Tom Jolliffe looks at Margot Robbie’s decision to set sail with a Pirates of the Caribbean spinoff and why it could lead her down a disappointing path…
In the wake of a pandemic shut down throughout the world, the film industry took a major hit. Big theatrical releases pushed back, and film productions delayed. Even prior to the lockdown there was a crossroads in blockbuster cinema. Aside from certain sure-fire money makers, a lot of these films have been pounding out upwards of 200 million dollars to make, and bombing with increasing regularity. The guaranteed bucks of Marvel could potentially be brought into question too, because in all honesty, they peaked at Avengers: Endgame. How much more of an event movie can you be? We have Avatar sequels due, with a distinct low rumbling of buzz over fervent excitement, and in a social distancing/cautious world, the cinema outing is going to be something that many will probably leave behind (particularly given the massive surge in home streaming subscriptions and demand).
It surprises me then, that a franchise born of theme park ride, Pirates of the Caribbean is being revamped once more (having seen the grosses dwindle somewhat in the last two instalments). They were kind of a revelation back in 2003. Johnny Depp was at the height of his popularity and he moved from a CV of eclectic choices and predominant focus on working with auteurs or indie films, to turning into a box office superstar. He’s not been the same since, and the vibrancy, passion and creativity of his earlier career seems to have gone, all whilst his bank balance has never been beefier. You might look at Robert Downey Jr. too. From a young star of coming of age comedies (usually playing a bully or a cooky sidekick), to an indie darling to being virtually blacklisted, prior to Iron Man re-galvanising his career, but transitioning him, well and truly into mega star territory. He of course made interesting choices here and there, or made parts more interesting in those blockbusters, than they may have been (for example Stark, or Sherlock Holmes via the gaze of Guy Ritchie). Still, there’s a feeling that financial matters guide his decisions more than creative ambition now. That’s a feeling I get looking at the indifferent, un-passionate pose on his Dolittle posters.
These films are needed, and indeed they afford an actor the freedom to cash in 30 million dollars (more if you have a back end like Downey Jr.) and then spend a few years scratching your arthouse itch. At some juncture of course, you need to go back to the well. Just ask Robert Pattinson. A near decade of developing himself away from his Twilight image and making films like Good Times and High Life. These don’t tend to make masses of money, nor pay anything like what a franchise picture does of course. Consequently he’s donning the cowl and cape as Batman soon. Though if I were laying bets, a new Batman film directed by Matt Reeves will be infinitely more interesting than another Pirates film.
This brings me to Margot Robbie. Oh Margot…Margot, Margot…a former Neighbours starlet turned Hollywood megastar, and perhaps the biggest actress in the business right now. Offers will come in left and right. Sure, she’s an amazing star. She’s never less than stunning on the eye, and she has charisma in almost dangerously high quantities. She’s also had a good run of standout roles that have firmly established her as not just an aesthetically dazzling star, but an actress of substance and immense talent. Those latter elements are not going to be used substantially I’d guess in a new Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes it might afford her a few years of carte-blanche as an indie darling making all manner of award magnetising roles, but what if you don’t make that choice? She’ll also be first in line for the big Oscar push films, but they don’t always go right, and they may not diversify her roles in a way that’s cinematically interesting. She’s done well with a couple of Oscar bait bio pics in Bombshell and I, Tonya (each earning her an Oscar nomination), but maybe she’d be more than at home working with the likes of A24, doing some raw and vibrant indie work.
Robbie’s ascension has been great (and rapid). She’s also found herself in the unique position of having plenty of clout, and she’ll be afforded some level of control over her career, and some of the films she works on. She’s produced a number of his films so far, and that will undoubtedly continue. Sometimes however, I watch her, and I’ve found this similarly with Scarlett Johansson, that after a while, these blockbuster roles can become samey. She’s played Harley Quinn twice now, and unlikely for the last time. I loved Birds of Prey. It actually had a bit of an indie feel, and offered something against the grain. In part, perhaps why it underwhelmed at the box office. I’d guess her role as producer and having a very direct role in how the film turned out, gave it a fresh feeling too. So undoubtedly, alongside the financial appeal of these films and the status they can bring in the power circles, she still had an eye on the creative aspects and making Harley interesting. What can be injected into a new Pirates film?
The other gamble of course, is that the film overextends itself financially and bombs. She’d essentially be following up a ‘disappointing’ return for Birds of Prey (or whatever it’s called this week) with a another tanking big budget film. She has the small matter of another Suicide Squad too, and once again she’s kind of front and centre. She’s the bankable star and the main attraction, so on her head be it. She’s just coming up to 30. In another decade she’ll be cast asunder as a blockbuster lead (because lets face it, Hollywood will do that still, even though the guys can carry on well into their 50’s). She could carry on for decades mesmerising in indie films and support roles, but the worry is with every new blockbuster on a seemingly consistent run, that she loses a bit of the respect as a performer. It’s happened with many big stars past and present, you start coasting on your charisma. The roles lose that third dimension. On the flip side, it was great to see Scar-Jo step away from Marvel and blockbusters to deliver A Marriage Story and Jojo Rabbit. I sense those came from a creative stagnation you get from putting on your action heroine face one too many times and spending huge amounts of time in a lime green walled studio.
What the future brings remains to be seen and it’ll certainly be interesting, but I hope future choices offer the possibility for Robbie to establish herself not just as a dazzling money maker, but as an actress of brave decisions and creative ferocity. To be remember as a great. She teased that power in I, Tonya, and working with the likes of Scorsese. She’ll be great as a leading light in blockbuster entertainment, undoubtedly. That said, I’d like to see her in roles that wreck you, with the kind of raw emotional power and magnetism that Gina Rowlands used to do (particularly alongside John Cassavetes). Robbie has that in her locker. That won’t come out in Barbie or Pirates of the Caribbean, but I hope we see plenty of it in the near future.
What do you think of Robbie starring in a new Pirates of the Caribbean? Let us know your thoughts in the comments or on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.