Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: Wrap Up

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is a strong film, and remains one of my favourite films to this today (not quite my top ten, but a strong contender in my top 20). It's a fun revival of the Hollywood Swashbuckler, with an interesting moral: Just because someone is a criminal doesn't mean they aren't a good person. They had a breakout character audiences loved, and a franchise to give him more adventures.

The only trouble is that the later films were marred by complex stories and lore, along with lengthy diversions. I still love the action and humour, but even that begins to become more cartoonish and slapstick-heavy as the films went on.

I'm going to steal "borrow without permission" something from The Nostalgia Critic which pretty much fits the view I hold of the franchise, albeit slightly tweak it:
  1. The Curse of the Black Pearl: Awesome.
  2. Dead Man's Chest: Kind of awesome.
  3. At World's End: A little less awesome.
  4. On Stranger Tides: Hey, let's see what the ninjas are up to.
  5. Dead Men Tell No Tales: There's a fifth one?
I feel that the filmmakers wanted to keep escalating the fantasy elements. There's supposed to be another one in the works at some point, but I sometimes wonder if it's time to scale back the fantasy. To paraphrase another critic; "Why can't Jack Sparrow just go after buried treasure or something?"

In conclusion, I'd say just watch the first one. The rest don't add much.

Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

 

I got so bored that I gave up on my first viewing. Dead Men Tell No Tales (also known as Salazar's Revenge) is the latest instalment in the franchise, released in 2017 (six years after On Stranger Tides). And I can tell they're out of ideas.

The film takes place 22 years after the events of At World's End, introducing a new protagonist in the form of Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner. The son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, Henry seeks The Trident of Poseidon, which he believes will free his father from his service as captain of the Flying Dutchman. To that end, he seeks the aid of Jack Sparrow, who is looking to recover the Black Pearl after finding it in a bottle from Blackbeard's magic. Unfortunately, Jack has been abandoned by his crew after a failed robbery in Saint Martin. When he barters his magic compass for a drink, he unwittingly frees Captain Salazar - an undead Spanish pirate hunter played by Javier Bardem - from the "Devil's Triangle" he'd been imprisoned in many years earlier. Salazar begins attacking Captain Barbossa's privateer fleet and enlists his aid in hunting Jack down. Meanwhile, Jack and Henry also team up with Carina Smyth, an astronomer and horologist played by Kaya Scodelario.

A lot of this film seems to be a re-hash of the previous films: Jack is trying to recover the Black Pearl; Henry trying to save his father from being Davy Jones is pretty much the same thing as Will trying to save his father; David Wenham plays a carbon copy of Norrington without the sense of honour an sympathy; and even Salazar's undead crew has pretty much been done before. I do quite like Salazar's backstory though, and it even serves as an interesting origin to Jack Sparrow. So why didn't they just make the film about that? I'd love to see an origin story story for Jack Sparrow. It just doesn't make sense that Salazar would escape from the Devil's Triangle if Jack ever relinquished his compass. He's done it before, in the previous films.

They also reveal that Carina is actually Barbossa's long-lost daughter, but he's reluctant to acknowledge it. I think they could have done more with that as well. I also like Jack's introduction: when the new Bank of Saint Martin is being unveiled, they find Jack asleep in the vault. With the governor's wife. His crew attempt to pull the vault away on horses, and end up taking the whole bank with them. I do quite like the action sequence, but I think it's gotten way too cartoonish at this point.

All in all, I think this one can be passed.

Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

 

I've heard it be said that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the film people were afraid The Curse of the Black Pearl was going to be. At World's End had a pretty solid ending but left some scope for more stories; Cutler Beckett is dead, Will Turner has taken the place of Davy Jones as captain of The Flying Dutchman, and Barbossa has stolen the Black Pearl (again) with the intention of finding the fabled Fountain of Youth using Sao Feng's navigational charts. Except Jack Sparrow had managed to steal the charts and go off himself.

Anyway, the film opens with Jack in London, attempting to save his first mate Joshamee Gibbs. After getting captured, he's brought before King George II and offered a place in an expedition to find the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish can. Leading the expedition is Captain Barbossa, who has become a privateer in the Royal Navy after losing his leg and the Black Pearl. Jack refuses to serve under Barbossa and escapes, when he learns that someone has been posing as him to assemble a crew. Said impostor is a former love interest named Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz. She kidnaps Jack and reveals herself to be the first mate and long-lost daughter of Blackbeard, the notorious captain of Queen Anne's Revenge, played by Ian McShane. Blackbeard is also seeking the Fountain of Youth, because he fears a prophecy that he'll be slain by a one-legged man.

At this point in the series, I sometimes wonder if they could break up the fantasy quests with something a little more down-to-earth every once in a while. Going after the Fountain of Youth is all well and good, but they have to make it needlessly complicated. The quest involves finding two silver chalices which belonged to Spanish Conquistador Juan Ponce de León, and one of those must contain the tear of a mermaid. Two people must drink water from the Fountain with those chalices, and the person who drank out of the chalice without the tear ends up giving their life to the one who drank from the chalice with the tear. I suppose it illustrates a sense of immorality in immortality. Compare this with the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: You have a temple with several traps serving as trials, and the Grail is hidden amongst many false grails which drain life.

Blackbeard seems too similar to Barbossa and Davy Jones, especially with his magic sword which controls his ship.

Jack Sparrow is still fun to watch, and the action is still entertaining. I think they mainly want to focus on what kind of creative action set pieces they can conceive. Which renders the fantasy elements unnecessary.

All in all, I think you can skip this one. I originally did.

Before I go, I'd like to state that this film borrows quite heavily from On Stranger Tides, a 1987 swashbuckler fantasy novel by Tim Powers, mainly its use of Blackbeard and The Fountain of Youth. The book is often credited as being one of the original inspirations for both Pirates of the Caribbean and the Monkey Island series. I sometimes wonder if they should have done a straight-up adaptation as a stand-alone film, rather than attaching it to an existing franchise.

In conclusion, skip the film, but check out the book.

Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

 

How long is this movie? And where did all this lore spring up from? Released in 2007, At World's End was filmed back-to-back with Dead Man's Chest.

Anyway, here's a recap; Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl were dragged to Davy Jones' Locker (an afterlife) by the Kraken. Norrington has stolen Davy Jones' heart and delivered it to Lord Cutler Beckett. Will, Elizabeth, and Jack's crew seek refuge with a voodoo priestess named Tia Dalma, played by Naomi Harris. She reveals that they could rescue Jack by making a journey to the World's End (not the pub in Newton Haven). As they need a captain who knows the way, she has resurrected Captain Barbossa.

Okay, that's a decent setup for a sequel. But they've added more plot on top of that: Beckett seeks to eradicate piracy, and is using the heart to leverage Davy Jones into serving the East India Company's fleet now commanded by Admiral James Norrington. He carries out summary executions of anybody remotely associated with pirates, which prompts a summoning of the nine pirate lords who comprise "The Brethren Court". Unfortunately, Jack happens to be one of those pirate lords, and had never appointed a successor. Which means his crew have to rescue him from Davy Jones' Locker (which was their plan anyway). But to do that, they have to go to Singapore to obtain navigational charts from Captain Sao Feng, the Pirate Lord of the South China Sea played by Chow Yun-Fat (even though Barbossa was supposed to know the way). On top of that, there's supposed to be some goddess called Calypso, whom Davy Jones once loved, and Sao Feng believes that Elizabeth is Calypso bound in human form, and wants to release her to help fight off the company. Just get to the bloody final battle we've all been waiting for. And whoever kills Davy Jones has to take his place (ferrying souls to the afterlife).

Yeah, I wasn't keen on this one. They crammed more story and characters into it, on top of an already complex story set up in the previous one. It just results in even more exposition. Meanwhile, Will and Elizabeth have a tense relationship because Will saw Elizabeth kissing Jack when she left him to die at the end of the previous film. That didn't really add much to the last film either.

However, I still like the action, especially the explosive finale, and all the characters are still fun to watch. I'd have loved to see the other pirate lords involved more in the story, but the film's long enough as it is. There's even an interesting cameo by Keith Richards as Captain Teague, who keeps the record of the Pirate Code and is also Jack's father. Apparently Jack Sparrow's mannerisms and design were based quite heavily on Keith Richards. That's kinda hilariously meta.

I'm dreading the next one.

Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

 

The Curse of the Black Pearl was a movie with a tight ending. The curse was broken, Barbossa is dead, Will and Elizabeth plan to marry, and Jack Sparrow sails off in the Black Pearl for more adventures. That last part alone could provide plenty of scope for sequels. The first of these was Dead Man's Chest, released in 2006.

Will and Elizabeth's wedding is disrupted by an untimely arrival from East India Company representative Lord Cutler Beckett, played by Tom Hollander. He has them both arrested for aiding Jack's escape, but offers Will a pardon if he recovers Jack's compass which doesn't point north (which has magical properties). Meanwhile, Jack Sparrow learns he is indebted to Davy Jones, a pirate Cthulu played by Bill Nighy who had given him the Black Pearl 13 years earlier. In return, Jack must serve on board Jones' ship, The Flying Dutchman, or he'll be hunted by the Kraken. Jack learns that he could defeat Jones by destroying his heart. Said heart is buried in the fabled "Dead Man's Chest", but he has to find a key first. To complicate things, Jack is also being hunted by James Norrington, who has resigned his commission in disgrace after losing his flagship in a hurricane while pursuing the Pearl.

This is where these films fall flat. The story is very convoluted and falls flat in places. Roughly the first half of the film is taken up by a rather lengthy diversion in which Will tries to save Jack from a tribe of cannibals. It's funny. but it does reach a Wile E. Coyote level of slapstick and doesn't really contribute to the later story. To be perfectly honest, they could have just cut Will and Elizabeth out of the story. Jack's debt to Davy Jones would have been enough, maybe with Norrington.

I also think they went a little over-the-top with the fantasy element, even if I do like the designs of Davy Jones and The Flying Dutchman's barnacle-encrusted crew. I guess they wanted to upstage themselves.

That said, it's still an enjoyable film. I quite like one segment where Jack is wandering through a tavern during a brawl and trying on people's hats to replace one he'd lost.

I also enjoyed a creative three-way sword-fight between Jack, Will, and Norrington, as their motivations for obtaining the Heart of Davy Jones come into conflict with one another: Jack wants to use leverage to call off the Kraken; Will wants to kill Davy Jones so he can free his long-lost father, who's serving The Flying Dutchman's crew; and Norrington wants to use the heart as a bargaining chip with Beckett, so he can regain his honour and status. They fight through a ruined church tower, and later on a dried-up water mill which breaks off and rolls away. It's creative, if a little cartoonish.

Curse of the Black Pearl was awesome. This one...kind of awesome.

Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

The first film is, without a doubt, the best film in the franchise. A classic pulp swashbuckler re-constituted as crowd-pleasing blockbuster action (which has been one Hollywood's cash cow formulae since it worked so well with Star Wars).

Johnny Depp stars as Jack Sparrow, the former captain of a notorious pirate ship, the Black Pearl. Ten years before the events of the film, Jack was deposed in a mutiny by his first mate Hector Barbossa, played by Geoffrey Rush. While looking to steal a ship, Jack is arrested in Port Royal after saving the life of the governor's daughter Elizabeth Swann, played by Keira Knightley. Elizabeth is then kidnapped by Barbossa over a gold medallion in her possession, as he believes she is the key to breaking a curse he and his crew are under. Will Turner, a blacksmith's apprentice played by Orlando Bloom and the original owner of Elizabeth's medallion, seeks to rescue her and enlists Jack's help.

You'd never think a film based on a ride at Disneyland would be successful, but they pulled it off brilliantly. Johnny Depp steals the show as the delightfully quirky Jack Sparrow right from his grand entrance. He's a fast-talker, and likes playing everyone off against each other, from Barbossa to Will to Elizabeth's fiance Commodore Norrington, played by Jack Davenport. His peculiar mannerisms and snappy dialogue have become so distinct that most modern audiences regard him as the iconic pirate (a post previously held by Robert Newton).

While Johnny Depp is the star, Jack Sparrow isn't the protagonist. It's Will Turner who goes on the hero's journey, and has the arguably more heroic goal; he wants to save Elizabeth, while Jack wants to reclaim his ship. He also learns about the medallion, which was sent to him by his late father Bootstrap Bill.

I really love the action sequences this film has. One of my favourites is a sword fight early on between Jack and Will. The blacksmith's shop where it takes place offers all kinds of creative moments. I also love the design of the Black Pearl crew's true forms. It's quite funny when Barbossa's monkey is also undead, and gets in a jump scare on Elizabeth. He does it again later in the film, but Elizabeth (and by extension, the audience) is unfazed the second time around.

All in all, it's a film you should see at least once.

Franchise Reviews: Pirates of the Caribbean

This is the week I was meant to be at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School, but since 2020 has pretty much been cancelled, I'm spending the week at home rather than in the picturesque Derbyshire surroundings.

I've got a couple of virtual events, and I'll post about that in due course. I'm also working on a couple of my pirate stories.

With that in mind, I decided to keep getting use out of my Disney+ subscription and watch the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I've often heard people say that this was the film franchise which made pirate films cool again, twenty years after the failure of Nate and Hayes (which I talked about here). It's probably one of Disney's biggest live-action film franchises (unless you count Star Wars now).

Anyway, I'll be posting my review of the first film later today, and I'll be posting the rest in due course.

Franchise Reviews - Pirates of the Caribbean: Wrap Up

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl  is a strong film, and remains one of my favourite films to this today (not quite my ...