‘Sequelitis’: Pirates of the Caribbean

It’s impossible to look at cinema over the past few years -arguably even the past decade- without seeing how prevalent sequels have become. Not only do sequels make up many of the movies heading to theaters, but they are responsible for the rise of reboots and multi-part universes (though the blame for the latter falls more on Disney’s many-headed entertainment behemoth).

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Sequels aren’t all bad but they do play on audiences’ desires in many cases, as a result, if the sequel isn’t up to scratch audiences can be left feeling slightly exploited. There is almost always a point when a series breaks down from what many refer to as ‘sequelitis’ (the apparent need to keep making more sequels in a series,) and goes from awe-inspiring to just awful. Film series’ derailing like this feels increasingly common at present.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was an excellent movie. It still, to some degree, stands the test of time.

For the un-informed: there is another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel in the works. Without Googling anything about it, anyone could guess that it will involve Johnny Depp reprising his role as the rum-soaked, highly-animated, Captain Jack Sparrow. There will be wild, absurd, comical misadventures, featuring a number of familiar and unfamiliar pirates, likely accompanied by amazing music courtesy of Hans Zimmer (and Klaus Bedalt, too).

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) was an excellent movie. It still, to some degree, stands the test of time. It provided audiences with three-dimensional characters who weren’t so easily divided in a fight of good versus evil. Every major player in this film, from Jack Sparrow to Will Turner to Hector Barbossa, had their own motivations and individual struggles they had to face. Curse of the Black Pearl is arguably Disney at its finest in terms of creating entertainment that is family-friendly, quality viewing material. This could have easily been a solid standalone title. Dead Man’s Chest (2006) added depth and richness to the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. The addition of Davy Jones and the backstory surrounding him -The Flying Dutchman, and his dealings with Jack Sparrow- made for compelling viewing. This movie not only added layers of complexity to established characters; it built them up in ways that weren’t necessarily expected. The plot was busy, but not overly-so. It was easy to follow the antics of Jack Sparrow and his crew, Davy Jones’ machinations, and understand that the East India Trading Company (under the command of Cutler Becket) was becoming a mighty force for the pirates to reckon with. Dead Man’s Chest had no intention of ever being the last movie however, with plot twists and a final scene that pointed towards a need for at least one more movie. Truth be told: at the time this movie hit theatres, and that final scene played, there was a definite need for more Jack Sparrow.

Even at its best moments, At World’s End stinks of fan-service.

That’s why At World’s End (2007) is such a disappointment. Even at its best moments, At World’s End stinks of fan-service. Captain Jack Sparrow is reduced to a drunken caricature. Davy Jones lingers from the previous film, and Cutler Becket’s East India Trading Company thuggery acts as an unnecessary side dish to the feast of potential this movie could have been. While Becket was an interesting addition to the second film, and his and Jack’s history made for some compelling viewing for those willing to piece two and two together, he felt like a standard bad guy with little depth. It’s almost as though the goal of this movie was to throw as many big, crazy plot points at established characters while simultaneously keeping focus on the elements of the movies that were proven to work and sell tickets. This left many of the plot twists feeling forced, convoluted, and difficult to enjoy. Not even a profound love of the previous installments could justify how much of a mess At World’s End turned out to be, but it did a neat job of wrapping up all of the long-standing loose threads to previous plots. It could have, and should have, been the last of the series. And then Barbossa had to be…well, a pirate, and steal charts that could lead to the fabled Fountain of Youth. The series could have still ended here, as it became evident that Captain Jack Sparrow stole part of the aforementioned charts, thus out-pirating his on-off nemesis.

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But no! Disney had plans for another three lucrative movies. The first of which, On Stranger Tides (2011) is proof that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. Disney had to come up with a way to top big moments like Tia Dalma’s reveal as Calypso, Barbossa’s return from the dead, Will Turner becoming the new captain of The Flying Dutchman, and the Kraken. Ian Mcshane’s portrayal of Blackbeard could have been exactly what this series needed for a good start on a second trilogy, but his character felt lacking compared to those established in the initial run of movies. If At World’s End was fan-service to the series, On Stranger Tides felt like fanfiction based on fan-service. In simplest terms: On Stranger Tides was a shipwreck of bad writing, overacting, and failed attempts to re-kindle good aspects of a dying series.

The trailer to Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment in the Pirates series looks promising…

The trailer to Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment in the Pirates series looks promising. However, it feels easy to say that after On Stranger Tides reduced expectations of the series so severely. The first trailer depicts what looks to be a return to the roots of the series (with special guest appearance by Will Turner, the eternally damned). That’s the trick with the Pirates movies, though; their trailers have always been works of Disney magic, but the real question is this: will the movie prove itself to be a revival for the series? Or will it continue to heap mounds of nostalgia-driven garbage onto itself?

What other movies have suffered the feverish chills and woeful ailments of the deadly bug, sequelitis? Let Maverick Film know which film series’ you think have out-stayed their welcome…

By Phil Gorski

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