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The ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Franchise Evolves with Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie and screenwriter Christina Hodson will hopefully bring some of that ‘Birds of Prey’ energy to their Disney spinoff.
Birds Of Prey The Reading List
Warner Bros
By  · Published on July 1st, 2020

Welcome to Infinite IP, our ongoing series detailing the pros and cons of resurrecting a franchise years after its original endpoint. Some call them Reboots. Others call them Legasequels. Hollywood calls them an infinitely recyclable resource.

Five feature films. $4.5 billion. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is an undeniable box office leviathan. We may be sick of Johnny Depp, but there is no way Disney would allow this property to sink to the ocean floor alongside Davy Jones’ locker. Producers always find a way.

Having already re-invented Harley Quinn for Birds of Prey earlier this year, Margot Robbie shall now set sail upon the ever-spreading waters of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, hoping to attach a fresh perspective and fresher box office to Disney’s once glorious IP. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson will join Robbie’s raiding party with Jerry Bruckheimer still on board to produce. The idea is to create a new set of female-fronted adventures only loosely attached to previous films.

Nothing else is known or confirmed. Is this enough to engage your enthusiasm? Are your timbers shivered? Well, hold on, don’t answer yet.

Back in 2003, the announcement of the first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl, caused many to scratch their heads. A movie based on a theme park ride? How absurd!

The source material matters little. The creators and Disney’s boodle of coin are what counts. The theme park ride was merely a spine for Gore Verbinski to drop an extremely bizarre and grotesque musculature upon. The director did not care whether the pirate ghosts belonged to Pirates of the Caribbean or Scooby-Doo; Verbinski relished his chance to bombard his audience with supernatural hijinks pushed to the very limits of acceptable taste in a subgenre once adored by them. He brought mainstream respect back to the black beards of yore.

Granted, the last entry in the franchise (sans Verbinkski) featured more rust than gold. Dead Men Tell No Tales attempted to steal a little spotlight from Depp’s Captain Jack by introducing Brenton Thwaites, the swashbuckling son of Will Turner, and Kaya Scodelario as his headstrong astronomer foil. Unfortunately, just like the last two Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley facsimiles of On Stranger Tides, the pretender leads proved more bland than bold.

The Pirates of the Caribbean films are weird as hell. They require Jerry Lewis, not Dean Martin. You need a nut upfront. Margot Robbie is that nut.

The electricity of Birds of Prey strikes from Robbie’s interpretation of Harley Quinn. Clearly, she understood the appeal of a cracked character trying to put the pieces of her life back together again. What was once fragile is now solid, concrete. More importantly, Harley Quinn is sharp, dangerous.

Built on a life experience that would shatter any psyche, Quinn tackles her world with gusto, forging a bent morality that acts as armor against a vicious, selfish world. Moths (or birds) gather around her flame. Quinn’s figured it out. The similarily infuriated naturally surround her, wanting to kick ass against anyone who would dare challenge/dismiss their power and dominion.

Pirates of the Caribbean does not need another Orlando Bloom. Pirates of the Caribbean does not need another Keira Knightley. The series does demand a Captain Jack, a compelling whackjob to keep us guessing what side they’re on, and while we’re questioning who is good and who is bad, we’re also contemplating our own virtue.

Harley Quinn is very much a Captain Jack, and altering little would establish a new necessarily weirdo lead for the series. Robbie delights in shotgunning explosive bean bags into the backs of cops or dropping her rollerskates into an unwanted kneecap. The pleasure in which she releases Harley’s anti-authoritarian actions belongs aboard the Black Pearl. The Jolly Roger are proud colors, and they fly high in Birds of Prey.

The genius of Pirates of the Caribbean is how few pre-packaged narrative accouterments are essential. There must be pirates, ships, something spooky, and, at some point, a Caribbean. Beyond that, the other five films already dished out the nods and winks to the Disney ride itself. Robbie and Hodson are free to drudge up whatever madness they so desire.

At the height of Pirates of the Caribbean‘s powers, it was a little disappointing that more studios did not bother with their interpretations of the subgenre. Pirate tales are like Westerns; they used to be all the rage, but while an Unforgiven or a Django Unchained would come along every once in a while, encouraging others to take up the saddle, Pirates of the Caribbean never inspired wannabes. Come on, guys: we need a few more dozen versions of Nate and Hayes and Captain Blood!

The problem is water. It’s expensive. Only Disney dare deal with water? Bah. It’s at this point that we should steer more folks to indie ocean-born terrors like Sea Fever and The Boat. (Editor’s note: see also, Black Sails.)

With Robbie and Hodson, we’re on the verge of another decade of pirate sagas. After all, their Pirates of the Caribbean is not the only addition to this particular universe in the works. Still scheduled for release is the previously announced Pirates of the Caribbean sequel from trusted franchise screenwriter Ted Elliott and Chernobyl creator Craig Mazin. If the dueling sequels see the light of day, and they’re at least as successful as the first three films, then the scallywag buccaneer renaissance may be here.

The burden on Elliott and Mazin is they still have to find their whacko. Robbie and Hodson are all set.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)