Coming soon to every theater near you: more of the freakin' same! Summer means blockbusters, and that usually means sequels, prequels or remakes. Gone are the days when movies guaranteed the unforeseen: famous actors, yes, but in new roles; familiar genres, sure, but with different stories. Today the demand that Diaghilev made of Jean Cocteau"Astonish me!"has become "Remind me." Moviemakers and movie watchers, both groups in a historically cautious mind-set, want more of the same: tiny twists on proven franchises, like the pleasures of a living-room drama or sitcom. In this surprise-resistant summer, that's what you're getting: pay TV.
Once in a while, a new member has to join the club; otherwise, there would be no movies to make sequels of. Three years ago, that film was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. It vaulted from prerelease shrug to summer smash, earning $305 million in North America and $652 million worldwide. So here comes the sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (opening July 7), which was shot at the same time as Pirates III, due out next summer.
For this double voyage, Disney and producer Jerry Bruckheimer re-enlisted the old crew: director Gore Verbinski, writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott and stars Johnny Depp (as scurvy Captain Jack), Orlando Bloom (the young hero, Will Turner) and Keira Knightley (Will's fiancé, Elizabeth Swann). They all seem pumped. "There's a kid inside most of the people on this crew," Verbinski says, "that gets juiced to get up in the morning and say, 'Hey, we're doing this.' This is the type of movie that says it's fun to go to the theater again."
The very notion of sequels might horrify Depp, Hollywood's best current example of dreamboat movie star and superserious character actor. "It's a dangerous game," he acknowledges. "Rocky went into almost Warholian levels of absurdity. But if your intentions are good and pure, then you can sort of skate through, make an interesting, entertaining film." His Captain Jack, the maniacally mannerist pirate, was plenty entertaining, to audiences and to Depp. "I truly love the character," he says, "and I didn't feel I'd had enough of him in the first one."
Or the second or third? Bruckheimer says he's going to save all the sets "in the hope that we can continue the series. If Disney will write us some checks, we'll do it." And if the star isn't bored by then, he jokes: "I'm teetering on the idea of a [Pirates] TV series."
That's not likely. But this is: out of the summer will emerge a from-nowhere smash on the order of The Blair Witch Project or My Big Fat Greek Wedding or Wedding Crashers. Or the first Pirates. After all, a surprise hit is the least surprising thing about summer. By Richard Corliss. Reported by Desa Philadelphia/Los Angeles
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III
Starring: Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Release date: May 5. What the first two made: $396 million