Although the franchise managed to secure celebrity cameos from a pair of rock legends, neither of these appearances improved the movies they appeared in. None of the could replicate the success of 2003’s original hit, . The muddled, surprisingly dark tone of the sequels and their needlessly convoluted plotting was often cited as the biggest issues with the original trilogy, but the fourth and fifth movies in the series largely jettisoned these elements and still ended up being even bigger critical failures.
Something about proved impossible for the creators of the movies to replicate, resulting in increasingly desperate attempts to keep the series relevant and interesting in later sequels. While Jack Sparrow never had a love interest in the original trilogy, in the fourth movie he was paired up with Penelope Cruz's Angelica for much of the sequel’s runtime. Meanwhile, while was largely comprised of less well-known actors (outside of the central trio), the sequels were stuffed with extraneous cameos.
Some of these cameo appearances were easier to excuse than others. Casting Chow Yun Fat as Captain Sao Fen made sense for despite the brevity of the role, thanks to the actor’s extraordinary pedigree as a Hong Kong action star. However, other cameo roles were far harder for the franchise to justify, especially regarding celebrity cameos outside of the realms of actors. Both Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney of The Beatles ended up playing minor parts in the successful action-adventure series, but were their cameo roles a good idea? Upon reflection, it is clear that the answer is no, as the was ill-equipped to add rock musicians to the already-overstuffed cast of the franchise.
In 2007’s, Keith Richards appears as Jack’s father, the Pirate Lord Captain Teague. He and Jack have a stiff, awkward conversation that implies the duo is estranged but also confirms that there isn’t much meaningful bad blood between them. It is a rare moment where Depp’s perpetually slick antihero seems at a loss, unsure of himself and unable to come up with witty quips to distract his father. Meanwhile, in 2017’s , Paul McCartney shows up as Jack’s previously-unseen uncle who, confusingly, is also named Jack. McCartney’s role is shorter and less tonally jarring but serves even less narrative function than Richards’s role.
Richards’s is a weird addition, since his existence and status as a Pirate Lord makes Jack the equivalent of pirate royalty. That doesn’t really track with the scoundrel depicted in the movies, who is infamous but not feared or respected by his peers. Jack’s whole modus operandi relies on the character himself not being tied down to any individual love interest, place, or even friend for too long — which doesn’t really gel with him having an extremely successful, famous, and influential father. The sheer fame and influence of Captain Teague mean that the Pirate Lord could presumably have intervened in any of Jack’s earlier scrapes if he chose, which deflates the mythos around the character.
The movies struggled to give for much the same reason, since a romance would humanize the character and Jack was always intended to be a larger-than-life cartoon. Fascinatingly, cut a far stronger scene that offered an insight into Jack’s essential humanity when Beckett confronted Jack about double-crossing him and failing to transport a ship full of slaves years earlier. When Jack tells Beckett that people aren’t cargo, viewers get a clear insight into his moral code without the movie making his reputation as a rebel feel any less earned. In contrast, when Jack gets a dressing down from his aging father, he doesn’t seem any more human than before but does seem far less detached and feckless than viewers were previously informed. This would be okay if the series used this as a reason to flesh out the character further, but the never mention his father again.
The issue with McCartney’s cameo is a lot simpler than Richard’s role as Captain Teague. While Teague’s status as Jack’s father sabotaged Jack’s lone wolf image, there always needed to be a final Pirate Lord, and some actor was always going to fulfill this necessary role in the movie’s plot. In contrast, McCartney’s part as Uncle Jack is completely pointless. While Richards’ character manages to mess up Jack’s persona via his existence, McCartney’s character has no reason to exist in the first place. He adds nothing to the movie’s plot and doesn’t serve any purpose, with the arrival of even inadvertently implying that McCartney’s Uncle Jack may die on the gallows soon after his appearance (since he asked Sparrow to put in a good word for him and Sparrow's execution was derailed before he could do so).
The biggest issue with both Keith Richards and Paul McCartney’s cameo roles in the movies may have less to do with the specifics of their characters and more to do with the nature of their roles. Not only did not necessarily need any celebrity cameos, but the fact that most of the franchise’s cast is comprised of character actors made the sudden appearance of two massively famous rock stars all the more distracting and tonally jarring. While Ian MacShane’s Blackbeard and may have been cases of the series successfully introducing moderately famous faces to the lineup of the franchise, both of these screen veterans were best known as actors and played major villainous roles that were clearly defined.
In contrast, both Richards and McCartney play ill-defined riffs on their real-life stage personae. The appearances play like an excuse for Depp’s famous friends to appear in the series rather than additions that expand on the lore of the movies, resulting in both celebrity cameo characters feeling superfluous, and their plots seeming pointless upon a re-watch. Ultimately, the issue with the roles that Paul McCartney and Keith Richards play in the movies comes down to the fact that not every movie needs cameos from real-life famous people, particularly lavish period piece productions set hundreds of years ago.