How Disney Could Still Save Pirates Of The Caribbean

It’s not too late to turn back the Stranger Tides on the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Pirates Of The Caribbean 6 is happening. By the time it comes out, the series will be almost 20 years old, and most of the kids who go and see it won’t even remember the time when making a pirate movie was considered as stupid as making a videogame movie.

The fifth sequel is still in its early days, so no one knows much about what Disney have planned – but the odds are fairly good that we’re going to get something that looks quite a lot like the last few. Whatever happens, the film is sure to make another boatload of cash, and we’ll probably keep on getting another sequel every few years until the franchise finally beaches itself and someone decides to do a reboot.

But back in 2003 (and, arguably, for at least a few sequels later) Pirates Of The Caribbean was a pretty great summer blockbuster. Old-fashioned, fun, and stylishly made, it was the last big-budget family adventure before Marvel came along and made everything into a boxset. Could anyone still make The Curse Of The Black Pearl now? No. But Disney could save the series if they took a few bold steps away from the formula…

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Get rid of Jack Sparrow

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has clearly said that without Johnny Depp, there is no Pirates Of The Caribbean. But that was before Gunn-gate. After Disney fired Guardians Of The Galaxy director James Gunn, the landscape seems to have changed in Hollywood. Depp is a notoriously controversial figure, and a string of legal issues (including multiple allegations of domestic abuse) will no doubt create a massive PR problem for the studio when Pirates 6 rolls around.

While Depp is undeniably brilliant in the role, there is more to Pirates Of The Caribbean than Jack Sparrow. Recasting would be a disaster, so the best bet would be to get rid of the character all together, and use the opportunity to shift the focus somewhere else.

And haven’t we seen everything that Sparrow can do now anyway? What’s he going to do in the new one, stumble around a big accidental set-piece and make another joke about rum?

The series has propped itself up on the same set-up for almost 20 years now – with Jack as the roguish comedy foil and someone mildly bland as the swashbuckling heartthrob. And no, that doesn’t mean we need a Jack Sparrow origin movie. What about a female-led pirate story? Or film about a genuine antihero?

Mix it up a bit, give us someone different to dress up as for Halloween.

Stop trying to make a Marvel movie

Superheroes have ruined blockbusters. However good Marvel movies might be, everyone else spends all their money trying to match them – and the result has been dozens of bad big movies about teams and origins that are all built to fit into expanded universes.

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Worse still, Marvel’s trademark set-piece style (“more is more”) has seen almost every summer movie of the last decade ending with a dizzying kaleidoscope of escalating carnage – with 3D digi sets rolling over retinas until everyone in the audience is numbed into thinking they’ve just seen something impressive. It might look spectacular when Thor and Star-Lord do it, but it all looks a bit ridiculous in the 18th Century.

Compare the climaxes to the first and last Pirates movies. The Curse Of The Black Pearl looked pretty OTT at the time when it ended with a duel between Sparrow and Barbossa in a sunken cave – their faces turning to skulls every time they hit the moonlight. To be honest, I’m not really sure what was going on at the end of Dead Men Tell No Tales. A magic trident made the entire ocean part, and Jack fought off a horde of possessed pirates in a swirling mass of water whilst Barbossa lowered himself down on a giant swinging anchor.

The new Pirates needs to appeal to modern audiences, but that’s no excuse to make it look like a videogame. As The Force Awakens proved, real effects and stripped back action can actually look more impressive when it’s done properly – and there’s no better platform for a bit of old-school swashbuckling than a pirate movie.

Lean into the weirdness

Pirates were a bit weird. They wore silly costumes, even for the time, and they lived their life as part of a brotherhood built around robbery and rum. Original trilogy director Gore Verbinski seemed to understand this, and the first three films are heavy on the quirkiness. Whilst a lot of that came from Depp, Verbinski deserves a lot of the credit thanks to his baroque filming style. Looking closer to a Terry Gilliam movie (and a Monkey Island game) than your typical blockbuster, the first few Pirates movies look beautiful and move very strangely.

It’s unlikely that Verbinski would want to return to the series (or that Disney would want him back, after The Lone Ranger), but whoever picks up Pirates 6 would do well to take a leaf out of his stylebook. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg did an okay job with Dead Men Tell No Tales, but none of it was particularly memorable. At their best, the Pirates films made you question what you were looking at – coming off like a watery, rococo sea opera (with zombie monkeys).

Disney need to hire someone with a real vision – someone who wants to do something unique and different – and they need to not be afraid of coming off a bit leftfield. James Gunn proved that you don’t need to be a “Disney director” to make it work – but then we all know how that worked out…

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Embrace the pirate life

Above all else, Disney need to be brave. Getting rid of Depp would cause palms to sweat all over Hollywood, and the thought of sinking a cash cow before it’s sunk is probably what keeps Mickey Mouse up at night. But unless they do something, Pirates Of The Caribbean will backfire. Maybe not with Part 6, and maybe not even with the inevitable Part 7, but pretty soon the series will look lame to the kids who only grew up with the bad ones, and tired to the adults who can’t remember the good ones.

Pirate movies used to be like Westerns in the old days (and like superhero movies today); always another story to tell, always a fresh idea and never a dull moment. Disney can still save Pirates Of The Caribbean, but they need to cut the anchor if they want to get anywhere.

A real pirate would do anything for money, but not if it wasn’t any fun.