Don Vito Corleone.
The Count of Monte Cristo.
What happens, most of the time, is that these characters gain such popularity they become archetypes for future characters. Why? Because art begets art. There's no such thing as an original creation. Everything is inspired by something.
Sometimes this is well done. Other times it seems like someone said "We can make our character like [insert famous character]! and people will love it!" foolishly thinking similarity alone will carry the day.
I think a good rule of thumb is that the comparison shouldn't be obvious. When people see Jack Sparrow, I doubt the first thing most think of is Alex DeLarge.
And now Jack Sparrow is starting to impact cinema and influence characters. And the major examples are pretty obvious.
Director: James McTeigue
Jack Sparrow in 1849 Baltimore: John Cusack
I liked her the best: Alice Eve
Trying way too fucking hard: Luke Evans
Gravel Gravel Gravel: Brendan Gleeson
Death From Above (Victim of): Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Gibbs: Kevin McNally
Ivan, who should become a tent-pole franchise: Sam Hazeldine
The first example, as far as I can remember, is Sherlock Holmes. I know, I know: Robert Downey Jr. is being Robert Downey Jr.. Robert Downey Jr. is NOT being Captain Jack Sparrow.
Without the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, does the Sherlock Holmes franchise get a green-light? Are you telling me that at some point the executives behind the first Holmes film didn't compare Holmes to Sparrow? That no one said something like "Imagine Jack Sparrow as Sherlock Holmes!" I guarantee this was said. Google "Jack Sparrow Sherlock Holmes". Does Downey get the role or do the studios decide to go a more traditional route?
Between 2009 and 2012 there are probably more examples of Sparrow-like characters, but the next obvious one is Agenor from Wrath of the Titans. Google "Wrath of the Titans Jack Sparrow". His introduction REEKS of Jack Sparrow, and then he doesn't really do anything for the rest of the movie.
And then we have The Raven. Google: "Cusack Raven Jack Sparrow".
During the "characterization" scene, where Poe is in the bar, trying to get a drink even though he's broke. He's being quirky, eccentric, demanding, trying to get his way--a rabble-rouser.
When we really look at this scene, here's what we find: Poe doesn't have money. He has outstanding debts. He's annoying. He's self-aggrandizing. One person knows the famous line from his poem "The Raven". He hates sailors (ironic, given our topic).
The scene also will remind many of us of Jack Sparrow. A much less clever, way less charming, way more "What if Nic Cage played Jack Sparrow" version of Jack Sparrow (that's not supposed to be a knock on Cusack but on the script).
What's the difference between Poe, Agenor, Holmes, and Sparrow?
Something you hear as a writer is, "take [insert aspect of story] to the extreme."
I think this is, essentially, the secret divider between bad art, okay art, good art, and great art. The greatest art is the most extreme. And that doesn't mean it's the craziest, or the sexiest. For example...
Let's look at our iconic characters. They are all EXTREME PERSONIFICATIONS of specific traits or identities. Another word we can use is "ultimate".
Indiana Jones. The ultimate Explorer.
Bonnie. The ultimate Female Criminal on the Run.
Stanley Kowalski. The ultimate Missed Opportunity/Hard-head.
Don Vito Corleone. The ultimate Mob Boss.
Tyler Durden. The ultimate Counter-Culture-ist/Terrorist/Best and Worst Imaginary Friend.
Clyde. The ultimate Male Criminal on the Run.
Han Solo. The ultimate Anti-hero/Rebel Pilot.
Mary Poppins. The ultimate Nanny.
Darth Vader. The ultimate Underling (to the Emperor)/Bad Father/Redeemed Character.
Princess Leia. The ultimate Warrior Princess. (until Xena).
Lisbeth Salander. The ultimate Hacker/Goth.
James Bond. The ultimate Spy.
Ripley. The ultimate Sci-Fi Female Soldier.
Scarlett O'Hara. The ultimate Spoiled Rich Kid/Person Willing to Do Anything to Survive/Star-Crossed Lover.
Alex DeLarge. The ultimate Lover of Violence and Beethoven and Being a Menace.
Annie Wilkes. The ultimate Fan.
Dorothy. The ultimate Dreamer.
Lolita. The ultimate Jailbait.
Norman Bates. The ultimate Psycho.
Hannibal Lecter. The ultimate Cannibal/Intelligent Serial Killer.
Carrie. The ultimate Teased High School Girl Getting Revenge.
Snow White. The ultimate Sweetheart.
Nurse Ratched. The ultimate Bitch With Authority.
The Joker. The ultimate Agent of Chaos/Psychological Opponent/Guy Who Hasn't Met a Line He Wouldn't Cross.
V. The ultimate Revolutionist/Revenge Seeker.
The Count of Monte Cristo. The ultimate Revenge Seeker.
Daniel Plainview. The ultimate Competitor/Greedy Bastard/Excessive Reactor to Being Slighted.
The Dude. The ultimate Dude.
(There are way more examples)
Jack Sparrow is THE ULTIMATE PIRATE. He's like...a superhero pirate. You could change his entire personality. Take away his weirdness and make him totally grave. Like...the Batman of Pirates. Like...no smiles. But as long as he continued to succeed and WIN in every situations he's in: outsmarting other people, being more athletic, being THE COOLEST PIRATE EVER: we would admire him. The same way we admire Michael Jordan. Or In-His-Prime Tiger Woods. Or Meryl Streep. Or Ken Griffey Jr. Or Steve Jobs. The Ultimate Basketball Player. The Ultimate Golfer. The Ultimate Actress. The Ultimate Swing. The Ultimate Technologist.
Sherlock Holmes works, despite breaking the rule of thumb (there is an obvious connection between Sparrow and Holmes), because he is, one, played by Robert Downey Jr., and, two, the Ultimate Detective. Sherlock Holmes has been famous since 1887. The secret? Extremeness.
Inception? Fucking extreme.
Black Swan? Fucking extreme.
Titanic? Fucking extreme.
Avatar? Fucking extreme.
Lion King with the death of Mufasa, with the death of Scar: fucking extreme. Lion King without the deaths of Mufasa and Scar: lame.
Saw: Fucking extreme.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: FUCKING HORRIBLE.
Even a film like Unbreakable. It's not EXTREME in the sense of crazy. It approaches extreme with how stoic David Dunn is, how much he DOESN'T want his power, how skeptical he is. But also in how EXTREMELY FAITHFUL Shyamalan is to comic book structure, going as far as imitating paneling with the way M. Night frames shots. It's insane.
Agenor: is nothing. He's not extreme in any way. He's derivative. (As, I would argue, is the entirety of Wrath of the Titans).
And this is the same for Poe in The Raven.
He isn't THE ULTIMATE WRITER. He's an unsuccessful writer who is forced to write some stuff. A few people tell him the new work is amazing. But it's not like...the writing takes all of Baltimore by storm! All the country! All the world!
He and Emily Hamilton aren't THE ULTIMATE LOVERS. They're lovers with one hurdle: Emily's dad hates Poe. Oh boy. It doesn't really seem to stop them.
Poe doesn't become THE ULTIMATE DEPRESSIVE PERSON. He's upset, but...like...I felt more emotion in the angry dance in the woods in Hot Rod (which, by the way, is beloved because of all its extreme moments--like the angry dance in the woods and the interminable downhill tumble). Poe is beside himself. And he does fucking kick over a nail-to-the-ground table after drinking poison (by the way--if that table was nailed to the floor, how did Ivan get down to that room so much???????????????????????????????????????? Did he kick over the table every night??????? I hope so, because that would be hilarious). But I wouldn't say Poe in The Raven is the saddest and most distraught character I've ever witnessed.
Poe, as a character, shows us no extreme qualities whatsoever. He's average in almost every regard. A better movie would have spent 70 minutes showing us Poe becoming an international icon (extreme) by way of the EXTREME intensity of his prose (recreating iconic scenes on the screen) and simultaneously how much he alienated people. You could begin the movie in 1839 with his leaving the Southern Literary Messenger, despite success, due to quarrels with coworkers, and go into the release of his book Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, then etc. etc. leading up to the release of The Raven (poem) in 1845. Then you could spend another 60 minutes covering the plot of The Raven (2012 film), showing how closely the real-life killings are to what Poe had imagined when writing the stories (resonance), with the motivation for the killings being The Killer hates Poe so much (which goes in line with the characterization that Poe alienates the shit out of people, which would recur throughout the film) The Killer wants to stifle Poe's writing by making these scenes come true and forcing all sorts of guilt on Poe--which means the antagonist is robbing Poe of that which Poe loves the most. I think this makes the film infinitely more exciting. Poe ignores the threats: publishes "The Cask of Amontillado" and someone dies. Then his wife, Virginia, dies, after he writes a poem about TB or something. Poe then writes "Ulalume" but nothing else. And the sheer WEIGHT of not being able to write, of wondering if he killed Virginia by writing, causes him to try to commit suicide, then just drink himself to death.
You still get: John Cusack playing Poe
You still get: the recreation of scenes from Poe's work
You still get: graphic murders
But the film becomes an extreme example of the impact an artist has on the world. And by showing Poe's work and the positive impact it has on people, the rise of his fame, especially when The Raven (the poem) catapults him to stardom, we see Poe become The Ultimate Macabre Writer. And also one of many versions of the Ultimate Person Consumed by Guilt, and the Ultimate Alcoholic.
As is, the film is being lazy. It doesn't do ANY WORK to show us Poe is The Ultimate Macabre Writer. It simply tells us "Hey, look, this is Edgar Allan Poe. If you already know who he is, you know why he's important. If you don't know who he is, well, he's sometimes like Jack Sparrow, other times he's just angry, or writing, or worn out, or poisoned, or dead."
The one extreme character in the entire movie: Ivan. And we don't realize this until "the twist" where we find out the killer's motivation. HE WANTED TO INSPIRE POE TO WRITE STORIES, since Poe was in a slump. Awwwww. So Ivan, like Annie Wilkes, is the Ultimate Fan. Except Stephen King was smart enough to make Annie Wilkes's extremely psychotic fandom essential to the plot. The Raven hides its strongest character until the last 5 minutes.
Check out your favorite movies. How many of them have average people doing average things?
Look at the IMDB Top 250.
The Shawshank Redemption. Ultimate Clever Prison Break.
Pulp Fiction. Extreme structuring, extreme use of dialogue. THE WOLF. Has Samuel L. been better?
12 Angry Men. Ultimate Debate, extreme court case, extreme use of dialogue.
The Dark Knight. "What happens when an Unstoppable Force meets an Immovable Object." EXTREMES!
Casablanca. Extreme nostalgia and missed opportunities at love.
The Usual Suspects. THE TWIST! How fucking ballsy!
Do you wonder why people can get such a kick out of REALLY BAD MOVIES? BECAUSE THEY'RE EXTREMELY BAD. Unfortunately, The Raven fails at that too. It's all-around middling.
Did you enjoy the movie Waiting? If you did, it's because the film is extreme and The Ultimate Example of Working at a Chain Restaurant. Did you enjoy Still Waiting? Probably not. Because sequels are, usually, derivative. And derivative sucks. For a perfect example of escalating derivation: watch Michael Bay's Transformers trilogy.
Good sequels escalate in extremes. Terminator and Terminator 2. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. X2 is infinitely better than X-Men for the sole-reason Wolverine uses his claws to kill people. A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back (HOTH!) ("I am your father!"). The Godfather Part II. Come on.
The first Pirates of the Caribbean is the best because it's the least derivative. If you remove the kraken from Dead Man's Chest, the second film is too similar to the first. And the third film just gets everything over with. It makes sense the IMDB scores are, respectively: 8.0, 7.2, 6.9. The fourth movie? 6.6.
If filmmakers want to learn from Jack Sparrow, they need to understand that Jack Sparrow isn't popular because he's irreverent, or idiotically smart, or quirky. He's popular because he is EXTREMELY irreverent, EXTREMELY idiotically smart, and EXTREMELY quirky. He's also THE ULTIMATE PIRATE. Make a character that's extremely irreverent in some capacity, extremely smart in some way, and extremely quirky in aspects, and THE ULTIMATE SUBWAY SANDWICH ARTIST, and you have a character worthy of a plot. Have someone who is irreverent for 20 minutes, boasts of intelligence but never demonstrates intelligence, and is quirky for one scene, and not ultimate at anything: and you have Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven.
Did I Like It:
I disliked most of the first half. Enjoyed most of the middle. Didn't really care by the end?
Cusack pissed me off at times, especially in the aforementioned bar scene.
I liked Luke Evans a lot in Immortals. I thought this was a step back. Or maybe misguided? I just thought he went...way too gung-ho for...what reason? The detective's intensity made no sense to me. Maybe a better director would have helped him. I also kept thinking he was Stephen Moyer's character in True Blood. I kept waiting for him to turn into a vampire. Now that would have been extreme.
May have mentioned this already, but Alice Eve impressed me the most.
This movie did afford me my first opportunity to see a death-by-pendulum prove successful. Cross that off the bucket-list?
What It's Good For:
-how not to write a good movie
-how to overact
-seeing someone killed by a pendulum, in a pit
-watching Luke Evans rage
-seeing John Cusack impersonate other actors
-inaccuracies like not getting Poe's facial hair right
-making me really wonder how McTeigue made V for Vedetta so good
-seeing some people get murdered
-does nothing spectacular
-the overall arch and pacing reminded me of watching Seth Rogen chasing Michael Cera in Superbad
-Poe-enthusiasts may be...mildly annoyed, ranging to full-on outraged
-me me want to watch other movies, like Saw and Pirates of the Caribbean, The Crow, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
-Luke Evans character's devolvement
% Character / % Actor's personality
Evans: Over 9,000/0
Gleeson: 70/30 (though typical Gleeson)
-Eve: She's Out of My League
-Movies based on writers: Shakespeare in Love; Kafka; Shadowlands; The Last Station; Adaptation; Capote
-Movies named after birds: The Crow; Birds; Batman & Robin (Don't watch this); The Maltese Falcon; Duck Soup