Disney: The Rise of Elizabeth Swann

Screenshot of Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’. Copyright goes to Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Hi! It’s Annie!

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! YE BE WARNED. I don’t think I’ve quite made it clear yet how much I have an absolute love for Elizabeth Swann from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. Not only is Keira Knightley one of my favorite actors all of time, but there were few characters as formative to me as Elizabeth Swann was. She was in an action movie and she kicked ass without being shoved to the sidelines or stuck with a lot of tropes. She was a relatable character and a character I dressed up as and pretended to be so many times growing up it’s probably somewhat embarrassing. Then the second movie came out, and though I didn’t actually see the final two until years later, Elizabeth Swann only seemed to be getting better. They actually gave her several stunts in the subsequent movies as well as many sword fighting scenes. Not to mention that they made her Pirate King in the final movie, something that pleasantly shocked me so much I came to actually find a liking for that movie, which was definitely a bit of a mess. And then they made several blunders to her character at the very end of the franchise. The story had ended and I was certain that they had done this character well, and then they messed quite a few things up at the very last minute. And as these blunders somehow continued, the respect for Elizabeth Swann and the demand that she get something better skyrocketed from the female fans.

The Blunders (Fir-ah!):

In the final movie of the original trilogy movies in this franchise, Will Turner dies. Many clever fans have even spotted that he was killed with his own sword, which is actually pretty poetic. This sucks in general, but also for Elizabeth who had just finally been married to Will by a very exasperated Barbossa. Though it seems like all hope is lost, Jack Sparrow saves Will by having him stab the heart of Davy Jones thus making Will the captain of the Flying Dutchman. The problem? Will can only step on land once every ten years. Yep! Ten years! Elizabeth and Will have one day as a married couple before he has to leave and then Elizabeth just…stays on the island. Elizabeth had been made Pirate King not too long before this and now can technically command an entire fleet of ships but they wrote that she just stays on the little island Will leaves her on. Even though Elizabeth has dreamt of adventure all her life and Will only comes to shore once every ten years so it’s not like staying on the island all the time is because he could come back at any second. Instead of doing the right thing, which would have been to give Elizabeth a ship and crew of her own, they left her stranded on an island. Maybe they should have at least given her a pistol with one shot with which to get revenge on the writers.

The Response:

When the last movie in the trilogy came out, most people just accepted that it was bad. And many of them did admit that Elizabeth’s ending was also bad, but it was just as focused on as all the other plot holes and weirdness in the movie. As the movies gained traction again because of announcements of sequels and now the reboot (or more like a different story in the same world) as well, people went back to watch the movies and Elizabeth Swann gained more of a fan-following than she ever has before. Naturally, many of these fans were women who were grateful to see her brand of representation. The revisit of ‘At World’s End’ caused the outcry regarding her ending to become even louder than it ever was. People demanded to know what happened to her, some even found comfort in the idea that maybe she did find a crew and they just didn’t show it.

Pirates 5:

All of the comfort on this part completely ended when Elizabeth Swann was shown in the most recent movie. Her involvement in the movie was announced pretty last minute in comparison to everyone else’s and Keira Knightley wasn’t all that interested in returning to the role. We all knew that all we could expect was a cameo. But there was still this hope that this cameo would be the confirmation of the story everyone wanted. Instead, we saw the confirmation that Elizabeth did actually spend all her time on that island raising her son. She had seen no Pirate adventures since. And she still remained there even after her son grew up and then waited for both her husband and son to get back. Wonderful. I was really hoping for a shot where a giant ship would come into view and all the characters would turn to see Elizabeth at the helm of it, but instead we find her right where we left her. The Pirate King who loved the sea spent the rest of her life waiting for the men in her life to come back.

The Reboot-ish Movie:

When the reboot was first announced and we were told that these movies would no longer focus on Jack Sparrow, I was really skeptical. Johnny Depp is not a great person in the least and the character of Jack Sparrow has lost most of his wit and personality throughout the years; but it’s still difficult to imagine the franchise without Captain Jack Sparrow. There was a giant group of people calling on Disney to put a woman at the helm of the next movies and many of them were even calling for them to make a movie based off of Elizabeth Swann and her adventures while Will was away. Though we haven’t gotten that exactly, we know that the next movies will feature a female pirate played by Margot Robbie. That actually puts me at ease, even though I am tired of reboots. Margot Robbie is another one of my favorite actors of all time and now I’m pretty excited to see what they’ll do, especially because it isn’t a complete reboot. But I’m not sure this would have happened if it wasn’t for the uproar Elizabeth Swann caused about her unfair ending. If Elizabeth Swann hadn’t inspired us all so much, I’m not sure we would be looking at a female lead for the next movies.

Elizabeth Swann deserved so much better, but it looks like the legacy of her character will carry on to do much more good. I, for one, am really excited to finally get a pirate movie focused on a female pirate. But, of course, I am eternally grateful for the Pirate King that shaped me so much growing up and continues to inspire me and so many others. Long may she reign.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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