All Jack and No Play Make Pirates 4 a Dull Movie

Posted on 20 May 2011 by Quaid

This is one of those articles that I wish I didn’t have to write. As a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (and that includes all of them, not just the first one, I was one of the defenders of the idea of making a fourth, stand-alone film. After all, Jack Sparrow is one of the more fun, interesting and all-around entertaining characters to grace the silver screen in the past ten years; why not give him more adventures.

As a buddy of mine put it, I was looking forward to watching “The Adventures of Jack Sparrow.”  I thought maybe this character, if given the right quest, could become this generation’s Indiana Jones. Unfortunately, I was very, very wrong.

I’m not even sure where the blame lies. It’s not with Depp…his Jack Sparrow is the same charming, cocky bastard as always. I can’t really blame the writers (at least not completely); they write the same twists and turns and over-the-top dialogue that I loved in the other movies.

In the end, though, there are two elements I can point to and say “No…this was just all wrong.”

The first is director Rob Marshall. Don’t get me wrong…Rob is a talented guy. I’m a huge fan of what he did with Chicago, and the man has a great eye for choreography and action. The problem, though, is that he’s not nearly as “playful” as Gore Verbinski was with the first three Pirates movies. Jokes are over-played, gags and plot “twists” are telegraphed, and, overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides just doesn’t work hard enough to get me involved. It’s one of those situations where the characters, on paper, are interesting and engaging and the plot is action-packed and exciting.  In execution, though, the movie just feels flat…like the filmmakers are saying “hey, you like this!  It’s Jack Sparrow!  We don’t have to do the hard work of drawing you into a plot, you just want Jack!”  Laziness.

The second (and larger) problem with the film is, ironically, “too much Jack.” If you remember, Jack Sparrow was originally supposed to be a very strong supporting character.  The first film was an ensemble with a love story (albeit a weak one) at its heart. And, not surprisingly, the public called for “more Jack.”  With Pirates 2 and 3, there was more Jack, but he was always balanced by a strong supporting cast of heroes.

In this film, we get Jack front and center.  And you know what? It gets boring.  As my girlfriend said when walking out of the movie, they got Jack all wrong.  This movie, for the first time, shows Jack thinking.  We get a glimpse behind his wild antics and see him scheme…and that’s all wrong.  What was always great about Jack is that he was one step ahead of the other characters in the movie as well as the audience. It always comes together in that one “aha!” moment that lets you know that you’ve been watching a skilled con artist with a heart of gold.  In this movie, the few “aha!” moments that exist are obvious, telegraphed and simplistic. What a waste of a great character.

I’m not one hundred percent sure of why and how this franchise jumped the shark.  But I’ll take a stab at it…

While the first movie was a giant success both commercially and financially, Disney and the filmmakers had to be disappointed with the reception of the sequels. Pirates 2 was considered (unrightfully, in my opinion) overlong and convoluted. Three, penned and shot at the same time as two, was just noise, and you could tell it was heavily re-edited to take the negative feedback of part two into account.

So when it came time to make this new movie, you just know the Disney execs had some ginormous notes for the filmmakers.  Like 1) GIVE ME MORE JACK!, and 2) KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!

So when the writers wrote this one, they were writing scared. They were terrified of losing their audience like they did with two. They toned down the double-crosses and the plot twists.  They made Jack less intelligent so the audience could keep up.

The only problem being that these things are what make the original trilogy worth watching.  Whether you like part two or not (I love it), you kind of have to respect its boldness, sense of fun, and clever writing. It goes so off the rails with complicated plot that you just kind of have to laugh and go with it. The first movie was similar but in a more dialed back way.

But by taking this level of complicated plot and character motivation out of the fourth movie, the filmmakers have effectively ripped the guts out of the franchise.  And any cleverness that is left is played too obviously…like Rob Marshall is terrified of losing his audience, so he makes the most obvious, most “okay we get it already” choices possible.

I’m more than a little disappointed. Maybe there was (is?) a way of making Jack Sparrow this generation’s Indiana Jones, but not like this…not with a soulless rehash of the original films that fails to understand what made those films work in the first place.  We need either a reinvention of the series or a movie that better aligns with the original, ensemble concept.

Because this movie made me utter words I never thought I would: “I missed Orlando Bloom.”

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