That was my initial reaction after seeing all three ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films. The only difference is that I walked out of the first movie with an ‘arrr’ of pirate glee and the ‘arrr’ for the other two was a cry of agony.
We can hypothesize all we want about why Pirates 2 & 3 sucked (and there were many reasons) but the bottom line is that a franchise based on a flipping theme park ride lost all sense of fun, burying itself in its unbelievably convoluted plotting. My investment, such as it is, in a forth (and positively final) instalment is purely based on a love of the pirate world and the desire to see the series end on a, if not high, then at the very least redeeming note after the debacle of the third film.
The good thing about launching into a fourth is that the groundwork has been laid and the basic story has been set up. There is a magic treasure to find and you just need to have Jack Sparrow, Captain Barbossa and a really cool new villain all opposing each other and sailing round the world looking for it. The film needs to be a tight, lightning paced film under two hours in length, to make up for the obscene running times of the first three. There needs to be a lot of action and the set pieces need to take themselves away from the farcical tone of ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and the computer generated overload of ‘At World’s End’ (actually there was barely any action in that film). To be honest, I wasn’t even crazy about the action in the first film. I’ve seen great swordfights and great pirate ship battles, both of which I go crazy for, and POTC has been severely lacking in both.
I will never forget how ripped off I felt as the third act of Pirates 3 unfolded. I saw the shots in the trailer of the two huge armadas of ships ready to face off against each other. I expected, nay demanded, the ‘Return of the Jedi’ of pirate ship battles. After all, the trilogy had pilfered so much else from the Star Wars movies by that point it just seemed logical. If Pirates 3 were able to use its $300 million dollars to show us the largest, most awesome sea battle ever seen on the screen I could easily forgive its shortcomings (I gladly admit to ‘Cutthroat Island’ being a guilty pleasure of mine because the big pirate ship battle is so great). But that didn’t happen. With the entire pirate brotherhood and the British colonial forces ready to face off, the fate of the Caribbean rests on two ships having a piddling sword fight in a bit of bad weather, and when that’s over the British just retreat and the pirates cheer. The fearsome pirate lords from the four corners of the Earth who our heroes spent the last two fucking hours bringing together to stand their ground and fight their oppressors, stand on the sidelines and do absolutely nothing. What a fucking waste.
Another criminal waste in Pirates 3 was Chow Yun Fat. They actually created a really cool, loathsome, irredeemably evil pirate villain and then just threw him away. The whole crux of that film is the pirate legions amassing together for a final no-hold barred battle and the one cast member who we actually want to see kick some ass gets killed an hour beforehand, and not even by a physical opponent but by cannon fire and a sharp piece of wood. Not only did we lose the opportunity to see Chow Yun Fat fighting in the finale but if they’d let him survive right to the end he could have easily been the main antagonist in Pirates 4. Imagine Sparrow vs. Barbossa vs. Chow Yun Fat and a crew of ninja pirates?
So since we can’t have that, we need something as cool. We need James Woods.
Yes you heard me right. You can’t just have any actor facing off against Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush. You need someone who has expert training in being awesomely villainous. An actor who can hit his marks. An actor who has never sucked, even in bad films. The Sylvester Stallone action film ‘The Specialist’ is a terrible movie but worth watching just for Woods giving every ounce of his energy to the part of the villain. So many actors who end up playing bad guy roles in blockbusters base their performance on the Alan Rickman/Hans Gruber school of villainy, trying to portray an antagonist so charismatic that you almost want to root for them to win. The problem is that most of them end up being so charming that they lose any shred of menace. Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Barbossa very cleverly dances back and forth across that line but never goes off the edge. Meanwhile, James Woods is smart enough to take the opposite route and just play the biggest asshole in the world. That’s the Pirates 4 villain that you need; someone you’ll love to hate.
I know what you’re thinking but the only reason you can’t visualise Woods as a pirate is because he’s never played a role this abnormal before (in live action I mean, I know he played Hades in animated form) but if you give him a great costume and make-up, plus a beard perhaps, then it’s going to be glorious. It is true also that the new villains will need some kind of gimmick. We’ve had skeleton pirates and anemone pirates so we’re running out of angles. Honestly, I think Woods’ crew should just be a batch of filthy pirates. I mean pirates by their very nature are filthy but these guys should be the most disgustingly dirty and ugly bunch of guys ever seen on the screen, literally repulsive to look at. They should make Mackenzie Crook’s character look like toothpaste. They should be regular human beings but just so thoroughly unclean that they transcend any hobo or comic book dealer you have ever met in real life.
But enough about the new villains; what are they chasing? The end of Pirates 3 suggests that the treasure to be chased is none other than the fountain of youth though only Jack Sparrow has the map which will lead to it. I think that’s as good a MacGuffin as any. The plot of Pirates 4 needs to be simple as hell so they can concentrate on the fun and action. That is not to say that it shouldn’t be about something. If I could sift through the heaps of bullshit in Pirates 3, it was essentially about the remaining pirate dynasty fighting a desperate battle to preserve their way of life against the changing tide of progress threatening to crush them. It is a theme worth continuing. Though the pirates have temporarily postponed their extinction, their time will not last. Jack Sparrow in particular is a character whose defining attribute in all three films has been his attempt to cheat the reaper; to escape his own mortality.
What might make that interesting is rather than the film taking place right after Pirates 3, it actually fast forwards a good ten to twenty years later. This would accomplish several things. Firstly, it’s unexpected. Secondly, it purposely gives the film a different look from the identikit trilogy. Thirdly, it provides a potency to the characters quest for the fountain of youth being that they are all old guys now, their best days are behind them and practically all of their brethren have passed on. The film would start with exactly the same scene that Pirates 3 ends on; with Jack Sparrow alone in his tiny little boat but old and haggard and twenty years on, still searching for the key to eternal life, completely obsessed.
Of course that poses the question which everyone is asking right now; is Johnny Depp coming back? As we know, the recent departure of Dick Cook from Disney (the man who persuaded the actor to play a pirate in the first place) seems to be giving Depp serious pause for thought. I cannot answer the question whether he will return but I can tell you something. Johnny Depp is replaceable. He is, no doubt, the one measure of comfort which will allow Disney to spend another $200 million dollars on this franchise, safe in the knowledge that they will get it back and some change. You could even argue that, though the words were on the page, he literally created the character of Jack Sparrow. But that doesn’t mean he is the one and only actor who can play it. James Bond is a bit of a blank sheet until the actor comes along and infuses his own personality into it. Sometimes it works and, you may argue sometimes it doesn’t but Bond is still here. People weren’t protesting outside cinemas because Sean Connery stopped playing him. It is only hard to visualise another actor playing Sparrow because they haven’t. Is it so hard to imagine another talented and versatile actor, not only taking the role, but infusing it with their own style and making it their own?
Is it too hard to imagine James Marsden with a beard, dreadlocks and a pirate hat?
Disney had better seriously consider it. The fact that Pirates 4 just pounced on the May 20th 2011 release date vacated by ‘The Mighty Thor’ this week seems to indicate that the project is very much moving forward. I really do hope this isn’t going to be another film rushed to completion by a pre-imposed release date; a film that starts filming without a finished script and makes stuff up as they go along. A film that needs to pay platinum overtime to the visual effects artists just to get it finished on schedule. That’s exactly what you did last time Disney. It made a billion dollars but it was a horrific mess. If you’re going to make Pirates 4 you need to prove you still have brain cells. You have a talented director. You need a finished script, a solid cast, location scouting and Depp needs to make his mind up if he’s on board or not, and all this needs to be done.............NOW.
....Although I think I’ve proven over the last few paragraphs that they shouldn’t hire me as a casting director. See you next time.