Photo: Our Johnny Depp, Our Captain Jack Sparrow
Like many film students and creatives before me, The Walt Disney Company has had a profound influence on me as a storyteller and an everyday content consumer. For me, this is a little of a bittersweet realization, as Disney is a historically problematic company (to which an entirely separate article could be devoted to discussing), known mostly for princesses and talking animals. However, no matter how much self-reflection I undergo, I will likely never fully understand or appreciate the entertainment monopoly’s effect in shaping me, as they are responsible for what was probably my first-ever favorite movie franchise. ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean.’
I have watched these movies more times than I could ever count, and I’m not one for rewatching things. I had entire lines memorized, would run around swinging my arms like the drunken Jack Sparrow, and would even shriek the theme score constantly. I was such a devout Pirates fan, I was nigh impossible to defeat at the “Scene It?” trivia game based on the films. Most casual, non-die-hard fans of the Pirates franchise are actually routinely unaware that there are a total of five Jack Sparrow-centric, swashbuckling films. There is ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,’ ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.’ Lots of pirates. Lots and lots of pirates. And recently, it was even said by the Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp himself, that he had plans for and would have liked to have seen more Pirates films follow suit. Unfortunately, that day will never come.
‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’ though ‘At World’s End’
Honestly, there’s so much for me to talk about when it comes to these films, I’m having a hard time deciding how to lay out this article. Especially given the fact this is a franchise with five freaking films, each one of which I consider to be an absolute treasure trove (pun intended. Aargh!) So, I’ve decided I’m going to cover the first three films, which most viewers know and could also be seen as a sort of trilogy in and of themselves. This covers ‘The Curse of The Black Pearl’ through ‘At World’s End.’ It was in 2003 that the world at large was first acquainted with the now globally iconic Captain Jack Sparrow. Since then, it has been a matter of debate as to whether or not the part was destined for Johnny Depp, or if Johnny Depp was destined for the part. How much of a character was he really playing, sauntering around in a rum-drunken haze (which has recently become a TikTok trend)? The actor, also one of the most iconic of all time, himself has had a very public past of substance abuse, and has also recently (amidst the Amber Heard controversy) admitted to putting much of his own personal self into the character, story, and work of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Whatever the case, as amazing as the rest of the cast of any of those films are, as much as our society idolizes pirates and piracy, Johnny Depp is what made ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ what it is today. Not Disney, not Gore Verbinski, Captain Jack Sparrow is the spine of that franchise, it is his skull that serves as the logo for each film, and he and Johnny Depp are inseparable. Most people think of Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man when they think of “perfect casting,” but I implore you to look six years earlier, to Johnny Depp and my captain, Jack Sparrow.
But, it doesn’t stop there. Who could forget about Orlando Bloom’s tragic Will Turner? A character who not only served as a genuine heartthrob (complementary to Johnny Depp’s Sparrow yet contrary to Geoffrey Rush’s hideous Barbossa), but also held a really heartbreaking arc when you sit back and think about it. I mean, my guy’s dad fell under a curse which caused him to become a deformed, sea creature dead-beat, then he finally finds the woman of his life but also gets a curse of his own in order to save his life, damning him to sail the seas, only able to return to land every eight years (and then in the last film it’s revealed he’s now having these weird PTSD-like nightmares of one, Davy Jones).
Like, damn. Speaking of the woman of his dreams, though, Elizabeth Swann, played by Keira Knightley, was really a precursor to the pro-feminist, action-femme, “Jane Wick” women characters seen in recent films like ‘Kate,’ ‘Peppermint,’ or ‘The Protégé.’ Through the first trilogy, we see her masquerade as a man in order to get on a crew, deal with the death of her father (expertly portrayed by veteran actor, Jonathan Pryce), then eventually go full-on pirate heroine, directly confronting renowned Chinese pirate, Sao Feng, in a scene that involves her pulling out more guns and knives than I count, from places I don’t even want to know about.
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And the gallery of allies and villains. Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa literally went from Jack’s one-time right-hand man, to immortal nemesis, to eventually putting their differences – for the most part – aside. He also went from scallywag under the command of Captain Sparrow, to a full-fledged pirate captain of his own (stolen) ship, to a privateer under the command of King George II. Barbossa was the antagonist of the first film, involving the curse of the Aztec gold, but was later killed and resurrected when Jack was thought to be dead at the end of ‘Dead Man’s Chest.’ It was in ‘Dead Man’s Chest,’ released in 2006, that we would see one of the most visually iconic, terrifying, yet poignant villains of all-time. We’ve all heard of “Davy Jones’s Locker,” but ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ gave a tentacled face to the name.
Acclaimed actor, Bill Nighy from “Underworld’ and ‘The Limehouse Golem,’ embodied the character in a truly visceral way, hobbling across the ship’s deck with his crab leg, tentacles slimy and writhing around his mouth, expressing his torment via his grotesque pipe organ below decks. Davy Jones also commands the mythical sea-beast known as the Kraken, a tentacled behemoth of incomprehensible size. At the end of ‘Dead Man’s Chest,’ it seems Jones and his pet are successful, as a horrified audience watches the monster devour The Black Pearl, with Captain Jack Sparrow lunging sword-first into the creature’s mouth.
This then takes us into the next and final film in the first three, ‘At World’s End,’ which sees Jack’s hopeful crew, led by a reanimated Hector Barbossa and joined by a guilty Elizabeth Swann (who betrayed Jack, chaining him to the mast of the Black Pearl to let the Kraken devour him), as they travel to Davy Jones’s Locker, a realm only accessible via death-by-Kraken or sailing right off the edge of the world. Literally. Cuz any pirate worth his salt knows the Earth is flat. Through each of these movies, Jack is also accompanied by his faithful companion and first mate, Joshamee Gibbs, affably played by Kevin McNally. Gibbs is the only other character besides captains Barbossa and Jack to appear in every chapter of the franchise.
The group successfully retrieves Jack from the weird, crab-infested, otherworldly plane known as Davy Jones’s Locker, and travel back, only to discover that supposed ally Tia Dalma, a mystic residing in a bayou shack in Cuba, is actually Calypso, a nymph goddess of the sea. It is also revealed she is Davy Jones’s long-lost lover, and everything culminates in a massive three-way battle between team Sparrow, team Davy Jones, and the King’s navy. The fight also takes place on the edge of a massive whirlpool, and ends with Will Turner taking Davy Jones’s place as cursed captain of The Flying Dutchman, after being fatally wounded in battle. I would also like to note, as a CGI critic, that the VFX of these movies still stands up to this day. Davy Jones’s crew of half-man-half-sea-beast monsters looks better than most MCU finished products, and the design for Davy Jones, himself is truly just flawless.
‘On Stranger Tides’ through ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales’
Then, the world was shocked, surprised, and gifted with a fourth installment four years after the third, in 2011, with ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.’ This time we were in search of the mythical Fountain of Youth, and were confronted by arguably the most historically famous pirate of all time ever (next to Captain Jack Sparrow), Blackbeard. That’s right, film number four saw Blackbeard come to the world of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ played by Ian McShane from ‘Lovejoy.’ Now, by this point, you’re probably thinking these movies already had just about everything you could associate with pirate lore. Curses, treasure, the King’s navy, Davy Jones, the Kraken, sea-monster hybrids, but what about mermaids? Well, ‘On Stranger Tides’ has you covered. “Sirens” may more accurately describe these particular ones, however, as they sang eerie songs to enchant and lure sailors, only to attack them with hideously razor-sharp teeth. In this movie, Jack is also confronted with a new love interest, in the form of Blackbeard’s daughter, played by Penélope Cruz.
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Then came what would be the last chapter in the Pirates saga. The farewell would be ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.’ This movie retroactively gave Jack a new arch-nemesis, someone he crossed paths with as a youth (allowing us to see de-aged CGI Johnny Depp), Captain Salazar, played by Javier Bardem. Salazar was a Spanish pirate hunter, who one day went after the wrong pirate with the devilishly cunning Jack Sparrow, who led him astray into some rocks, causing his ship to wreck. In the wreck, Salazar and his crew died, only to then haunt the Caribbean seas as murderous ghost pirates, hell-bent on enacting their revenge against the one and only Captain Jack Sparrow. Bardem, known for ‘No Country for Old Men,’ did an excellent job assuming the role of Pirates villain, setting himself apart from but meeting the high bar set by predecessors Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, and Ian McShane.
At the end of this movie, we also have a sort of curtain call for our original cast. Jack and Gibbs make it through (spoiler alert), though we do lose Barbossa, and we are even treated with the reuniting of Will Turner and Elizabeth when all magic is banished from the seas via the Trident of Poseidon. Elizabeth and Will even have a full-on mini-pirate little boy running around, played by Brenton Thwaites from ‘Titans.’ Yet, in the final moments, fans are left with a tease of the potential for more to come, as Will shakes himself awake from a nightmare about one, tentacled Davy Jones. Convinced it was merely a dream, he goes back to sleep, but the camera moves to reveal a puddle with barnacle crumbs lying next to his bed.
Depp v. Heard
By now, I’m sure everyone knows about the ongoing defamation trial between Johnny Depp and ex-wife, Amber Heard (from ‘Aquaman’). Not only is it an extremely high-profile case, but it also took place at a time when discussions and tensions around abuse were high, and it has been a sensationalist topic for many. However, here at The Hollywood Insider, we are against gossip and scandal, and so, we’ll allow the courts to deliberate and discuss this one. Right now, though, we’re remembering the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films so many of us, myself included, love – and it’s not just me. During the trial, when Johnny Depp, himself took the stand, the Pirates films and his relationship with Disney were brought up. Depp discussed his attachment to those films, and expressed his love for the world and the characters and what it meant to people and to himself. He even said that he had personal plans for how to end the franchise, saying that something like what they had been building can’t be wrapped up effectively in the manner in which it was. He said he wanted to do more. And, for a moment, I felt like a kid again.
I felt like I felt when I saw new trailers for the next installments, the pirate’s life was calling me. And then, my hopes were just as quickly dashed. Mr. Depp was then asked if he would ever return to work with Disney again, after the way he was treated by them following Amber Heard’s allegations. On April 20th, Mr. Depp was asked, “if Disney came to you with $300 million and a million alpacas, nothing on this Earth would get you to go back and work with Disney on a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ film? Correct?” To which, Johnny replied, “That is true.” And my childhood officially came to a close. Perhaps it’s for the best. The quality of the films became more and more controversial as they went on (though I still say they are a gem of a blockbuster franchise), and if Disney really was so quick to abandon and vilify Johnny Depp, with Heard’s allegations still yet to be proven, maybe it’s best the films, those characters, and our beloved Captain Jack Sparrow, rest east where they are truly loved and appreciated, in our hearts and our memories.
These movies don’t seem to really be remembered or as talked-about as they really should be, though. They represent an era, a generation, and now they may be starting to represent more, in the context of Depp v. Heard. And to Mr. Depp and Capt. Sparrow, though they may be one and the same, I want to say thank you. You played such an instrumental role in my development as a young person, having watched hours and hours of Pirates, Hollywood Insider has already released a statement declaring its support for you, and I truly wish you nothing but the best in your pirate life. Now, in the words of the captain himself:
“Now bring me that horizon…and really bad eggs. Drink up, me hearties, yo-ho.”
By Connor Garvin
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Connor Garvin has been a writer for as long as he can remember. Writing has enabled him to distill the thoughts within his own head, as well as allowed him to have those same thoughts heard. Connor is a screenwriter, and filmmaker more generally, with a focus on television. He also believes that real change only occurs if everyone is heard, and is therefore a proud champion of the arts, and a kindred spirit to The Hollywood Insider and its values.