One would think that a once-successful franchise that has run its due course, going from a fun and surprisingly well-constructed adventure romp to a mildly insane mythological fantasy to a parody of itself would be allowed to fade into the annals of cinema history, well-remembered as a series that perhaps overstayed its welcome, but that we enjoyed nonetheless while we had it.
But no, instead of letting sleeping dogs lie, we may be getting a Pirates of the Caribbean reboot, according to Deadline. Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick of Deadpool fame are in early talks to write the new film, and Jerry Bruckheimer is slated to continue as producer for the franchise. It’s too early to tell if this would be a full reboot or if any cast members will return, including Johnny Depp. The series has already grossed over $4.5 billion in 14 years, so that is a likely reason for Disney to wish to further the brand in some way.
Yet this handy box office graph shows that the only time one of these movies made more money domestically than its immediate predecessor was the first sequel, 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest (however, 2011’s On Stranger Ties did join that installment in the billion-dollar-plus club worldwide). The statistic fits nicely with the way we remember them as a moviegoing public. The first was a surprise breakout hit, but each subsequent film let us down more and more, making less and less money, to the point where I didn’t even realize that the fifth one had dropped until a month afterward.
This begs the question: did anyone actually ask for this reboot? I certainly haven’t met anyone who’s clamoring for a new Pirates movie. Indeed, pirates as the subject of fiction seem to have gone the way of my beloved Treasure Planet. They were a big deal for a few years when everyone was wearing guyliner and dreadlocks to Halloween parties and doing drunk Keith Richards impressions (including, to my everlasting shame, myself in high school), and then after the third movie, At World’s End, everyone kind of fell off the bandwagon.
There are a few reasons for this. The first three movies form a nice, coherent story arc for the narrative’s “normal people.” Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, our boring but effective blank slate audience surrogate characters, get their happy ending, and all the interesting plot threads are pretty much wrapped up. Thus, further films suffer from the lack of a straight man to the antics of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp). Sure, they absolutely tried to bring in new characters to fill this narrative role, but whether through poor acting or poor writing (I’m inclined to believe the latter), none of these bland, young, attractive white people caught on the same way.
Personally, I never felt like any of the sequels really captured the magic of the first. The franchise seems like an example of writers who accidentally made a hit and then couldn’t quite figure out how to make the lightning strike twice when the studio asked for a sequel. The one magic ingredient that stayed consistent was Depp, but he has since played the Jack Sparrow character to death, and not just in Pirates. He had to play that same character dressed as Willy Wonka, the Mad Hatter, and an extremely uncomfortable portrayal of Tonto. The character that motivated this whole franchise has become a parody of himself.
Don’t get me wrong; I think there’s plenty of great stories to be told in the high seas setting. There’s a sort of adventurous romance associated with seagulls, salt air, and scurvy. I just don’t think any of these good stories have anything left to do with Captain Jack Sparrow or this particular property. We all had a fun time, but it’s time for us to put the coins back in the chest and let these undead pirates have their eternal rest.