This weekend the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, hits theaters.
When the trailer for the movie first hit the internet, a collective groan was let out by the cinematic masses. “Why???!!!” They screamed in lamentation to the cinematic gods with clenched fists, and tear-filled eyes.
To many the fifth voyage of Captain Jack Sparrow, and the Pirates crew, is one of the biggest abominations on the moviegoing public of the year.
To those I say this…
The hate, frankly, has gone way too far on these films. The vitriol, and bile people spew at them has only increased with time, and my question is this…
Look, I’m realist. The first Pirates of the Caribbean is universally loved, and for good reason — it’s a really well-made, original idea. It was shocking to see how Disney took the concept of one of their classic theme park rides, and turned it into a wildly creative popcorn film. I can remember when the announcement for the film was broke in an issue of Entertainment Weekly. I rolled my eyes. After The Haunted Mansion with Eddie Murphy tanked (you forgot about that one didn’t you?), I thought this film had no chance in hell.
But it did, and like any successful Hollywood film — the studio looked to capitalize on the success with sequels.
The big issue with the sequels is this; the script vacillates way too dramatically between resting on its laurels, and trying to be too clever. They overcomplicated things for the sake of overcomplicating them, and when that didn’t work they just ran the “this is what made the first film successful” playbook.
Films two through four are flawed, but I just don’t understand the outright loathing. Yeah, they aren’t as great as the film first film — but these were in no way bad films. In fact I’m going to give you five reasons why not only did these films did not, but why they’re actually way more fun than you give them credit for.
1. Johnny Depp as Jack Captain Jack Sparrow: There is no Pirates franchise without Captain Jack Sparrow. He’s a charismatic buffoon that walks the razor thin plank of hero and scoundrel. He’s the comic relief, the lynchpin to the entire story, and let’s be honest — he’s one of the most recognizable live action characters of the past two decades. No could play this roll but Johnny Depp. Hell, the role earned him an Oscar nomination. Obviously the shine has come off Depp’s star power given his long string of box office bombs (The Rum Diary, Transcendence, Lone Ranger, etc.), and his personal matters. However, this character is undeniably fun, and has always been the strongest part of the sequels. Look at his heroic turn in the second film, where he sacrifices himself for his friends. That’s a great moment. And that bizarre opening of the third movie — only Depp/Sparrow could make that happen.
2. The Visuals: One of the astonishing parts of the first Pirates movie was the visual effects. The undead pirate crew was stunningly crafted. The most dazzling part of these visuals is when an undead crew member had light hit him, and you would see a hybrid of half man/half zombie. That was awesome. Remember when Geoffrey Rush’s character welcomed Keira Knightley aboard the Black Pearl and then chugged a bottle of wine? That was great.
In the sequels the visuals only became better. Davey Jones (Bill Nighy) and his crew were an amazing amalgam of practical and special effects. Jones was particularly impressive as they were able to recreate his face with an octopus (or squid) using computer effects, and then his arms and leg with (seemingly) practical visual effects. Stellan Skarsgaard’s “Bootstrap” Bill Turner was pretty much all make-up and practical effects from the coral jutting out of his shoulder to the starfish attached to his face.
Of course I’m also not mentioning the Kraken, or the killer mermaids, or the boatload of other special effects that fill up the screen. These are all really marvelous feats of creativity that should not be overlooked.
3. Will Turner’s Choice: One of the most underrated aspects of the second and third film was the spiritual dilemma of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Sure, Will wasn’t really anyone’s favorite character, unless you’re a fan of Bloom’s looks (which many were/are). The Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) plot was cute, and it made for a nice storybook ending in the first film. However, the writers took a risk and introduced Will’s long-lost father, and asked the question ‘Who will Young Will chose?’ There was no way he could have a relationship with his now-zombified father without sacrificing his love with Elizabeth. Of course, he tries like hell to make it happen, which builds to that emotional ending in the third film. Do I think he made the right choice? I mean choosing between a zombie and Keira Knightley is a no-brainer to me (I’d chose Knightley if you were wondering), but I like that they played this as a point of suspense for two movies.
4. The Action: The action in all three of the sequels is what you’d expect from a pirate movie — epic mid-ocean battles, close quarter combat with people swinging from ship to ship, running through jungles being chased by natives, and of course, vampire mermaids. No matter how ludicrous the set-up, the action was always fun, it was always well shot, and it never felt repetitive. They easily could’ve been boring as hell, but no matter what these action pieces were always a highlight.
5. The Supporting Cast: Geoffrey Rush. Bill Nighy. Jonathan Pryce. Stellan Skarsgaard. Tom Hollander. Ian McShane. Watch any of those actors in their respective roles, and you’ll see them elevate normal popcorn fare into something special.