In a column I wrote a few weeks ago (“Enough ‘AVPR,’ give me ‘Rocky’,” 1/8/08), I dismissed the current crop of franchise resurrections as simple vanity projects existing “solely to give their aging stars one last shot at glory.” I’d probably be set on that inclination if I hadn’t had an epiphany last weekend while waiting to see “Rambo.” As it turns out, I ended up enjoying “Rambo” for what it was: A bunch of goofy action movie clichés orbiting around the irrefutable star power of Sylvester Stallone. But what really got me was what I saw before taking my seat in the theater. In the lobby, sandwiched between nondescript posters for “Stop Loss” and “The Dark Knight,” was a poster advertising a movie I hadn’t heard much about: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.”

Yes, they’re bringing him back. Besides the cringe-inducing title – is it me or does “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” sound like it should be about goblins and boy wizards? – the poster for the upcoming installment looked awesome. And all of a sudden, it was as if my outlook on this recent trend of semi-retired stars returning to the screen had taken a 180-degree turn.

As time went on though, I became leery about the new Indy film. Why would they bring back Indiana Jones after an almost 20-year-long absence? Why can’t they just leave the franchise to rest in peace? Indiana Jones is too sacred for a studio to turn him into another cash cow, and the idea of a fourth installment throwing a perfectly satisfying trilogy out of balance just seemed wrong to me.

But flipping through February’s issue of Vanity Fair, which features a cover story on the production of the film, I was both shocked and pleased to find myself becoming genuinely excited about it again. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who had teamed up in the ’80s to give us the previous three Indy movies, are returning, with Spielberg taking up directorial chores and Lucas co-producing. The 65-year-old Harrison Ford will be back too of course, despite the fact that his Vanity Fair cover shot makes him look like a retiree wearily posing with an eager fan rather than an actor truly embodying his most famous role. And at his side is Karen Allen, who played Indy’s spunky love interest in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” After reading the article, it became official: I genuinely want to like this film.

The more I think about it, the more I love the idea of all these aging, leading men returning to the screen for one last hurrah. Most big budget commercial films nowadays stink, yet some of the better ones have been films bringing back the old styles (and stars) of yesteryear. “Rocky Balboa” (2006) was solid. “Rambo” was solid. “Live Free or Die Hard” was more than solid. The point is this: It’s no coincidence that some of the best commercial films of the past couple years have been the ones rejuvenating long-dormant franchises. As audiences, we love to see our favorite stars return as our favorite characters, and clearly they love it just as much as we do. It’s the Hollywood equivalent of the mid-life crisis: Instead of buying a new car, an actor makes a new franchise film to remind him of the “good ol’ days” – though, admittedly, a lot of these guys are way past their middle years.

Still, this trend has been a lot of fun so far, and I hope to see it continue. I want Tom Selleck to return as Magnum. I want to see Mel Gibson jump into his biker costume again and kick some post-apocalyptic ass in a new “Mad Max” film. And when is Clint Eastwood going to give in and resurrect “Dirty Harry?” All filmmakers have to understand is, as long as they stay true to the spirit of the original franchise, this sort of film can’t fail.

So if Ford – face like a prune or not – wants to grab for the whip again, I’m all for it. That’s right, Mr. Spielberg, Mr. Lucas – you’ve sold me. I’m there. You’ve got my money. Now just make sure you give one of the most beloved screen heroes of the past three decades the graceful last bow he deserves.

Conradis is still trying to comprehend the greatness of “AVPR.” Let him know how good it is at brconrad@umich.edu

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