There have been a fair share of big budget film franchises which shone brightly and were an inspiration for a moment, only to crash and burn in spectacular fashion: Star Wars (though Disney is slowly crawling out of the hole), X-Men, & Spider-Man, to name a few.
While they all make me sad in their own way, one franchise particularly close to my heart is Pirates of the Caribbean; we’re three sequels in and none of them have managed to fully recapture the spirit of the first film (though I would argue Dead Man’s Chest came the closest).
I get it; making a movie is hard. Everyone’s a critic, and you’re never going to make everyone happy.
In order to help those at Disney who are in charge of this franchise, I’ve compiled a list of elements from the first film we need to see in future installments to help them successfully recapture the spirit, while also creating something original.
1. Include Likeable Characters Who Genuinely Care About People
The first film had great characters we all loved: Capt. Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swann. They weren’t perfect, but they all learned to have each others backs and save the day in the end.
What happened as the series progressed was the idea of being a pirate became synonymous with freedom. The pirates were the good guys, and the East India Trading Company were bad for wanting to control them.
However, being a pirate also was synonymous for self-interest. By the middle of At World’s End, every single character was looking out for their own self-interest and nothing else. Rather than bringing a sense of care and community INTO piracy, Elizabeth and Will had fallen victim to the pirates life… which is the pleasure of self as the highest good.
I didn’t know who to side with in the end of the film, and would’ve been content to see them all blow each other up. My emotional investment level at the end was zero, because I no longer liked the lead characters.
For this next film, the lead characters don’t have to be saints, but in order for me to want to see them succeed I need to see them value some human life other than their own and their immediate relations.
2. Keep Jack in His Original Archetypes
A large part of the issue with the later films (specifically the 3rd and 4th), is Jack’s role in the story shifted and to its detriment.
In the first film (and for the most part in the second) Jack fulfills two ancient Jungian archetypes: the shapeshifter and the trickster.
The Shapeshifter is the character in the story who changes allegiance from our lead character to the antagonist and sometimes back to the lead character in the end. Their allegiance and true agenda are always unknown and in question to the hero of the story. Catwoman in Batman stories, Magneto & Mystique from X-Men stories, and Han Solo in the first Star Wars are famous shape-shifters.
The Trickster is simply someone who keeps the story light. A source of comic relief. Think Merry and Pippin from The Lord of the Rings or C-3P0 and R2-D2 from Star Wars.
Jack fell into both of these archetypes and fulfilled them beautifully, bringing a great deal of uncertainty, mystery, and humor to the story.
Will was the main character in the first film, Elizabeth was in the second (which is another reason why it worked a bit better than the other two sequels), but Jack became the main character in both the 3rd and 4th films.
The nature of the main character is to change; they go on a journey of inner transformation. However to transform is to lose what makes Jack appealing; he’s a selfish scalawag with his own agenda who will occasionally do something nice for someone else. His transformation in both films never sells, and the films ultimately fall flat.
There are two new characters in Pirates 5, which gives me hope they’ll relegate Jack back to his old archetypes, and allow the new versions of Will and Elizabeth to be our heroes.
3. Keep it Light, Keep it Simple
The first film is a great summer blockbuster; simple plot, fun characters, and dark moments sandwiched in a light tone. None of the films which followed the first lived up to this.
They all became too dark and too complicated.
The first film was dark; there were freaking ghost pirates who murder people. What separates it from the subsequent sequels is there was no longer anything to contrast the darkness. By the time of the third movie, every character had made morally reprehensible choices free of any consequence. There was nothing to counterbalance the darkness in the story.
There needs to be some semblance of morality/goodness to balance out the darkness.
In all three sequels there were so many moving parts it was hard to keep track of who was with who and doing what (especially in the third movie; you almost needed a white board to map out what was happening as it happened).
In this new film, keep it simple; one group going on one quest, learning and growing together.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Disney and the crew have in store for us with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Hopefully this list will serve as inspiration and we’ll finally see a Pirates sequel which lives up to the spirit of the original.
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