Abandon ship! 5 reasons why the new "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie is doomed
Ahoy Milwaukee mateys! OnMilwaukee declares May 24th as the official "Talk Like A Milwaukee Pirate Day." This fake Milwaukee holiday provides an excellent opportunity to don pirate wear while expressing Brew City pirate phrases like "Yarrrr der hey!" "Walk the Plankinton!" or "Shiver me winters!" And remember: the foam cheesehead is the original trifold hat.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales," the fifth entry in the swashbuckling blockbuster franchise, will arrive in theaters Friday, greeted by roars of "Wait, there was a fourth movie?" from U.S. audiences.
To answer the question, yes, there was – in 2011 – and no, you shouldn't watch it.
I've tried to remain positive about the sequel – I like the directors' last film, "Kon-Tiki," and Javier Bardem always makes for an amusing villain. But in a summer filled with ideas that smell of trouble, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" reeks out it. Here are six of the biggest reasons why the new "Pirates" looks cursed with the black spot.
1. Sinking sails sales
Make no mistake: All four of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies have made millions of dollars, and the fifth will do the same. Blockbusters today are too big to fail. But Disney didn't make "Pirates 5" to make money; Disney made "Pirates 5" to make golden stockpiles of doubloons, filling Scrooge McDuck's swimming pool with money – and this franchise has been steadily sinking in the opposite direction here in the U.S.
The series hit its apex, domestic money-wise, with 2006's "Dead Man's Chest," but it's been all downhill from there. "At World's End" fell by $100 million at the box office, and four years later, "On Stranger Tides" netted even less booty – the lowest domestic total of the entire series – with less than $250 million in America. Yes, that's still a major chunk of change – unless your movie cost $250 million to make in the first place, and Hollywood logic says you have to double a movie's budget to account for advertising and promotional costs.
Time doesn't appear to have sweetened the franchise either. The predictions for "Pirates 5" are in at $80 million for this Memorial Day weekend – already $10 million less than what the disappointing "On Strangers Tides" hauled in. Yarg, indeed.
2. Born of a bad idea
It's easy to forget that this is a movie franchise born from a Disney theme park ride, which sounds like an exec was desperate for pitch ideas and just started panickedly looking around the boardroom and out the window for ideas. We're lucky this ride-themed movie trend only resulted in "The Haunted Mansion" and "The Country Bears," not "Ballpoint Pen Adventures" and the Sensible Slacks Extended Universe too.
All around, "The Curse of the Black Pearl" was a risk, from hiring Johnny Depp – at the time still considered an indie weirdo outsider, especially for a Disney flick – to merely making a pirate movie. After all, Hollywood was still traumatized by the perceived failure of "Waterworld" and the actual failure of "Cutthroat Island." Great films have come from worse ideas – LEGO has made not one, but two very good ones – but maybe we've wrung all the success there is to find out of a risky movie based on an amusement park ride.
Oh, and about Mr. Depp …
3. Getting drunk on Captain Jack
In "Curse of the Black Pearl," Captain Jack Sparrow is not the main character. Instead, he was just the seasoning, a complete and utter surprise of a character who would fly in with unpredictable results, both mocking the image of a pirate and making them cool at the same time. He wasn't just an iconic movie character; he was an Oscar-nominated character.
Unfortunately, more movies followed.
The thing about seasoning is that, while it makes a good flavoring for a dish, it's a very poor dish just on its own. Same thing with sweets. I love Skittles, but if every dish I ate was Skittles, I'd get tired quickly – and also I'd probably die of diabetic shock. It's the same reason "Minions" wasn't fun; what's electric in limited doses becomes exhausted as the star.
Captain Jack started as a chaotic agent of chaos, but as soon as he was pushed to the front, a great character just became a goofus. What was special became shtick – and every movie since "Curse of the Black Pearl" has continued to double-down on Depp as the star, to the point of "On Strange Tides" ditching every original protagonist except him. A problematic strategy also because …
4. Depp doesn't deliver dollars
The days of Johnny Depp being a bankable blockbuster star in the U.S. are over – and they've really been over for a while. His last real hit was 2010's "Alice in Wonderland," a movie whose success is growingly attributed to hitting the post-"Avatar" 3-D boom at just the right time.
Otherwise, his big movies ("Alice Through the Looking Glass," "Dark Shadows," "The Lone Ranger") bomb, while his serious movies ("Black Mass") aren't taken seriously and fall short of expectations at the box office and at awards ceremonies. Watch "Mortdecai" or his lisping Canadian cameo in Kevin Smith's "Tusk" without wanting to hop headfirst into a great white shark's mouth.
Blame it on his lazy, shticky acting that's more makeup, hat and scarf than man, falling into a parody of "Johnny Depp." Blame it on the growing number of off-screen issues – from the serious, such as domestic abuse, to the less serious, like illegally trafficking his dogs into Australia. But either way, Depp's in deep water with American audiences.
5. Bloated blockbusters
The biggest problem for Hollywood sequels is turning off the inherent desire to just pile on more – more characters, more subplot, more action. Case in point: the "Pirates" franchise.
The first movie clocks in at over two hours, but it's a fun, fresh ride, full of energy and adventure. "Dead Man's Chest" went even longer, adding on more lore and more plotting, while "At World's End" almost hits the three-hour mark – but in fairness, it only feels like 12. There's so much happening in the third film that I had no idea what was going on – and that was before a character grew into a giant pile of crabs which is a metaphor for … something. All I know is that my watch was moving too slowly. "On Stranger Tides" at least cut down on the running time (still well over two hours, natch) but still bogged itself down with more chaos-navigating than storytelling.
So why is this movie even being made?
The rest of the globe
You'll notice I keep noting that "Dead Men Tell No Tales" is doomed domestically, and that's because – bad news, America – Hollywood doesn't give a flip about you anymore. For today's studio blockbusters, the overseas market is the main course, while anything from the U.S. just is a nice snack.
You may remember about 900-some words ago that "On Stranger Tides" was the least grossing of the entire franchise in America. Thanks to worldwide audiences, however, the flick made more than a billion dollars, almost becoming the highest-grossing entry in the entire series. It's made more money worldwide than "The Phantom Menace," "The Dark Knight," all three "Hobbit" movies and all but one Harry Potter film.
And you probably don't remember a thing about it.
Meanwhile, as Johnny Depp movies flail like a fish at home, he's still a star abroad. "The Tourist" (remember "The Tourist"?) made less than $70 million here. Overseas? $210 million. "Alice Through the Looking Glass" bombed in the U.S. last summer, but it nearly doubled its domestic total worldwide. Even "Transcendence," the stupid Johnny-Depp-as-evil-computer movie, made money overseas.
That's why "Dead Men Tell No Tales" exists. So if it ends up being another waterlogged entry this weekend, blame the rest of the world. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!
Then again, the last time I wrote an article dooming a blockbuster to failure, it was "World War Z," which went on to be a good movie, grossed solidly at the box office and now has a sequel with David Freaking Fincher at the helm. So maybe my curse will actually be a blessing!
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