Hollywood needs franchises to put butts in seats. Grabbing the attention of an adult or child with a familiar title or logo helps keep theaters and the industry afloat. And as much as they might want to, Hollywood can’t keep going to the same well forever. As you’ve surmised from the title and the cover photo; this article will be taking a look at two different franchises, each at VERY different points in their respective runs. Both franchises have already had satisfying conclusions and also plan to continue past these “endings.” These franchises are Marvel’s Avengers and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films; more specifically, Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest/At World’s End.
The Avengers‘ conclusion was far more critically and commercially successful, but I believe it has Pirates of the Caribbean to thank for that.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest does something that isn’t “new” but tends to be rarer in big-budget films: making as few references to the previous entry as possible. If someone were to sit down and watch Chest as their first Pirates film, they’d have no problem following along. Aside from a few character beats and the “Barbossa reveal” everything is straightforward and simple: different parties are after the “chest of Davy Jones” for various personal reasons. It’s a heist film with pirates.
Avengers: Infinity War was described the exact same way by the filmmakers but with a giant purple alien. Infinity War hits the ground running because at this point you’re either on board with the Marvel Cinematic Universe or you’re there for the conversation surrounding it. Similar to Chest, Infinity War does it’s best to stand on its own with as little “hey, remember that time….” as possible. Chest has more “slow” scenes but it also has a fraction of the characters that Infinity War has. They’re both fast-paced while also keeping the overall plot as simple as possible because their next films are the ones that get confusing.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is much messier in it’s plotting than it’s predecessor. The film shows each of the main characters double-crossing and backstabbing each other all-throughout because “pirate.” But I think the main reason for this is a lack of trust in the audience. They spoon-feed these interactions to remind the audience of the relationships between each antagonist and protagonist. Had they trusted that the audience had seen the previous one (or at the very least read the plot prior to going to the theater) they could’ve shaved 15-20 minutes off the total runtime and streamlined the plot a lot more easily.
Avengers: Endgame doesn’t have this problem. Just like Infinity War, they expect you to be all-in on these movies by not bogging the audience down with too much exposition. Where it gets lost is trying to tie together 23 other films that satisfies everyone. The film is able to accomplish this but at the cost of becoming overstuffed.
These films had the benefit of being written and shot back-to-back making it easy for the filmmakers to edit the first film down in whatever way benefitted the next one. They knew that they would be taking a few more risks with the latter film(s) and wanted to get the general audience on board before diving headfirst into it. Avengers had the benefit of learning from mistakes of previous franchises and use what works and fix what didn’t.
Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are revered for their execution of the undead pirate captain “Davy Jones.” His look, as well as his characterization, was flawless thus making him a believable and sympathetic villain. That’s the last you’ll hear about Davy Jones as it pertains to his character. Instead, I want to draw attention to his reputation. Throughout the first act of the Chest, we hear of the “legend” that is Davy Jones and broad strokes of how he came to be. A man who fell in love with the sea (or woman, depending on who you ask) and how he’s dispatched his “pet,” the Kraken, to hunt down Jack Sparrow. It isn’t until about the one hour mark where Bill Nighy’s terrifying cephalopod is physically introduced.
That plays to Pirates’ strength. Prior to this, we’d only had one film starring Jack Sparrow and Will Turner, and that villain was dispatched in the third act. There was no precursor or set-up for where a sequel might go. Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio had to introduce the idea that is “Davy Jones,” as well as his motivations, the Kraken, chest and heart without turning the first act into an hour-long “Intro to Mythology” lecture. And when he is officially introduced, you immediately know the stories you’ve heard about him were true and that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Davy Jones was the blueprint for Thanos. I can’t think of another memorable villain that had a build-up like that before their official introduction. Vader was introduced minutes into A New Hope; Sauron in a flashback at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring; and although we didn’t see him at full power until Goblet of Fire, Voldemort was a presence throughout all of the Harry Potter films.
To Thanos’ benefit, he had an entire “cinematic universe” to be built up in the same way Davy Jones was in Chest. Had we gotten the “Jack Sparrow Trilogy” or the “Will Turner Trilogy” or even the “Prison Dog With the Keys Movie” beforehand, Davy Jones could’ve had just as big of an impact.
Closing The Chapter(?)
Each franchise’s “finale” built itself up to be the showdown we’d been teased for so long. Both had the foresight to know that a well-crafted cliffhanger will keep audiences eager until the next chapter was released a year later. I was 11 when I left the premiere of Dead Man’s Chest and I couldn’t wrap my head around what I saw or the face I’d have to wait a whole year to see how it’s resolved. For that entire year, at least once a week, I’d remember the end of that film and get excited for what was to come. It wouldn’t be until 12 years later, after Avengers: Infinity War, that I’d feel the same way and obsess over something so trivial for an entire year.
These franchises set-up insurmountable odds in their penultimate film so the audience knows going in that there is more on the line than before. The films reach their absolute highs during the final battle between good and evil. The battle is grand in scope and meant to invoke excitement and a sense of awe from the audience. Even detractors of At World’s End acknowledge the “Maelstrom Battle” was nothing like they’d seen before. Same thing goes for the “Portals” scene in Endgame. The films go from grandiose, sweeping shots to intimate personal moments for the characters. It’s here we see Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann finally marry, or Tony Stark reunite with Peter Parker. The sense of overwhelming dread intercut with moments of pure happiness allows audiences to feel a rush of emotions both positive and negative.
Despite all of this, the biggest moments of each film involve gut-wrenching sacrifices for the greater good. The sacrifice Tony makes in Endgame mirrors that of Jack Sparrow in At World’s End, albeit with different outcomes. Tony dies for the universe while Jack gives up his chance at immortality for a friend. These two selfish men see what needs to be done in the moment and without hesitation do what’s right.
“It’s like poetry, they rhyme.”
Each franchise is in a very different spot at the moment. Marvel is riding high off Avengers: Endgame with many excited for the future. Meanwhile, Pirates is on it’s last leg with many believing it should just be put out of it’s misery. Many forget Pirates of the Caribbean was Disney’s premiere franchise for years so it’s no surprise they tried to continue on following a satisfying conclusion. Pirates continued with the ‘Jack-centric’ film On Stranger Tides before backtracking and reintroducing Will/Elizabeth and even Davy Jones in Dead Men Tell No Tales. Both of these films felt like a step backward, both for the characters and the world it had built up. We saw Jack go from a wily genius acting crazy to a man who might actually be an idiot who’s only gotten lucky. My hopes are that the proposed reboot or Margot Robbie-led spin-off is able to revitalize this series, even if Jack Sparrow isn’t involved.
Marvel is in the same predicament that Pirates was in back in 2007. Their fans have now seen this enormous conclusion with many characters either dead or “retired.” Marvel has even said they won’t be doing another big team-up film for a while but there’s no way it won’t be attempted again at some point. They also run the risk of losing audience interest with these new or secondary characters being brought forward to carry the franchise. Only time will tell if they’ve learned more from the Pirates of the Caribbean’s wins or from their failures.
Let me know what you thought of these franchise’s “finales.” Did you like them? What do you hope from the future? Let us know in the comments below!
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