Every time a new blockbuster rears its heads in a movie theater, I make sure to do my homework. Come hell or high water, I want to be prepared for the latest spectacle to come down the pipeline from Hollywood. I free up some time in the week prior to its release, plop down on the couch, and marathon whatever series is getting a fresh entry.
It’s always a blast, too. I watched all seven Alien movies leading up to Alien: Covenant: even the stupid ones where he fights the Predator. I brushed up all the Marvel movies before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 hit theaters earlier this month. Don’t even get me started on my pre-Logan marathon.
But the movie du jour is Dead Men Tell No Tales, so I’m smack dab in the middle of a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon. Like everybody who saw it when it came out, I loved the first movie. Also like everybody who saw it when it came out, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for its follow-up, Dead Man’s Chest. And in the decade since, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the latest two installments to the franchise, even if I’ll eagerly put The Curse of the Black Pearl on at the drop of a hat.
But I take my movies seriously, so if I must watch Dead Men Tell No Tales, I’ll at least do so having seen all of the preceding movies. And with three movies down, I feel perfectly vindicated in never actually watching the later Pirates movies.
It’s a number of reasons, really, when it gets down to it. Nautical movies have historically never worked, so The Curse of the Black Pearl — with its engaging story, breathtaking action scenes, phenomenal cast and instantly memorable score — felt like nothing short of a miracle: a breath of fresh air in a summer season that had grown increasingly stale. Any follow-up couldn’t possibly recapture that same sense of wonder — of discovery — that the first movie had simply for existing in the first place.
Disney took the wrong lessons from its success, however, and gave us more of what they thought we wanted in its 2006 sequel. There were more outlandish scenes of Jack Sparrow in increasingly bizarre scenarios. There were both more and more elaborate fight sequences, stretching on over far too long a run time. They brought characters back from the dead, reunited minor favorites with the expanded cast and gave us more of the love-struck couple that I don’t think anybody really cared about in the first place.
What’s worse is that they took what would have been a solid-enough movie and stretched it out over two entries. Not only was each movie and overlong mess — with half of a script stretched out over the course of an entire film — but cost us another ticket to see how it ended. And it was definitely not worth the price of admission the second and third times around.
Looking ahead to the latest movie, which releases later this week, I can’t help but feel the same sense of indifference that I felt at the end of Dead Man’s Chest. What’s the point, when all we’re getting is the entirely besides the point attractions that Disney thinks everybody loved about the first movie.
It was the rousing sense of adventure that made Pirates of the Caribbean the billion-dollar franchise it is today. It’s not just swashbuckling pirates and seep-sea battle sequences, but the epic scale and sense of mythology infused into the Caribbean: the Black Pearl, the cursed Aztec gold, the undead Captain Barbosa and the wily-eyed Captain Jack Sparrow. It wasn’t just hijinks and mayhem and battle, but a richly lived-in world and compelling characters.
Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann weren’t the reasons why anybody bought tickets, even if it really did look like Orlando Bloom was going to be the next big action star for a hot second there. They were only ever the straight men to Captain Jack’s bizarre affectation and Barbosa’s dead-eyed villainy: an anchor to keep us invested in everything else happening on screen. They were a means to an end.
But despite a fresh cast and a new story, that’s exactly Dead Men Tell No Tales seems to think lies at the heart of the new movie: Will and Elizabeth Turner — the immortal captain of the Flying Dutchman and the Pirate Queen of the Caribbean. Not only do both return in the latest film, but their child — Henry Turner — features at the cow-eyed lead of the piece.
Am I the only person who feels nothing other than tired at the prospect of watching another one of these? The Turners were never interesting and every attempt to shoe-horn them in as the supposed leads of this franchise has failed miserably. I can’t see a movie about their son palling around with their old frienemy doing any better.
The franchise was a surprisingly great idea that was sunk by increasingly misguided sequels that focused on the wrong aspects of the series. Literal skeleton crews and ancient treasure is where it thrived, not the petty melodrama of kids in love.
Depending on how heavily the new movie leans on the Turner family, it could go the same way as At World’s End. But with Jack Sparrow facing down a ghastly Javier Bardem and a zombie shark, it at least stands a chance.