After more than two years of the pandemic of Covid-19 and a few shots of the vaccine, the Hollywood zeitgeist seems intent on celebrating the end of strict confinement through grand global adventures. As happened in 2015, when different productions (of different genres) focused on the grammar of spy films, the big screen and the small screen of 2022 have dedicated quite a bit of space to the exploration of catacombs, the discovery of ancient civilizations and the search for lost treasures in varied paradisiacal settings. This move could not be more appropriate, as the return of an iconic hat and a dreaded whip is announced on the horizon of 2023. But isn’t Indiana Jones in danger of finding a tomb already turned over when he returns from his most recent sabbatical?
Created by George Lucas and developed alongside Steven Spielberg to the big screen, Jones was heavily influenced by Spielberg’s never-realized dream of directing a feature film. 007. The British spy, protagonist of the most famous spy film franchise of all time, basically dictated the grammar of the genre from the 1960s onwards, establishing unmistakable clichés that became essential both as instruments of repetition and subversion. Supported by pulp comics from the 1930s and series and films such as Gunga Din (1939), The Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948) and King Solomon’s Mines (1950), Indiana Jones did the same in adventure cinema: from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), became for future generations the cornerstone of the genre, overshadowing who preceded it.
That, of course, was over 40 years ago, and while it remains alive in every sort of licensed product or on demand movie viewing service disneyJones is already starting to fade as a great icon of current pop culture — today very well served by all kinds of adventure, secular and surreal, by the superheroes of Marvel or A.D. At the same time, however, his influence remains very much alive in these same productions and in others, which he projects on the character’s upcoming film (his fifth, with yet another return of Harrison Ford) pressure for confirmation of its relevance. In a context where any financial success means more and more sequels, the archaeologist’s new adventure can go from farewell to fresh start, as long as it confirms the interest of a renewed audience for more stories of the kind.
The mention of 2015, paragraphs above, was not for nothing: in the year in which Sam Mendes revisited many of the classic James Bond hallmarks in 007 Against Specter, the smell of mothballs from the sixty-year-old franchise reached an unprecedented height, displeasing public and critics in unison. In the same year, films that used the saga as a basis for satires or tributes, such as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, Kingsman – The Secret Service, The UNCLE Agent and even the lame comedy The Spy Who Knew Too Little, open up the need for renewal by being more relevant than their own cornerstone. The way out was to dedicate the next five years to building a narrative that would balance Bond’s characteristic nostalgia with renewal. In 2021, born 007 – No Time to Diea movie that cast a black woman as 007 and killed off its main character for the first time in 59 years.
But Bond is far more bulletproof than Jones, and Daniel Craig last year it happened more symbolically than officially; the character, everyone knows, should return more frankly modernized in a few years. Directly connected to Ford’s image, the same would be hard to do with the archaeologist, unless the public’s desire for more adventures from the character made it a necessity. This would certainly be the most profitable result for disney is for Lucasfilmbut the parallels with the English spy may foreshadow a nice slip.
From the lucrative gaming franchise of Naughty Dog, Uncharted: Off the Map practically opened 2021 by taking what is the most explicit tribute to Indiana Jones of the last 15 years for the big screen, and using Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg as populist bridges to two complementary demographics to the archaeologist’s fans: 2000s action movie fans and Marvel-enthusiastic teens. From the same source, Sonic 2 – The Movie It didn’t hurt to pay homage to game stages inspired by the archaeologists’ films, placing the hedgehog and company in large, trap-filled catacombs in its drained third act.
And it doesn’t stop there, of course! With Sandra Bullock making a triumphant return to comedy, Channing Tatum with his typical goofy charisma and even Brad Pitt flexing your comic muscles, Lost City brought together all possible references to adventure cinema to make fun of, but also profess an honest admiration for the genre. And, in streaming, the elegant Poirot of Kenneth Brannagh paraded his vast mustache across the breathtaking landscapes of Egypt in death on the nileWhile Oscar Isaac personally met the country’s deities in the latest new series of MCU, moon knight. The year still has a bloody dip in Norse mythology in the man of the north; the return of Chris Pratt taming dinosaurs in Jurassic World: Dominion; and what promises to be an extravaganza of myths and references commanded by Taika Waititi in Thor: Love and Thunder.
What all these productions have in common is the use of the grammar of archaeological adventures as a backdrop for something that transcends the conventions of the genre, which applies even to the man of the north and its mix between historical/art/action film. Shrouded in great secrecy, the plot of the fifth Indiana Jones was not revealed, but as is the franchise’s custom, it must mix mysticism with some historical tension (as it already happened with the fight against Nazis in search of biblical magical elements such as the Lost Ark and the Holy Grail). The only time the saga strayed from that formula, with a dip in science fiction in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), the adventurer almost ended up trapped in his own tomb.
So, the question hangs over the production about how Jones will find the audience in 2023: excited by the terrain prepared by so many mentions of the genre he defined, in 2022, or tired; perhaps worse: accustomed to a more modern flavor of adventure than the old archaeologist is capable of providing. In the hands of the director James Magold it’s up to him to be more successful in modernizing the character than one of his parents, the legendary Spielberg, and that’s even considering that 14 long years have passed since the most recent failure. If the answer is no, perhaps it is definitive proof that he himself has become a museum relic.