Entertainment

For Johnny Depp, 'Pirates 5' is a fitting swan song - er, Sparrow song

Posted June 14

The most recent box office numbers from "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" show the film has made over $500 million in spite of lukewarm reviews. That dollar figure is the obvious answer to, why are they still making these films?

Given all that has happened with the movies over the years, it may be hard to remember just how good the first film was back in 2003. In fact, Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow provides an analogy for the films, taking his character from brilliant to iconic to a tired, one-note self-parody.

It seems Depp's greatest distinction these days is being the most overpaid actor in Hollywood, an honor bestowed by Forbes Magazine — twice.

Looking back at the five "Pirates" films, though, Depp’s contribution, while obviously important commercially, is the least remarkable part of the franchise. It seems worthwhile, then, as the latest film continues to rake in the cash worldwide, to give credit to the series' less flashy heroes.

Captain Hector Barbossa. There is a moment in the DVD commentary for the first film where director Gore Verbinski shares how he invited Geoffrey Rush to play the villainous pirate captain. On a typewriter, he wrote a letter that read, “Sir, you are my third choice for Captain Barbossa. Unfortunately, Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers are unavailable.” Unable to resist that kind of flattery, Rush said yes. (Though dump trucks full of money probably helped.)

By the third film, Rush was so beloved as the “y’arr”-spewing captain that he went from fighting the heroes to joining them. when Sparrow starts calling Barbossa “Hector” is perhaps the most endearing part of the newest film. Fortunately, Rush has appeared in all five movies — one of only three actors to do so. The other is …

Joshamee Gibbs: Kevin McNally, a fairly unknown character actor, beautifully plays Jack’s First Officer Joshamee Gibbs as an old-timey pirate. Whatever he says, whether it’s remembering to stick to the Pirate Code or even just saying the number four, this is the series’ unsung hero. Unless you count …

Commodore Norrington. A movie about rebellious, free-spirited pirates demanded a foil in a stuffed shirt with a thick British accent and powdered wig. That kind of character can easily come across as a snooty, eyeroll-inducing cliché — like Percy from Harry Potter films or the principal from "The Breakfast Club." Instead, Jack Davenport’s Commodore Norrington is the most interesting character in the franchise. He is reasonable, ethical and kind-hearted — he even let's Jack get away at the close of the first film.

However, the real breakout star is …

Hans Zimmer. The composer, who won an Academy Award for "The Lion King," basically just dusted off the music he had used a few years earlier for "Gladiator" and turned it into the most iconic movie score not written by John Williams.

Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio also deserve a significant amount of credit for penning memorable lines like “Clearly, you’ve never been to Singapore” and “You’d best start believing in ghost stories: you’re in one.” And of course introducing “savvy?” to modern audiences.

So, what about this most recent film? Surprisingly — I'd even say shockingly — this fifth installment pulls a "Fate of the Furious" by being easily the best of the sequels. The movie is funny, light-hearted and endearing. The action set pieces never go overboard. (Sorry about the pun.) Even Orlando Bloom, who returns for a couple scenes, is perfectly not terrible. We never get an ironic “Aye! Avast!” as he gave us in the first film, and I spent most of his time on screen mainly wishing "The Hobbit" movies had been good.

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" fulfills the demand that must be met by all franchises that have grown long in the tooth: it is good enough to justify its pointless existence.

And if those dancing dollar signs prove too much of an enticement for Disney, I hope at least Depp will have the good grace to stay away, perhaps give the film a nod from his island in the sun and let someone else wear the captain's hat for the next one.

Jared is an award-winning writer who comments on the intersections of politics and culture. Reach him on Twitter @whitleypedia - or don't, since Twitter is stupid.

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