What do we want from the Pirates of the Caribbean reboot? It’s not the kind of question you would expect to have to ask only two years after the last entry in a film franchise, but Disney is not a company to let a valuable IP go unutilized for very long. As we learned last year, Disney is giving its ride-to-movie property the reboot treatment, not that long after the last film, 2017’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, hit theaters. This reboot is happening and that makes the above question all the more pertinent.
We recently learned that writers Ted Elliot and Craig Mazin have been brought aboard to come up with a story for the reboot. The duo will be tasked with steering a once mighty franchise back into clearer waters. None of the Pirates films have flopped by any stretch however since the second movie, each successive film has wavered in box office domestically and the most recent movie in the franchise made over $200 million less than its predecessor worldwide.
There is a lot of reason to think this reboot is a good idea and that Pirates of the Caribbean is a concept ripe with storytelling possibilities, but clearly something needs to change if this franchise is going to continue and be successful. But what? With that in mind we’re going to take a stab at what we want, and what we don’t want, from the Pirates of the Caribbean reboot.
Take It One Movie At A Time
It is no coincidence that the first film in this franchise, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, is also the best. There are multiple factors that go into that but one thing that works in the film’s favor is that it wasn’t operating solely as a launching point for stories that would be explored in future films. Black Pearl was ultimately a franchise starter, but it also operated independently as a standalone movie.
In contrast, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End were essentially two halves of one long movie. If the Pirates of the Caribbean reboot is to succeed, Disney should not get ahead of itself by setting up a bunch of stuff that will be resolved down the line. Planting seeds is fine and a good idea for a potential series with an overarching story, but each film still needs to succeed on its own merit, including both setup and payoff.
Less Convoluted Stories
Tying in with the need for this reboot to take things one movie at a time is the need for less convoluted stories. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a tight, propulsive movie and while there were twists and turns, the story was still easy to follow. As the franchise went on it became bloated and unwieldy, with convoluted, nonsensical stories where betrayals came fast and furious but they lacked the character motivations and logic necessary to give them real impact.
This reboot will need a tight script that makes sense if people are to buy in to this franchise again. That doesn’t mean that these movies need to be dumbed down or that they shouldn’t be challenging and complex, but there’s a difference between a movie that makes you work hard because it’s a labyrinth populated by enigmatic characters and a movie that makes you work hard because of plot holes and indecipherable character motivations.
No More Jack Sparrow
It is already pretty clear that the Pirates of the Caribbean reboot will not be bringing back Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. And that's smart. While Jack Sparrow was a fun character and Johnny Depp gave a great performance in the role, as the franchise went on and the films put too much focus on him, he became less interesting and more grating. So if this reboot is to have a fresh start, it is for the best that Johnny Depp will not be back as Captain Jack Sparrow.
The reboot shouldn’t try and recast the role either, which seems unlikely, nor should it try and force another Jack Sparrow-esque character to pop, which seems entirely plausible. Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow was lightning in a bottle and that’s not the kind of thing you can manufacture. That’s not to say the reboot shouldn’t have fun, interesting characters, Craig Mazin and Ted Elliot wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they didn’t try to make characters people loved, but trying to replicate a quirky pirate in the mold of Jack Sparrow will just result in a disappointing Jack Sparrow-lite.
A Compelling Protagonist
Jack Sparrow was one of the main characters in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, but he wasn’t the protagonist, not in the second and third films and certainly not in the first. Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann were the real heroes of the story. This reboot will need new characters with an arc, whose journey we witness and care about. This is obvious but it’s easier said than done as evidenced by Sam Claflin’s Philip from On Stranger Tides.
There’s been talk that the new film could follow Redd from the updated Pirates of the Caribbean ride but that's unconfirmed at this point and we don't know much about her or what her story would be. Or maybe this reboot could take a side character from the previous films and flesh out their story, providing some connective tissue to what came before. Whoever the protagonist is, he or she needs to be interesting and different from Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann.
Stay Wacky And Keep The Fantasy Elements
Part of the charm of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is that these movies are wacky as hell. The first Pirates had the traditional concept of cursed treasure but in the sequels it went full bore into weirdness, and while not all of the subsequent films worked, having a big budget franchise that is completely out there is a fun thing that we should want to see continue. This is a franchise where the skeleton pirates dress in drag, heroes go to the afterlife to rescue Jack Sparrow and there’s a giant sea goddess who was in love with a pirate that now has an octopus face.
There’s no need to throw the buried treasure out with the ballast water so I’d like to see the Pirates reboot stay true to this weirdness and continue to incorporate fun fantasy elements like mermaids and curses and sea monsters. These elements need to be used better than they have been before but Pirates isn’t supposed to be gritty and serious like Black Sails, it should stay weird.
Find A New Angle
Cursed skeleton pirates, cursed sea monster pirates, zombie pirates, ghost pirates, does anyone have any ideas other than pirates with a different kind of supernatural affliction? Pirates of the Caribbean repeated itself far too often and it needs to find a new angle for this reboot and there are plenty of ways to do that. One idea is to play with genre. The previous films have had elements of horror and the reboot could lean into that or mystery or something else, all while still of course being a funny, PG-13 action blockbuster.
Another possibility would be to explore a different time period. The timeline of the Pirates franchise isn’t firm but evidence suggests they take place between about 1720 to around 1751. The Golden Age of Piracy was from 1650 to 1720, so a prequel film could give us a different look at this world back when piracy was at its height, a time that Captain Barbossa laments in At World’s End. The reboot could explore the forming of the Brethren Court during this time period. Seeing piracy in a different part of the world might also be an option. There are plenty of directions to go in, but this reboot must do something new.
We’re still a ways off from this reboot hoisting the colors in theaters, but it’s happening and with any luck, Pirates of the Caribbean’s best days are still ahead of it.