Disney: Who are the Real Pirates?

Screenshot of Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl’. Copyright goes to Disney and Disney Live Action.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Lately I’ve noticed a lot of discourse about the fact that the Avengers were more coworkers than friends. Which is a point I definitely agree with. Though there were a few friendships within the group, they were not really close for the most part. But this discourse made me think back to one of my absolute favorite film series and the perceptions of the characters in it. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ boasts a cast of characters you can’t help but get invested in. The relationships between the characters are one of the things that carries the series. But, over time, I’ve seen way too many articles about the “close” friendship between Jack (sorry… Captain Jack Sparrow) and Will Turner. Personally, I would not call the relationship between those two characters a friendship necessarily. And most of that I’m not sure has to do with our dear Captain. So, in this post I’m going to go through some of the main characters in the movies and why some of them act more like pirates than others. And it may not be the characters you think. These movies have been out for a while but, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

Captain Jack Sparrow:

It would be entirely inappropriate to begin this with any other character. Captain Jack Sparrow is the picture of what a pirate should be throughout the films. In fact, most pirates and pirate films take inspiration from Captain Jack Sparrow, because the first film in this series single-handedly saved pirate films as a whole. But I would argue that Captain Jack Sparrow has some of the most moral moments of anyone in the films. At least within the first four films, he is always the smartest person in the room. And generally, he doesn’t have to manipulate the room at all to be able to tell what other people are going to do. In the first movie Captain Jack doesn’t really do many things that are morally questionable. When he is knocked out by Will it is not because Jack was not planning to save Elizabeth. It was entirely because Jack had not communicated a plan to Will to save Elizabeth. In fact, throughout the series most of the morally questionable things are done to Jack rather than by him. Jack is the one who voted for Elizabeth as Pirate King, which ultimately secures her in the role. He also saves Angelica’s life by lying at the end of the fourth film. Most of the moral high ground in the franchise is oddly taken by Jack. So while he is a scoundrel who no doubt pillages and plunders, the name of villain that usually goes along with pirate is often not taken by Jack.

Will Turner:

In the first Pirates movie, Will is extremely kindhearted and naive at the beginning. And the key word is at the beginning. He double crosses Jack for the rest of the movie. Starting with him having absolutely no qualms with leaving Jack behind after Elizabeth is safe despite the fact that Will is the one who knocked Jack out. He somewhat redeems himself after rescuing Jack at the end of this film, but his actions in the next couple films are entirely different. Jack does manipulate Will in the second film to go to Davy Jones, but Will’s manipulation and betrayal of Jack afterwards is more than double that. Including Will handing Jack over to enemies several times without seeming to care. Jack and Will feel like they are just as much friends as Jack and Barbossa. Both Barbossa and Will have backstabbed Jack several times. Though, to Barbossa’s credit, at least he helped resurrect Jack. Will’s relationship with Jack only stretches so far as how Jack can help him with his problems with Elizabeth and his father.

Elizabeth Swann:

From the innocent daughter of the governor to the freaking Pirate King; Elizabeth had one heck of a journey. And at first Elizabeth is just as earnest as you would think of her, despite the fact that she stole the Aztec gold from Will when he was young. Though she did it with good intentions; if she had left it with him he would have been found out to be a pirate. Or at least the son of one. In the second film Elizabeth’s main goal is to find Will. And here’s where things start getting more complicated. Though she starts out just as earnest as ever (she even helps Norrington), her want to get married is called into question when the audience (and Norrington) becomes unsure that she wants to marry Will specifically. For some of the movie, until Will comes back, her attention turns to Jack for some odd reason. And this doesn’t last long, but her willingness to take things into her own hands is also shown when she tricks Jack into going down with the ship at the end of the film. In the third film she spends most of her time with Barbossa and does feel guilty about Jack. Though her feelings of guilt do diminish over time, she is still more than willing to help Jack out of every situation. And often times both her and Jack are double-crossed by Will in the final film that she’s in. So while she owns the title of Pirate King, she is not the most morally low of everyone.

James Norrington:

Norrington is a character that confuses me a lot. I can never figure out if I like him or dislike him and my opinion seems to change every single time I watch the first three films. What’s clear about him is what could be a good person seems to be peeking through his giant ego, but just can’t get past it. Norrington lets Jack go at the end of the first film; but in the second film he doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. He blames everyone for persuading him to make that choice, which led to him being disgraced. In the second film he lets the others use him as bait, but also sells all of them out in the end. And in the third movie he finally realizes that his ego and ambition have only caused him guilt and sacrifices his life for Elizabeth. But his ego had already caused so many problems. Norrington is not a likable or a dislikable character. And his morals are always eclipsed by his ego. So the moral ambiguity is present for him as well, though his moral ambiguity is less of the general pirate manipulation and more of the giant ego that often comes with his status.

Hector Barbossa:

It is absolutely no secret that Barbossa is the definition of pirate. He was the mutineer that originally betrayed Jack and the villain for the entirety of the first film. Barbossa turns around a bit when he’s brought back at the end of the second film. He even officiates the marriage of Will and Elizabeth in one of the most hilarious scenes in the franchise. The thing with Barbossa is we never really get to see him betray anyone. Even though we know he’s done it in the past. Barbossa is honest and unapologetic about everything he does since his first off screen betrayal. Does that make him moral? Absolutely not. But at least he’s honest about it. And Barbossa actually becomes more and more morally good as the series goes on. So why is it that, as I look at these main characters, Jack and Barbossa seem like they are most often in the moral right?

Jack and Barbossa being in the moral right sounds insane at first. But often, they are. Captain Jack Sparrow is a flawed hero, but he’s still pretty heroic. We know from his past that he was originally marked a pirate because he freed slaves he was transporting. But that aside, pirates are often known for their betrayals and manipulations. And I don’t believe anyone does this as much as Will. If I were to pick a main character who takes the moral low the most of the good guys, I would definitely choose Will. He’s unexpected in committing many of his betrayals, but that’s what makes them sting even more. In the end Jack saves Will far more than Will ever saves Jack. And Will sells out several of who some fans consider to be his closest friends several times. If you’re counting betrayals, Will has got them stacked. But Elizabeth and Norrington also have their own fair few. So who are the real pirates?

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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