Fri Mar 25, 2016
There’s a poignant moment in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the Holy Grail crosses the Great Seal and triggers the collapse of the Temple of the Sun. The earth is torn asunder, and Elsa, a Nazi agent and Austrian archaeologist, loses her life. After Indiana Jones fails to save her, he ends up hanging precariously in the crevice himself.
Indiana’s father catches his hand and tries to pull him to safety. But, with his other hand, Indiana tries to reach the Holy Grail, which rests tantalizingly on a narrow ledge nearby. He can almost reach it; his fingertips brush it. But his father cannot hold on as oily sweat causes their hands to slip.
Indiana’s father (so aptly played by Sean Connery), says, in a soft, gentle voice: “Indiana… Indiana… let it go”.
And he does. As Indiana rides into the sunset and John William’s theme song swells over the closing credits, we knew it really was his last crusade.
But we were wrong.
Twenty years later, a considerably older and stiffer Harrison Ford donned Indie’s hat once more for a mostly terrible comeback movie with a crystal skull and that kid from Transformers. It wasn’t a huge deal though. At worst, the flick was nothing more than an embarrassing footnote, best ignored. At best, a bonus Blu-ray tacked onto the already excellent Indiana Jones trilogy box set.
But, they just couldn’t let it go. Indiana Jones is slated to return in 2019, starring an almost 80-year old Harrison Ford. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that it will be humiliating and awful.
It is also completely unsurprising. The status quo in a talent-starved Hollywood is to play it safe amid decreasing revenues. It has been this way for years now.
The cries of indignation from the fans are depressingly familiar. Please stop messing with my childhood. Please stop corrupting the purity of my trilogy box sets. Please stop commodifying nostalgia and cheapening the originals.
But Hollywood isn’t going to stop anytime soon, because they’ve hit upon a winning formula. Appeal to the nostalgia of older audiences while remixing, rebooting, and resurrecting box-office darlings for new audiences.
Sometimes, this formula pays off. For example, the Star Wars reboot, The Force Awakens, was an appealing return to the Star Wars universe, despite re-hashing the exact same plot of A New Hope. But a strong female lead, a tight script, and J.J. Abrams managed to re-energize the property (I doubt whether the next Star Wars movies can repeat this feat).
Most often, though, it is all too easy to overdo an homage to the original without being original - Jurassic World springs to mind. Or to try too hard - an all-female Ghostbusters reboot seems a bit blunt and unnecessary.
And, after all avenues have been explored, everything just implodes on itself like a family squabble that nobody outside the family really cares about. Why is Superman fighting Batman? Why is Iron Man fighting Captain America? Who knows? Who cares? You’ve lost us - and in some cases, even alienated us.
I haven’t seen Batman v Superman yet, but the critics have slammed it, and a lot of Superman fans are disappointed about such a dark departure from the Christopher Reeve era. Drop Lex Luthor off at the local prison while trading family-friendly quips, or just snap his neck? This conflict is explored in a far more nuanced way in excellent new Netflix shows like Daredevil or Jessica Jones. But injecting “realism” into Superman does nothing more than taint the ethos of a celebrated superhero that arose in the patriotic 1930s. He is not your hero - he is your grandfather’s hero.
All our cherished characters belong to a unique and idiosyncratic time and place. And they need to stay in the past. They are part of our history, our upbringing, our collective mythos, shared from parent to child. When we offer new perspectives and reimaginings of old characters, will our children appreciate the originals with us, or adopt the shiny, corrupted versions as the “real” incarnation?
Yet, there is hope. Perhaps the tides are shifting. As fans, we used to be grateful for even terrible movies about our heroes, because there were so few. But now… there really is no reason to watch a bad Superman movie. Zack Snyder isn’t holding a gun between our eyes and forcing us to watch it. We have a choice.
And maybe the best choice is to let it go.
EDIT - May 12, 2016: I couldn't let it go. I did pay good money to see Batman duking it out with Superman. My friends wanted to see it so I had to swallow my righteousness and join the unwashed masses in the cinema. It was pretty much what I expected. Wonder Woman was fantastic, but man, they need to hire better writers. What would it take to get the Avengers writing team to give it a go? Too much, I reckon.