son angle.
Well son of a bitch. He's right. If you take for granted the always more than acceptable direction of Stephen Spielberg, the Indy films are nothing special. What makes them classic is the titular character. I'm gonna take a stand and say Henry Jones Jr. is one of the best Hero characters ever created. He's pure entertainment, from the arrogant macho act to the gruff altruistic scholar to the self-conscious romantic. All of these things are firmly intact in the latest installment. Indy may be showing his age, but that doesn't shop him from doing the job and he still does it a hell of a lot better than you or I can.
All of this is minted by the final thing they did right with this movie. Indy is surrounded by supporting characters that allow him to do and say the things that make him awesome. I have a personal and irrational dislike of Shia Labeouf as an actor (although it may be waning. more on that later maybe). But the dynamic between his character Mutt (?!!) and Indy is cool. Marion returns as Indiana's one true love, and they waste no time dropping back into their routine of viciously hilarious sniping to hide the goofy grade-school infatuation. Although Cate Blanchett fails miserably as the villain, I even like the Ray Winstone character for how he plays against Indy.
If you're a movie snob like me and you're looking for a good movie, be prepared to be upset with this sequel (Swinging on tree vines? Seriously?) But if you're an Indiana Jones fan, you'll like it well enough. Hell, if you can get past some of the more serious flaws you might even think it's great. I would say they definitely got away with this one. The only problem now is that they're already planning on making another one. Me thinks they're pushing their luck.