Photo illustration: Courtesy of Paramount
Several days ago, George Lucas confirmed the fears of a lot of Indiana Jones fans when he mentioned that he’s been thinking about where the Indy series might go from here. “I haven’t even told Steven or Harrison this,” he told Fox News. “But I have an idea to make Shia [LaBeouf] the lead character next time and have Harrison [Ford] come back like Sean Connery did in the last movie. I can see it working out.” The response on film blogs was instantaneous and could be most easily summarized by the first comment on /film’s post about the news: “That sounds about as good as a Star Wars spin-off starring Jar Jar.”
But we disagree!
Spoilers ahead: Crystal Skull certainly doesn’t shy away from the possibility of Shia taking over the franchise: LaBeouf plays Jones’s son, Mutt Williams, and the film ends with Mutt thoughtfully fingering Jones’s trademark fedora — before Indy snatches it out of his hand with a grin. It’s a moment that will annoy a lot of fans who think they’re being strong-armed into accepting Shia as the future of the franchise. But as much as we love classic Indy, we think LaBeouf could pull it off.
He’s already proved he can carry a movie, even one — like Transformers — in which the screen is overwhelmed with millions of dollars of CGI madness. And the question of whether he has the acting chops to pull of the role is moot, because playing Indy isn’t about acting — it’s about charming. No one ever accused Harrison Ford of being a Shakespearean master, least of all Ford himself, who’s always been nonchalant about the craft of acting. What Ford has brought to the role for 27 years is a certain kind of insouciant charm, a charm that Shia LaBeouf shares. They’re both a little bit cocky, especially when completely out of their depths — that’s where their charm comes from. Indy isn’t at his best when he’s winning; he’s at his best when he’s losing, and he can’t stop a bitter wisecrack from popping out anyways.
LaBeouf has shown he can be that kind of guy too — and we’ll take as our proof not a movie role but a real-life goof-up, the night LaBeouf was arrested for refusing to leave a Chicago Walgreens. Unlike most celebrities, whose mugshots are abashed, bewildered, or downright terrifying, LaBeouf chose the moment the shutter clicked to flash a wry smile, one that seemed to say, “Yeah, you got me, but check out what I do next.” If you look closely at that little half-smile, it begins to look familiar. It’s quite similar, in fact, to the half-smile that Harrison Ford made famous.
Related: An Evolved Spielberg Humdrums Through ‘Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’
Vulture Watches the Next Three Indy Movies
Conan O’Brien on ‘Indiana Jones 4’: ‘I Liked the Ants’