profile of Paul Verhoeven

The Problem With Captain Jack Sparrow

I recently rewatched the Pirates of the Caribbean films. I can't recall the impetus. Perhaps I just needed a lungful of some sweet, fragrant Orlando Bloom. Maybe I wanted to think about scurvy, and couldn't do so without significant visual stimulation. But if I'm honest, the real reason is this guy. This guy right here.

Thanks, Starspage.com! Anyway, I know the trilogy (and fourth film which was awful so I shan't acknowlegde it from this point on) has long since sailed over the edge of the world, but... imagine you run a restaurant. Some regular customer, a real charmer, says they're leaving to go overseas. You throw them a big party, give speeches and generally make a great night out of it, then the next day, you come in to work to find that all the food in your storeroom has been replaced with poo. Huge jars of the stuff. That is how I feel about Jack Sparrow, sometime captain of the Black Pearl. He crapped in my jars. 

Allow me to clarify.

5. He ran away.

Jack began his adventures by running towards danger. Like an absolute deranged tit. In fact, in Curse of the Black Pearl, he and Senor Bloomingdales ran towards the bad guys underwater, using a upside down canoe as a sort of diving helmet. Sure, he was running in a sneaky, underhanded way, but behind the sneaking was a genuinely charming modicum of bravery. Actual, palpable bravery. As the films went on, he began running away, in more ways than one. 

4. He got stupider.

As he go more cowardly, Captain Jack got stupider. You see, he was initially written as a kind of drunken master; his swaying and vacillating bung-eye and the ever-present cloying stink of rum, as commented on continuously by all and sundry, was an act. A ruse. Sure, he was drunk, but his entire personality was a gorgeous, honeyed pitcher-plant, designed to lull people in, then use them. His machinations were undulating and adaptable, and they ensured that not only he, but also his friends would live to fight another day. The second film, however, began sloughing off this glorious shell, leavig behind a dumb guy in a silly hat.

3. He became a jerk.

So we've established that after the first film, Jack got stupider. He also, tragically, got meaner. The reason Jack was such an appealing character was that between cocky, brash displays of bravado, he'd let people see that he genuinely cared. He'd give Will Turner actual, sincere, fatherly advice. He'd go back for his crew. He did such a good job of being genuinely caring, albeit beneath a crusty exterior, that Turner risked his life to rescue Jack from the gallows. And yet somehow, by the second film, he's jettisoned any compassion and taken to abandoning his friends, screwing over his crew and cheating on Will with Kiera Knightley of all people. KIERA KNIGHTLEY. *shudder*

2. He stopped caring, but people cared about him more and more.

This ties in with point three, but stings more: the second film sees Jack doing a 180 degree swing from loveable Han Solo style rogue/mentor to tactless womanising bastard. And yet somehow, when he gets eaten at the conclusion of the interminable part two in the series, his friends - the same friends he's been screwing over the whole movie - tearfully dedicate themselves to bringing him back from the dead. Which is the kind of jarring, idiotic narrative dissonance that makes this series about as consistent as the Matrix trilogy. 

1. He got Braffed.

This is the worst crime of all: near the tail end of season three of scrubs, Zach Braff and co. turned J.D. from a thoughtful, sometimes goofy but incredibly competent young doctor into... this guy.

Granted, there's some of The Todd in there, but still. When something gets 'Braffed', it goes from great to annoying really fast. Take, for example, every track off the Garden State soundtrack. They all got Braffed. And captain Jack Sparrow got Braffed harder than a Braff could Braff. How? By sacraficing everything that made him great - heroism, charm, mentoring, bravery, loyalty, with just a splash of idiocy - and replaced it instead with big, dumb, marketable and iconic pratfalls and setpieces, combined with acts of downright cruelty towards characters he previously went out of his way to help. 

Which, ironically, not even JD would do. Especially not to his chocolate bear.

(Lead image via FDC)

2 comments so far..

  • EuphratesTiger's avatar
    Commenter
    EuphratesTiger
    Date and time
    Thursday 21 Mar 2013 - 11:08 AM
    I think you've taken some specific examples in the movies and made them personality traits. There are examples that completely disprove... all your points to be brutally honest.

    5. The first movie was driven by Jack's self-centred desire to be captain again. That's the only reason he went towards the Black Pearl and he knew Will was a bargaining chip given his heritage. No heightened nobility here, so no fall from it as the films went on. That's not to say he's not noble, just not in that instance.

    4. Don't think he got stupider. As the films went on, he made more underhanded deals with people and got what he wanted in more cases as a result. Hardly the result of someone's whose entire character can be summed up in one scene of dirt-joy. His apparent stupidity is a defence mechanism that makes him appear less threatening than he actually is.

    3. Jack didn't get meaner. He got more desperate to survive and become the pirate he always wanted. But in spite of all that, he sacrificed himself so that the rest of the crew could get away (Kraaken?). Not really mean in the strictest sense, is it? Quite the opposite if you ask me.

    2. Point three could cover this as well. Furthermore, at no point did he sell out anyone that he didn't then save in some way afterwards. I mean, he gave up his chance to captain the Flying Dutchman for all eternity (the Everest of goals for him) so that Will could live!

    1. This point i just don't see at all. Seems to be an amalgam of the previous points so that's covered already.

    I'm not one to normally comment on these articles and really have no particular vested interest in defending the movies as I see them as just mostly easy popcorn movies but I just couldn't see any points to agree with there.
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  • TonyE's avatar
    Commenter
    TonyE
    Date and time
    Thursday 21 Mar 2013 - 3:39 PM
    Fond though I am of the series, by taking one of the great fantasy novels - Tim Powers "On Stranger Tides" and destroying it, they've totally lost me. Why buy the rights to a book and then extract a couple of plot points and leave out all the main characters.

    A straight film of the book would have been wonderful, but they managed to destroy both the book and the "Pirate" franchise all in one go.
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