Heroes Growing Old: Logan and Dead Men Tell No Tales

When I wrote my Person of the Year post about two weeks ago, I had somehow been under the impression that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was going to be the final installment of the Pirates franchise. Something in the marketing or the discussion around the movie made me think it was the final installment. Or, since I loved the first movie with all my heart, and even enjoyed the second movie, and have watched the franchise fall so far, it was wishful thinking. So the initial comparison of Logan versus Dead Men Tell No Tales was a little misguided – I assumed that this would be the point where Jackman and Depp respectively chose to conclude their performance. That being said, I think there is still room for comparison, namely how and when the star of a franchise decides to call it quits.

So when I contrast these two movies, it’s relative to their main characters. With McAvoy and Fassbender playing Professor X and Magneto, and the Pirates franchise introducing Henry and Carina (after the preacher and mermaid from On Stranger Tides charmed no one) we’re shown that these two franchises are not done and will continue until they are no longer profitable, which will not likely come any time in the foreseeable future.

At first glance these movies don’t seem to have much in common, other than being installments in longrunning and profitable Hollywood franchises. But at the center of them both is are two stars who have both been acting in their respective roles for more than a decade. These franchises wouldn’t be what they are without Johnny Depp or Hugh Jackman in the lead roles. In 2017, audiences saw the one at the peak of passionate performance, and saw the other at the lowest point of a slow and steady decline. Logan and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales are two movies strive to show us how our favorite characters grow old. This is done to varying degrees of success.

Let’s start with the obvious but most important point. If you watch the trailers for these two movies, you’ll realize that there is a substantial difference in tone. Logan goes for dramatic gravitas, but Dead Men Tell No Tales is just business as usual, right down to the crew of undead pirates. Logan manages to be a movie about growing old and fatherhood. Dead Men Tell No Tales does flirt with similar themes of family and being down on one’s luck, but focuses first and foremost on just being a pirate adventure rather than striving for a more poignant conclusion.

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Both characters start their movies off with action sequences – vastly different action sequences, though. Logan begins with Wolverine being awoken to thugs trying to steal the rims off his car. He gives them fair warning, and after they shoot him, he gets back up and cuts through the thugs, but not without difficulty. This fight makes it abundantly apparent to anyone who’s seen any previous Wolverine movie – things are not the same. This Wolverine is old and weary. He moves slow, he recovers slow. The guy just can’t take a bullet like he used to.

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By comparison, Jack’s first appearance in Tales is much different. A Caribbean town is unveiling their new bank vault when they find Jack Sparrow in it after a night of heavy drinking and fornication. He informs the town that he is robbing the bank, which starts off a fun – if not entirely believable, but what does that matter – action sequence in which Jack and his crew transport the vault out of the town. I’m not crazy about some of the films in this series, but the action is always fun, and that’s true here. But Jack leaves the door of the bank vault open, so all of the gold that they’re trying to steal flies out as they’re pulling it to their ship. Ultimately, the robbery is a failure, the crew tells him he’s got bad luck, and unceremoniously leaves him. Now, to have Jack without a crew and cursed with bad luck might be a good set-up for the film, but this could be done better. Why not have Jack’s crew leave him because he clearly messed up? Blaming bad luck seems wrong when the failure was clearly Jack’s fault. That would better convey the despair and desperation that the movie wants us to feel for Jack.

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Another point of interest is how the movie depicts the character’s use of alcohol. One thing that becomes abundantly clear is that Logan uses the alcohol to medicate himself. There’s the solemn shot of Logan drinking while he’s working as a driver to a funeral. Throughout the course of the movie, you can pretty consistently see Logan with a bottle nearby.

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Dead Men Tell No Tales almost had a scene like this. Jack walks into a tavern after the aforementioned failed bank robbery, and asks for a drink. When the bartender demands he pay first, Jack offers up his famed compass for a trade. You can see for an instant that he kind of regrets offering it, but Jack relinquishing the compass sets off some kind of magical plot point, and then the bartender immediately snatches it up and hands Jack the bottle. It’s played for laughs, with the bartender making the trade in a slapstick manner and Jack being caked in mud for some reason.

And then there’s the theme of parenthood, and the passing of one generation to another. Logan has Laura, a young girl who is revealed to be Logan’s “daughter” early in the movie – that is to say, she was created using Logan’s DNA. Logan begrudgingly agrees to help her get to the border, not regarding her as a daughter. But the relationship has time to blossom and the two bond. It’s touching. Dead Men Tell No Tales introduces Henry, who is on a quest to lift his father’s curse, and Carina who has a book from her father who she never met leading to the Trident. There’s a theme of parenthood, but it’s very forced. The big family moment in this movie is that Carina is revealed to be Barbossa’s daughter, but it’s shoehorned in. The two characters are kept separate for almost the entire movie, and don’t have much time to foster any sort of connection before Barbossa sacrifices himself. That moment is without soul, but if you look at the end of Logan, it should be abundantly apparent that a big sacrifice should be the emotional crux of the film.

It’s just a matter of knowing when to step down. Jackman was a huge influence on the direction Logan ended up taking – he was involved with the project because he enjoyed being Wolverine. “At some point, you’ve got to leave the party,” Jackman said, after comparing Logan to movies like Unforgiven and The Wrestler. He left the series while he was on top, he left on his own terms. Compare this to Pirates, a franchise whose star now (allegedly) has his lines fed to him through an earpiece. Seemingly every review of Tales politely asks if now’s a good time for this franchise to call it quits or harshly demands that the franchise come to an end. Logan left the audiences satisfied, but understanding that there couldn’t be more. Dead Men Tell No Tales left audiences indifferent, and asking why there must be more.

Logan is the perfect sendoff for a beloved character. I hope that if Johnny Depp decides that another turn as Jack Sparrow is warranted, he thinks about how the X-Men franchise ended Wolverine’s story. After such a long-running performance, I think Captain Jack Sparrow deserves the kind of poignant ending seen here.

 

The images used in this post belong to their respective studios. Images of Logan belong to 20th Century Fox and images of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales belong to Disney Studios.

One thought on “Heroes Growing Old: Logan and Dead Men Tell No Tales

  1. While I’m here, let me offer up some praise for Dead Men Tell No Tales. 1) The exit of Geoffrey Rush (potentially, his character has been brought back from the dead once already) has made me realize just how far his character has come across these five movies. Rush has always gone full-pirate, and I loved him for it. 2) I can’t remember a cameo appearance I enjoyed more than Paul McCartney’s Uncle Jack. The joke he tells is so absurdly corny, and his quip about the executioners was a lot of fun. For me, that was definitely the high point of the film.

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