Thursday, June 1, 2017

Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Johnny Depp, or Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I checked out of the Pirates of the Caribbean series after Dead Man’s Chest (2006) because as much as I loved Orlando Bloom as Legolas, I didn’t feel he was strong enough of an actor to carry a movie by himself, and I just couldn’t get wrap my head around the concept of a sword fight on a runaway water wheel.  It seemed to me that Disney was trying to push Orlando Bloom as a leading actor, while Johnny Depp was running circles around him goofing off as Captain Jack Sparrow. 
Five movies later and it’s become the All Sparrow, All The Time Franchise; it’s not even a pirate franchise but rather a franchise about a specific pirate.  Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) introduces Jack Sparrow in a series of Buster Keaton/Cirque du Soleil-style stunts intermixed with a steampunk Fast and the Furious bank heist, and like the Fast and the Furious Franchise, the stunts, along with the explosions and the one-liners have gotten progressively bigger and more outrageous.  Captain Jack Sparrow has become a parody of the original character, which was a parody to begin with, much like Stallone getting progressively more and more ripped in the Rocky and Rambo movies.  There’s a an unnecessarily complicated plot concerning finding Neptune’s Trident, but really these movies have become an exercise in letting Johnny Depp do his thing and building a movie around it.
Johnny Depp is a character actor with leading man looks, a deceptive combination that has allowed him to infuse every role he portrays with his quirky and eccentric style.  But he’s like Bugs Bunny, he needs an Elmer Fudd to bounce off, and the filmmakers in Pirates have yet to give him one.  Instead you get Captain Jack Sparrow staggering from one impossible stunt to the next, dodging CGI cannon balls from CGI ships, and swinging from CGI ropes.

The modern film franchise owes its origins to George Lucas and Sylvester Stallone, with a little help from Francis Ford Coppola.  The Godfather I and II along with The Star Wars Trilogy introduced the multi-film story arc, whereas Stallone perfected the formula of familiar characters in variations of the same story, told over and over again.  Familiarity is essential, the same theme song, the same costumes, the same emotional highs and lows, but like Rocky, or Rambo, or Freddy, or Jason, or the shark in Jaws (1975, there have been 4 sequels including one in 3D), or of the buff dude-bros in the Fast and the Furious, the movies are more about the characters interacting in comfortable and predictable ways.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, movie tickets are expensive, and these movies do their best to guarantee an enjoyable experience for their audience, based on the strength and success of the previous films.  But it’s a tricky balance, audiences are fickle, just ask Stallone.

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