Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Redux)

Jack’s back, but does anyone care?

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) (Redux)

Not content with squeezing a bloated trilogy out of the already chafed udder of the Pirates cashcow, the producers moved on with a Jack Sparrow centric adventure a few years after. However, Bloom and Knightley wouldn’t return and Gore Verbinski wouldn’t be parking his arse in one of those comfy looking directors’ chairs. Mahogany and Beech not signing back up was a plus, but Verbinski leaving is a tough one. Dude’s a talented director and would need a fitting replacement. Enter Rob Marshall, director of some music videos and easily forgotten films doomed to gather dust in your Mum’s DVD collection (I mean, when was the last time you heard someone talk about Memoirs of a Geisha?). Having only seen On Stranger Tides once before, I was struck at how flat everything was shot (odd, considering this was the only Pirates flick fiilmed and released in 3D) and how fuckin’ bored I was during it. Anyway, obligatory plot rundown:

“Don’t be a fool, Jackie. The fountain will test you.”

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) travels to London, but upon arriving he hears tell that another Jack Sparrow is looking for a crew to commandeer a ship. Intrigued, Sparrow sets to confront the imposter. He then becomes part of a bigger plan to find the Fountain of Youth and finds himself under the command of legendary feared pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his first mate, daughter and old flame of Jack’s Angelica (Penélope Cruz). The race is on between Blackbeard, the British and Spanish navies to find the mythical fountain. Despite being clumsily set up in the last film, I was looking forward to a quest for the Fountain of Youth. However, it turns out to be a plodding exercise in mediocrity. Depp’s Sparrow can still be entertaining, but the schtick is tired and played out. He needs better lines and characterisation. Penélope Cruz does admirably in the role of Angelica, although the only thing she’s asked to do is play a stereotypical hot-blooded Latina woman. Ian McShane doesn’t really do much as Blackbeard. He’s not at fault though- the script doesn’t have any real interest in the character and he’s just there. Not exactly a baddie for the ages. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also returns, but he may as well be a different character. Once again, the writing lets him down as he’s a far cry from the character I liked in the previous films.

You may have noticed a few complaints about the script so far and I honestly can’t rag on it hard enough. It was doomed from the start as having Sparrow as the main character doesn’t work. It creates a divide between to the plot-serving emotional journey and the wacky goofball sides of him. As a result, we get a watered down character that has both sides pushed up to maximum in the hopes that you won’t notice and be reminded of the times when the act was charming. Remember when Jack was all bravado and escaped situations with a healthy dose of luck and opportunism? The writers don’t. Now he’s just a cocky knob who is consistently brilliant at everything he tries and must have powers of precognition. Which is much less interesting.  Quite why Elliot and Rossio weren’t shaken loose when they upended the franchise toy chest is beyond me. The one thing I will commend the film on is its stripped down approach. It’s much less convoluted than both of the previous sequels and has a better story focus. The story isn’t particularly great, but it’s there. None of this “getting bogged down in its own mysticism” bullshit to be found here.

The one element I liked was actually something a lot of reviewers singled out as one of the worst things about the film. I liked the little romance between the missionary Philip (Sam Clafin) and the captured mermaid Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Whilst their little courtship was tacked on purely because these films have to have one,  I found it more convincing than the Turner & Swann saga. He gets renewed faith in his dearest Lord plus he fancies her a bit and she learns that all humans aren’t bastards and she fancies him a bit. They both learn something and get something from the relationship. Makes sense to me. It may be indicative of the film’s problems that I latched on to what must be the C or D story rather than the main supposedly epic quest for the MacGuffin or the Angelica/Sparrow angle.

Even the action’s not particularly good. There’s a bright spot when the crew are attacked by mermaids, but that’s about it. There’s plenty of swordfighting, but we’ve seen all this shit before. The apparent lack of energy or creativity with the camera (Marshall, you scallywag) exacerbates things too. Never will you be more away that you’re watching actors playfight on a set. I just didn’t care about anything and wanted to shut it off in favour of something that tries harder.

“Gentlemen, the fountain is the prize. Mermaid waters, that be our path.”

On Stranger Tides is just as bad as At World’s End, but in different ways. Stranger Tides has a clearer plot and isn’t as indulgent as At World’s End, but the story it went with was dull. At World’s End at least had some creativity here and there whereas On Stranger Tides has an air of a run-of-the-mill Hollywood production line product about it. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s not good either. I’m a great believer in franchises redeeming themselves (the Fast and Furious films) so here’s hoping that 2015’s Pirates 5 has a better crack at the whip. Having said that. a cursory glance at the film’s IMDB page reveals that it’s directed by two fellas I’ve never heard of and that Elliot and Rossio are back on writing duties.  I can already feel the dread starting to build.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (Redux)

At my wit’s end,  more like! (pause for laughter) (laughter never comes) (sad now)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) (Redux)

My attention span ain’t what it used to be. Since I’ve owned a smartphone, I’ve caught myself on numerous occasions not paying attention to the film I’ve just put on in lieu of checking Twitter, my texts or even IMDB trivia about the film I’m meant to be watching. Thankfully, I’ve mostly put a stop to this, but I’m not sure I would have survived another viewing of At World’s End without my precious phone. Although it’s hard to get official figures on it, thanks to Hollywood accounting and the like, At World’s End is considered the most expensive film ever made (unadjusted for inflation) at a whopping $300 million. My question is this: why the leaping Christ did they not drive any of that cheddar into improving the writing? Dear Lord, the term “clusterfuck” hardly seems to do it justice. Anyway- getting ahead of myself here.

“I have no sympathy for any of you feculent maggots and no more patience to pretend otherwise. Gentlemen, I wash my hands of this weirdness.”

Leading on from Dead Man’s Chest, Will (Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the newly resurrected Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) et al. have to travel to Davy Jones’ Locker to rescue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) because of reasons. Along the way, they encounter Pirate lord Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and have to avoid Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who is now under the command of Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). There’s some other stuff too, but in all honesty, you’ve probably seen the sodding thing multiple times over like I have. I really don’t know where to begin with this. For starters, it’s way too fucking long, clocking in at close to three hours. Secondly, both Bloom and Knightley reach new levels of ligneous guffery. Not sure about Bloom, but Knightley has done actual acting elsewhere, so I don’t know why she’s taking leave of all believable emotions here. Hell, even Depp’s charm is wearing thin by this point. He seems to have been encouraged to amp the wackiness up to Looney Tune levels. There are several Multiplicity-like scenes where multiple Sparrows all try to out-gurn each other and I found it painful to sit through. There’s even a little angel/devil on the shoulders scene. I mean, come on! There are a few saving graces, however. Rush’s Barbossa is still a delight to watch, Bill Nighy continues being fantastic as Davy Jones and Hollander’s quintessentially English tea-drinking baddie is fun and a better villain than the film deserves.  Jack Davenport also merits a mention, but he isn’t really given enough to do to leave any significant mark on the film.

Motivation is one of the essential things when talking about characters. Whether their purposes are for good/evil/whatever, it’s important to make them clear (unless obscuring them is the whole point) in order for an audience to connect with them. I’ve seen At World’s End a bunch of times and I still couldn’t tell you what the shit is going on. Everyone seems to be selling everyone out but not really, except when they are anddearLordmakeitstop. Add in a bunch of mysticism and talk of destiny and you’ve got a fine mess on your hands. It’s hard to get a handle on who’s doing what and why and, more importantly, why you should give a damn. Why they wanted to make everything so damn convoluted in a film that’s meant to appeal to families I don’t know. In any case, it gave me a headache.

Actually, the the family target audience brings me to another point. The tone is all over the place. We open on a mass hanging and it gets worse from there. The opening is especially brutal as a young boy gets the ol’ short drop and a sudden stop. Y’see kids have a habit of instantly relating to other kids on screen. It’s why so many kiddie films are packed with the little buggers. I imagine there were a few worried glances between parents when that scene played out. The whole film has forgotten its fun, swashbuckling origins and replaced it with CGI-tastic epic battles and mugging at the camera. Making weak gags amidst huge battle sequences is not the same as having a consistent light-hearted tone. Then again, consistency in regards to anything is one of this film’s massive failings.

Elizabeth really bugged me in this one. Answer me this: when did she become a warrior woman? There were hints of it in Dead Man’s Chest, but now she’s perfectly capable of standing her ground with experienced swordsmen. I’m a big fan of women kicking arse, but it just doesn’t make any sense, even with the loopy logic of the films. Plus, the whole “pirate king” thing is ludicrous. I almost cringed myself inside out when it came time for Swann to deliver a “rousing” speech to the assembled crews. She sounded more like a bitchy head girl bollocking her dowdy doormat friend for daring to show up to the school dance in the same colour outfit as her.

I will say this though- the effects are genuinely amazing. Whilst they skimped on coherent writers and actors who could act, they certainly didn’t pinch pennies when it came to the visuals. I love Shipwreck Cove- a pirate meeting place made up of dozens of broken and dilapidated ships. The “up is down” twisty-turny bit is jaw-dropping. The climactic Maelstrom sequence is also very well done and the sheer fun spectacle of watching two ships frag the living fuck out of each other in a gigantic swirling whirlpool wins the film some big points. Having said that, it’s really difficult to give a crap about what’s going on. Still a top-notch tech demo though.

Before I end this review I will mention a few little odds and ends I liked, lest you mistake me for the usual kind of internet critic that either loves something unconditionally or hates it with the very core of their being. I’ve got a new favourite fish-person, for one. The moray eel fella who can retract his head inside his body and bites people in the face is bloody awesome. Shame he only gets a few seconds of screen time. I quite like the Keith Richards cameo as Jack’s dad, but I think I like the idea more than the reality. It’s like when they officially made May 4th “Star Wars Day”- it sort of ruins the joke. Barbossa’s constantly interrupted marrying of Will and Elizabeth is also amusing and one of the few genuine laughs I got from the film. I also dig Cutler Beckett’s slow motion walk-whilst-everything-fucking-explodes death, although it’s not quite as good as I remember it. It’s a decent send off to a great baddie though and the final shot of his lifeless body landing and being enveloped by a floating East India Trading Co. flag is pretty damn memorable.

“Nobody move! I’ve dropped me brain.”

So, At World’s End. It’s goddamn boring is what it is. It’s a hypermegaclusterfuck of half-baked ideas, clunky writing and awkward tonal shifts in a shiny wrapper. It’s a shame the sequel apple fell so far from the Curse of the Black Pearl tree. It’s a testament to excess and highlights the very worst of blockbuster filmmaking. I think Sparrow himself said it best: “It is neither proper nor suitable, sir. It is not acceptable, nor adequate. It is, in obvious fact, an abomination.”

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (Redux)

Back on track with the LADathon with the second Pirates flick. More on the way.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) (Redux)

With Curse of the Black Pearl becoming a big hit worldwide, sequels were inevitable. Disney opted to film Pirates 2 and 3 back-to-back with Dead Man’s Chest being released in 2006. I’ve seen Dead Man’s Chest many times, but in rewatching it to do this redux, I realised that 1) I couldn’t remember large stretches of it and 2) it wasn’t as bad as I previously thought.

“Jones’ terrible leviathan will find you, and drag the Pearl back to the depths and you along with it!”

Following on from Curse of the Black Pearl, our two lead planks Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) are due to be married, but all is cut short when newly appointed Lord Beckett (Tom Hollander) claps them in irons for aiding and abetting Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sparrow has problems of his own, however, as his debt to the fearsome legendary Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) is due to be paid and if he doesn’t comply, he’ll face the wrath of the massive,  multi-tentacled Kraken, capable of sinking entire fleets of ships. Having my preconceptions when I sat down to review it good an’ proper, I had loaded my shitcannons and was ready to work the film over from the barebones up. Why are these characters doing these things? What’s her motivation? Is his story arc satisfactorily concluded? etc. However, it’s actually a well-constructed film. On a base level, there are very few criticisms that I could find to level at it.  Motivations make sense, the story’s structured strongly and everything that’s set up pays off for the most part. So, why the three stars at the bottom of the page? Well, just because it’s functional doesn’t mean it’s brilliant. It’s way too fucking long at 151 mins and it’s as self-indulgent as mashing caviar on your nipples and ordering several exquisite eunuchs to lick it off. More of that in a minute.

Bloom and Knightley haven’t improved between films. Whilst their wooden “acting” got a free pass last time, it becomes more of a problem this time as both are given more to do. Of the newcomers, I love Tom Hollander’s Beckett who has free reign to be the bastard that Davenport’s Norrington wasn’t allowed to be. Bill Nighy’s octopus-faced Davy Jones is a cracking villain too. The production design on Jones and the crew of the Flying Dutchman, including the ship itself is remarkable. There are all sorts of odd sea creature/man hybrids to goggle at and they’re all fantastically realised. Whilst I like the hammerhead shark fella and the guy who just seems to have an oyster for a head and no discernible mouth, my favourite is the pufferfish lad. We don’t get to see him puff up when he’s stressed or angry though. Missed opportunity. I have to give credit where credit’s due, it’s refreshing that they didn’t try to just rehash Black Pearl and actually went for something a bit different. The merits of where they went with it is debatable, but in the age of a widespread “fuck it, that’ll do” attitude towards sequels, it’s a good thing. The scale and scope is considerably bigger this time round. The effects have been stepped up and at times border on the photo-realistic. The Kraken scenes are my favourites. Just the image of a ship being ensnared by huge tentacles is straight off an old nautical map. It’s great to see it on screen and it’s surprisingly unsettling.

I was racking my brain trying to figure out why this film isn’t as successful as its predecessor. There were things I noticed that didn’t work, such as the dialogue not being nearly as sharp this time round and some real weaksauce gags slipping through the net, but none of them were film killers. It all came to me watching the three-way swordfight between Norrington, Sparrow and Will. Firstly, the film is too convoluted and indulgent for its own good- so much so, that they have Mackenzie Crook’s Ragetti explain each man’s motivation whilst the fight’s going on as a refresher course to Pintel and therefore the audience. If you have to have a character dump exposition all in one go like that, you’re not doing a very good job telling a story. Secondly, and most importantly, I realised I was having fun as I watched the three men fight in and on a rolling waterwheel. Not only that, it seems like a scene that’d be completely at home in the first film. Dead Man’s Chest lacks the consistent sense of fun and swashbuckling adventure that Black Pearl had in abundance.  Much like Jack Sparrow, the film doesn’t know what it wants and flits between all sorts of conflicting things. The tone is erratic throughout and as such you end up not quite knowing how to react to it.

“Life is cruel. Why should the afterlife be any different?”

Dead Man’s Chest isn’t a bad sequel by any means. It moves its characters on, brings in some great villains and takes us to new and exciting places. It just isn’t as enjoyable as it should be. A sense of fun can make up for a hell of a lot, but Dead Man’s Chest has it in fits and starts, coupled with some surprisingly dark shit for a family friendly film (the poor bastard who has his face sucked clean off by the Kraken comes to mind.) It’s entertaining enough, but it gets too bogged down in its own mysticism and taking itself seriously to really cut loose and live a little.

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