REVIEW: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN ON STRANGER TIDES - CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW
So a number of years ago, Disney got it into their heads that movies based on some of their best known theme park attractions might be an interesting idea. Blessedly, they didn't start with "It's a Small World". However, their first two attempts, "Haunted Mansion" and "Country Bears", weren't exactly Oscar contenders. Personally, I'd like to see what could be done with "Space Mountain", but that's just me.
Disney finally hit paydirt when they took one of their most iconic attractions, "Pirates of the Caribbean", gave it the attention and respect it deserved, and rounded up Johnny Depp to play the decidedly quirky central character, Pirate captain Jack Sparrow. The result has been a series of blockbuster hits.
The fourth movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" -- as good a subtitle as any of the movies have ever had -- was released in 2011, with Depp back as the main character. Jakks Pacific has turned out a nicely done action figure line in conjunction with the movie, and I decided that it was about time that I brought Captain Jack Sparrow into my collection. Although my action figure collection does tend to be fairly focused on certain core lines -- G.I. Joe, DC, Star Wars, Masters of the Universe -- I'm always prepared to bring in the occasional additional figure. And, what the heck, if I've got Indiana Jones standing around here, I might as well have this guy.
Let's consider some history on Pirates of the Caribbean in general, and on Jack Sparrow specifically.
The Pirates of the Caribbean theme park attraction upon which the movies derive their title exists at four of Disney's theme parks -- Disneyland, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. It was the last attraction which Walt Disney himself participated in designing. It opened in Disneyland in the spring of 1967, three months after his death.
It initially wasn't going to be a part of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, since it was believed at the time that proximity to the actual Caribbean would minimize interest. However, by this time, the ride had become so iconic that it was eventually brought to the Florida park.
The ride begins amid glimmering fireflies in a quaint Louisiana bayou, but before long, riders are taken down a plunge down a waterfall, after being given a warning that they are entering a region known for pirate treasure. This leads into a region where vast hordes of pirate treasure can be seen being guarded by the skeletal remains of an unfortunate band of pirates, before the ride opens into a vast panorama of animatronic pirates besieging a city, including an immense pirate ship.
The attraction has undergone some revision over the years, for various reasons, not all of them well-received by longtime fans. Not surprisingly, the most recent revisions have been done to include characters from the movie. The captain of the pirate ship attacking the city is now Captain Barbossa from the first film, and it's no great surprise that Captain Jack Sparrow turns up here and there, as well. All movie characters have been voiced by their original movie actors.
As to the movies, in the first film, "The Curse of the Black Pearl", the Caribbean city of Port Royal is attacked by the crew of the infamous pirate vessel, the Black Pearl. Elizabeth Swann, daughter of the city Governor, is kidnapped. The pirates, led by Captain Hector Barbossa, are attempting to lift a curse placed on them after they stole a chest of Aztec gold. Blacksmith Will Turner, a childhood friend of Elizabeth, persuades pirate Captain Jack Sparrow to help him find and rescue her.
The film was considered a risk for a number of reasons. The pirate genre hadn't been successful for years, the movie was based, if somewhat loosely, on a theme park ride, something Disney hadn't had much luck with, and Johnny Depp rarely made "big" films at the time. However, the movie became a critical and commercial success, becoming 2003's third highest grossing movie in North America.
In the second movie, Dead Man's Chest, Lord Cutler Beckett, a ruthless agent from the East India Trading Company, arrests Will and Elizabeth for siding Jack Sparrow's escape in the previous movie. Beckett offers clemency if Will agrees to search for Sparrow and his magical compass. At the same time, Sparrow is trying to release himself from an old debt with the villainous Davy Jones by finding the Dead Man's Chest which he can use to command Jones to do his bidding. This 2006 movie would go on to be the highest of 2006 worldwide, and the fourth highest-grossing film of all time. So much for the pirate genre not working.
In the third movie, 2007's At World's End, Lord Beckett gains power over Davy Jones, and with the help of Jones' ship, The Flying Dutchman, plans to extinguish piracy forever. To stand against the East India Trading Company, Will, Elizabeth, Barbossa, and the crew of the Black Pearl set out to rescue Jack Sparrow from Davy Jones' Locker. Sparrow, as one of the Nine Pirate Lords, is needed to summon a power to defeat Beckett's forces. Like it's predecessor, At World's End would become the highest grossing movie for 2007.
Which brings us to the latest movie, On Stranger Tides. Although word of a fifth and sixth movie have already been announced, with Johnny Depp saying he's willing to play Captain Jack Sparrow for as long as it is popular with the public. In the latest movie, Jack Sparrow is on a quest to find the fabled Fountain of Youth, and crosses paths with a former lover, named Angelica, who forces Jack aboard the ship Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of the infamous pirate Blackbeard, who is also Angelica's father. Both are also in search of the Fountain; Angelica to try to save her father's soul, and Blackbeard to escape a prophecy of his demise by a one-legged man.
Although a number of prominent characters from the first three movies, notably Will and Elizabeth, have not returned for the fourth installment, Jack Sparrow is of course on hand. So it made sense to me that his was the figure I would most be interested in. What do we know about Jack Sparrow?
In the context of the films, Sparrow is one of the Brethren Court, the Pirate Lords of the Seven Seas. He can be treacherous, but survives mostly by using wit and negotiation rather than weapons or force, preferring to flee most dangerous situations and fight only when necessary. According to screen writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, Sparrow is described as a trickster, who prefers to end disputes verbally whenever possible. He walks with a slightly drunken swagger and has slurred speech, and tends to use flailing hand motions.
Sparrow says of himself, "Me, I'm dishonest. And a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest - honestly! It's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly -- stupid."
Despite his quirky behavior, Sparrow is shrewd, calculating, and intelligent. He fools Commodore Norrington and his entire crew to set sail on the royal ship Interceptor, prompting the admiration of Lieutenant Groves, as he concedes, "That's got to be the best pirate I've ever seen." Norrington himself admits, "So it would seem". In the third film, while he leaves Beckett's ship stranded and makes off, Lieutenant Groves asks, "Do you think he plans it all out, or just makes it up as he goes along?"
It was Sparrow who deciphered the seemingly unintelligible map in the same film while others were still grappling with the problem of returning to the real world.
In combat, Sparrow is an extremely skilled swordsman, capable of quite easily holding his own against Davy Jones and also Will Turner, but uses his superior intelligence to his advantage during fights. Jack prefers the strategies of non-violent negotiations and turning his enemies against each other, reasoning, "Why fight when you can negotiate? All one needs is the proper leverage."
He often uses complex wordplay and vocabulary to confound his enemies, and it is suggested that his pacifism may be one reason Barbossa and the Black Pearl crew mutinied. Barbossa says in the first film, "Jack, that's exactly the attitude that lost you the Pearl. People are easier to search when they're dead."
Although a pirate and willing to kill his enemies in a fight, Jack Sparrow has also shown a reluctance to kill people who do not actually wish him harm, as seen when he preferred to simply avoid a fight with Will Turner in their first meeting, the fight being provoked by Will's insistence. When Will is fatally wounded by Davy Jones, he relinquishes his dream of stabbing Jones' heart and becoming immortal and lets a dying Will stab it instead. When searching for the Fountain of Youth, Jack noted that his desire for the Fountain had lessened when he learned that the Fountain would only provide someone with extra life if another died at the same time.
The character is portrayed as having created, or at least contributed to, his own reputation. When Gibbs tells Will that Sparrow escaped from a desert island by strapping two sea turtles together, Sparrow added that the rope he used to do so was made from hair from his own back. In fact, Sparrow escaped the island by bartering with rum traders. He often gives the farewell, "This is the day you will always remember as the day that you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow!" -- sometimes this farewell is rather abruptly and humorously cut off.
Despite his heroics, Sparrow is a pirate and not always presented as a good guy. When agreeing to trade 100 souls, including Will, to Davy Jones in exchange for his freedom, Jones asks Sparrow whether he can "condemn an innocent man - a friend - to a lifetime of servitude in your name while you roam free?" After a hesitation, Sparrow replies, "Yep! I'm good with it!"
Sparrow also has less than perfect personal hygiene. His breath has been unfavorably compared to the wrong end of a donkey. Sparrow knocks Will off his ship simply by huffing at him.
Various reviewers believe that Jack Sparrow is the only iconic film character of the 2000's decade, the only element of the films that will remain timeless. One remarked that the character's popularity can be attributed to being a "scoundrel whose occasional bouts of conscience allow viewers to go with the flaws because, as played to the larger-than-life hilt by Depp, he owns every scene he is in." A 2007 poll by the Internet Movie Database showed Sparrow to be the second most popular live-action hero after Indiana Jones.
So yeah, it was probably about time I brought a Jack Sparrow figure into my collection.
So, how's the figure? Really very nicely done. Jakks Pacific has the Pirates license this time around. I'll admit that my experience with Jakks Pacific is somewhat limited. I know them mostly from their former WWE license, and as much as I enjoy watching the WWE, I've never had a lot of WWE action figures, from any company, really. I've never been able to explain why not, but I don't.
Jack Sparrow stands about 4" in height. While this is certainly a common scale for action figures these days, it was not a common scale from Jakks for their WWE product. Late on in their very extensive run, they produced a series of 4" scale figures called "Build 'N' Brawl", which were nicely designed and had excellent details and likenesses, but also had a far too frequent problem of very loose articulation. I was hoping I would not encounter the same problem here.
Fortunately, I didn't, although admittedly the Pirates figures are not as articulated as Jakks' former 4" WWE figures, but I'll discuss Jack's articulation more specifically in a bit. First let's consider the look of the figure.
Jack Sparrow is a fairly complex-looking individual. The days when a pirate might be portrayed as wearing a simple shirt, trousers, and maybe an eyepatch and a bandanna are long gone, although Jack does have the bandanna.
Jack Sparrow has a mass of hair tied into a tangle of long, unkempt dreadlocks. This alone can't have been the easiest thing in the world to sculpt, and not surprisingly was done as a separate piece, along with the bandanna, that was then assembled to the rest of the head. It's molded from flexible plastic, so it doesn't hinder head articulation.
The face is a very capable likeness of the character. Jack Sparrow has rather deepset-looking eyes, highlighted around the perimeter in black. The figure tones this down a little bit, using dark brown, but at this scale, black would have been excessive. I never fail to be impressed at the ability of toy companies to accurately paint such small features on mass-produced action figures. I'll admit I've seen a few Jack Sparrow action figures where the aim on the -- call it for what it is, eyeliner -- was a little bit off, but mostly they look good.
Jack also has a mustache, a knotted beard, and an "X" shaped scar on one cheek. These have also been neatly painted.
Jack Sparrow is wearing a loose-fitting white shirt with rather billowed sleeves, typical for the time period, and a dark blue waistcoat with the sleeves removed. He has an immense belt slung over his right shoulder with a huge silver buckle on it, and at least two more belts around his waist, from which are attached assorted accessories, up to and including a rabbit's foot.
If anybody ever needed a backpack, it's this guy, but credit to the sculptors at Jakks Pacific for getting all of these highly varied and complex details correct. One of the more colorful details is a length of red and white striped cloth that hangs from one of his belts.
Many of these items are separate pieces -- the blue waistcoat, the belts -- I can only imagine that the assembly of this figure at the factory was not the easiest thing in the world.
Jack Sparrow is wearing gray trousers, and dark brown boots that are admittedly somewhat stereotypical for a pirate, with huge, folded-down cuffs. Still, the end result is impressive. The sculpted detail on this figure is considerable. Beyond the obvious complexity of detail is a more subtle level. There is sculpted scrollwork on the waistcoat. There are seams in the trousers and boots. The various buckles are quite ornate. Even the rabbit's foot is slightly furry.
Painted detail is similarly well done, and was doubtless not easy. The shoulder belt has a large silver buckle, the waist belts have gold buckles, there's the striping on the piece of fabric, and various of the other items on the belts needed to be painted. Jack's bandanna and some of his hair details also needed paint. Interestingly, the smaller pieces of assembly seem to have more painted details on them than the main body of the figure. The shirt is plain white. The waistcoat is a sort of denim blue. The trousers are gray, the boots brown. Most of the paint is on the finer details, apart from the face. But the end result looks very cool, and certainly like the character.
As to accessories, Jack Sparrow comes with s silver sword with a dark brown hilt. There's a couple of loops in the waist belt where he can carry the sword, and it bits into his hand well enough. It's almost comically flexible. He also comes with two small pistols, and a tri-corner pirate's hat. Unfortunately, the hat doesn't look that great on the figure. It's just a little too big. The bandanna is almost too big, as far as that goes. Fortunately, in my opinion, the figure looks fine without the hat. He's still certainly recognizable.
Articulation? Here's where the figure might come up a little short in the eyes of some, but I think a lot of us have been spoiled by the likes of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and DC Universe. Jack Sparrow is very nicely articulated at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, and knees. Notably absent in the realm of articulation is the fact that the arms do not move outward, only forward and backward, there is no ankle articulation, the legs are slightly pre-posed in an "action pose", and there are no "swivels" in the arms or legs.
Could these have been incorporated reasonably? I believe outward arm movement and ankle articulation could have. The rest, I'm not so sure. Jack Sparrow's clothes are quite loose-fitting, and it might not have been possible without seriously adversely affecting the look of the figure.
How much of an issue is it? Not much of one, really. He still has an excellent range of motion, and just as important, a good sense of balance. He can plant his feet and stand up and stay standing without any risk of toppling, which is more than I can say about some action figures lacking ankle articulation.
Jack Sparrow also comes with an odd little gizmo, common to all of the figures in this particular Pirates line, that gives off a strange blue light, that makes certain previously invisible details on the figure appear to be red. I suppose this is meant to be some sort of post-battle blood spatter or some such. Other figures in the line have a "zombie" effect.
What I find impressive about it is that it's completely invisible in normal light. When writing this review, I almost forgot to mention it. I recall the last time something like this was done, it was for the Eco-Warriors in the G.I. Joe line, and that was thermally activated paint. The problem with that was, as the figures aged, it became more visible even without thermal assistance. Hopefully that won't be the case with Jack Sparrow. Honestly, you really can't see it without the little ring-like lighting device.
So, what's my final word? If you're an action figure collector and a fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, here's a good Jack Sparrow figure -- especially if you have a preference for 4" action figures, which are certainly a highly varied part of the action figure world these days. There have been other Pirates lines before, for the previous movies, and these have all been decent toys. But I tend to feel that as time has gone on, the toys have gotten better. And there will always be a Jack Sparrow figure among them. Jakks Pacific has done a really nice job with this one from the most recent fourth movie.
The PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES figure of JACK SPARROW definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!