— You’ve heard the arguments on the topic of movie franchises. They usually go something like this:
“I really liked the first one. But the rest were terrible.” And often there is a “Why did they bother?” or “It’s all about money” sprinkled in.
Naturally, it depends on the franchise. The “Bourne” pictures received almost universal critical acclaim while making beaucoup bucks. The first installment of “The Matrix” was embraced; the second and third were savaged by critics and fans alike. The “Batman” series is all over the map: the Christopher Nolan versions have been largely hailed; the others have gotten scattershot response.
The book on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films is still being written. Although it began as a motion picture based on a theme-park ride — not the usual path for Academy consideration — “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was greeted warmly. The second two, “Dead Man’s Chest” and "At World's End," elicited more groans and snores than laughs.
With the latest chapter, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” about to kick off the summer movie season, the anticipation level is high. But is the audience still on board?
Johnny Depp is. His tipsy-slurry Jack Sparrow character has become the iconic face of the franchise. Oddly, Jack hasn’t always been the focus of the “Pirates” scripts, especially in the previous two pictures.
That should change with the fourth film in the series.
“(Depp) was frustrated in making the previous two because he felt like there were various threads of plot spreading out instead of weaving together,” said Anthony Breznican of Entertainment Weekly, who wrote a cover piece on Depp this month. “Keira (Knightley) and Orlando (Bloom) were going off on their own stories, and Jack was in the middle, floating back and forth. The movies weren’t very focused.
“He told me something to the effect that he would say to the director, Gore Verbinski, ‘What does this line mean?’ And Gore would say, ‘I don’t know, let’s just shoot it.’ In some ways the pressure of making 2 and 3 was so great, and they were in such a hurry, that they didn’t take the care they should have with them. They let them get muddled.”
Depp said this new version just felt better from the beginning. “I was very happy with the work that (screenwriters) Ted (Elliott) and Terry (Rossio) did on the screenplay for ‘On Stranger Tides,’ ” he said in a provided statement. “It was like the gates were reopened and it was all fresh. It really felt closer to the spirit to the first film, getting from Point A to Point D to Point Z without too many subplots and complications.”
This fourth “Pirates” offers some changes in an effort to chart a new course. Gone is Verbinski, who directed the first three; in his chair is Rob Marshall, who garnered an Oscar nomination in 2003 for directing “Chicago.” Both Knightley and Bloom are gone, but Penelope Cruz is a new addition to the series. And Depp’s won’t be the only familiar face: Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Hector Barbossa, while Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones makes his second appearance in the series, playing Jack Sparrow's father.
But Depp is the anchor for this ship.
“He can turn a dirty and drunken pirate into a sexy, dreadlocked rock ‘n’ roll hero," said Martina Bar, who runs Johnny-Depp.org. "He could play a tree for 30 seconds in a movie and I would watch the movie because I know, for sure, it’d be not just a tree, but more.”
Bar, who lives outside Hamburg, Germany, became such a devoted Depp fan after seeing him star in 1999's “Sleepy Hollow” that she taught herself how to do HTML and PHP, then created the fan site in 2004. She and her trusty crew members from around the globe have been running the site ever since.
Although Bar is excited about the prospect of Johnny Depp in a new “Pirates” film, she has some concerns. “I loved the first ‘Pirates’ movie because it was so different and special,” she said. “But this special feeling became less and less, because in my opinion with every new movie the story (got) worse. So I am very critical of the fourth ‘Pirates’ movie and hope that the special feeling will come back.
“Ignoring this, I’m sure Johnny Depp will do a great job and I will be carried away by Captain Jack Sparrow once again.”