In honor of Women's History Month, I devoted my March countdown to my favorite female action heroes. I also promised that the absence of DC and Marvel characters on the countdown would make sense this month.
Have you figured out why yet?
Yes, Batman wins this category. No, I'm not going to write about it. Hence, no DC/Marvel. Sorry.
So first up, Captain Jack Sparrow.
The thing to remember is that what becomes overplayed usually gets that way for a reason, and Jack Sparrow definitely falls into that category.
His popularity comes from being an unforgettable modern classic of an antihero. If you haven't seen at least the first movie, here's how it goes.
Jack is a pirate. He's a hedonist and a criminal, in love with the adventure of sailing, oozing with charm and unbound by any traditional sense of honor. While our standard hero and heroine, Will and Elizabeth,
His first appearance is a shining case study on how to set up a character in record time.
So right off the bat, we know this is a pirate, a loner, but with a certain sense of respect and camaraderie for others of his kind. We know his fortunes aren't the greatest right now, but he's a master of improvisation and relies on style and confidence to get him through.
That's Jack Sparrow in a nutshell, in about a minute and a half of visuals and three lines of dialogue.
So we're dealing with a figure of moral grayness. How bad is he exactly? Well, that's one of the great questions of the series.
We learn pretty quickly that he's no psychopath. Still within the first several scenes of the first movie, he's broken out of prison and trying to remove his handcuffs using the smith shop of our hero, who feels compelled to stop him.
But he doesn't pull the trigger. Even when Will does his painfully noble standing his ground against all odds and re-capture is imminent for Jack, he'd rather stand there and beg Will to move than kill him and be on his way. Jack's more inclined to run than fight, and he gets no pleasure out of violence.
He also got a lovable open-mindedness and lack of hypocrisy that comes into view more slowly. He feels no particular malice toward any group of people who haven't personally, directly harmed him.
The Pirates series certainly isn't a shining example of sexual and particularly racial sensitivity,
It sounds strange, if you know his reputation. Isn’t he a womanizer and an all-around scumbag? Aren’t we reminded of this repeatedly by the endless string of angry exes and prostitutes out for his blood?
Yeah, Jack’s certainly someone you never want to date. Yes, he flirts with literally every single woman who crosses his path, but he's never threatening about it, and it's indicated that his wrongs against these exes come down to lying and stealing, so all this really proves is that he's hypersexual, heterosexual, and an equal opportunity scumbag. After all, he lies to and steals from men all the time.
Hell, he once spends a night alone on a deserted island with Elizabeth, both of them blind drunk, with her trying to flirt the secret to escape out of him and still harboring a bit of a childhood crush on his legend, and what happens? He puts his arm around her, once, while on the verge of passing out, and immediately backs off when she appears uncomfortable.
Whenever he draws attention to someone who's not an able-bodied white man for defying social convention, it's because he's trying to manipulate someone else by playing on their expectations, never because he particularly cares about people meeting his own expectations.
So we've got a colorful rogue with a quirky personal code, but a code that exists clearly enough to make it more than comfortable to identify with him and ride along with the fantasy of living outside the rules, doing what you want, chasing adventure, forever being one step ahead even if you're making things up as you go, and having the wit and confidence to come off sounding cool even when you're losing. Include guns, sword fighting, convenient swinging ropes, and even some magic, and that's an irresistible action icon right there.
Well, if I had one complaint (other than the second movie revolving around Jack plotlines that didn't go anywhere, with the assumption that his pure Jack-ness would make them worth watching), it would be that the same moral mysteriousness that makes him so intriguing to begin with also makes it difficult to connect with him as a long term character.
Oh, we know he's not evil enough to want to hurt innocent people, but how much evil will he allow to happen if it suits his interests?
After a few movies of trying to figure this out and never reaching the answer, it can start feeling hopeless, ever getting in his head as far as we like to with our heroes.
Well, that was almost addressed. It was addressed, in a deleted scene from movie three. You only need the first twenty-six seconds of this one to get the point.
I like to see this clip as part of the character. I love the slow progression of real insight into the character that it concludes, after the all-at-once snapshot we get in the first movie. If you prefer to keep the mystery perpetually, the theatrical version provides that.
There's a perfect Jack Sparrow for everyone.
Agree? Disagree? Comments are always welcome! Or keep up with my fictional musings by joining me on Facebook, on Twitter, or by signing up for email updates in the panel on the right!