Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Since this is over a week out from the release date, it's probably too late to urge anyone NOT to see this movie in 3D. Audiences have apparently gone overwhelmingly for the traditional format, so perhaps the warning isn't necessary. It actually was filmed in 3D, so it probably looks better than most, especially some of the beautiful daylight scenes, but a LOT of this movie takes place at night. And since 3D makes the picture dimmer, that means it's REALLY dark. So if you haven't seen it yet, skip the 3D.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

So, I guess the cool thing for all the cool kids to do in CoolTown is hate on this new Pirates movie. As such, I guess I'm just uncool.

Because I really enjoyed it. A lot.

That's not to say it doesn't have problems, and it's certainly my least favorite installment (though I loved 2 and 3, so your mileage may vary). But it's still a Pirates movie. It still feels very in character with that world. Jack is very Jack. Hector is very Hector (except when ... no no, that's spoiler territory). And the biggest new addition, Edward Teach (a.k.a. Blackbeard), is as epic a pirate as the best of them. Oh, and there is a handsome shirtless young man, which no entry in this franchise should EVER be without.

We begin with the Spanish and the start of their quest to find the Fountain of Youth. This was, admittedly, a little hastily conceived and could have been given more weight. We then make for London, where we're reunited with Jack (in the type of reveal we've come to expect) and Gibbs, who is the only crew member left from the old crowd (we shall see in the fullness of time what presumably became of the others).

The main plot is deceptively simple. Everyone and their brother is out to reach the Fountain of Youth. Our major players are Barbossa, who seems to be working as a privateer for the King of England (Richard Griffiths) in his race to beat Spain to the prize; Spain, of course, though we see very little of them; and the famous dread pirate Blackbeard (played to wonderful piratey perfection by Ian McShane, who will always be Judas Iscariot to me, but that's beside the point). Oh, and Captain Jack Sparrow is in the mix, though he actually has little interest in the Fountain (though that's not what everyone else has heard - look, this is the Pirates franchise, it's complicated, okay?).

Add to this the impossibly beautiful Penelope Cruz, playing Angelica - a former flame of Sparrow's who may or may not be Blackbeard's daughter. Daughter or not, she's still his first mate. A lot of people seem to have problems with her (both in this film and in general) but I thought she was fine, neither wonderful nor horrible. She has a good chemistry with Depp, but it's put to better use in another film (2001's Blow, if you're curious). Jack, for his part, may or may not have had ... feelings for her. But make no mistake - Jack's true love is himself, and he even says so at the end of the movie (love that line, but I think a lot of viewers are missing it). Blackbeard, by the way, has some black magic mojo going on, and not just around his eyes - he has powers over his ship (and others, apparently) that seem to emanate from his sword, he's zombified several crew members, and he has dabbled in dopples voodoo. I love the implications of these powers and who they eventually pass to.

Contrary to what most of us have always probably thought, it takes more than simply drinking from the Fountain of Youth to receive its full effects. There is a ritual (I loved Jack's response to being asked if he believed in the supernatural - oh yes, he's seen his share). It takes two special chalices and one tear. A tear from a mermaid, no less. I felt the introduction to mermaids and what they are like in this universe was mishandled. We're given the tease of White Cap Bay first and just expected to accept that mermaids are something to be afraid of, and then in a later scene we get the explanation of why they're scary. The explanation should have come first, in my opinion, because most people don't think of mermaids as terribly scary - even the spear-wielding ones in Harry Potter.

There's no Will and Elizabeth, but there's still a romantic subplot with a missionary and a mermaid. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the film and the chief redeeming portion of the interminable island hike segment. There were a lot of useless or pointless scenes here, perhaps none more so than Blackbeard's attempt at Russian roulette. I kind of hated Jack for playing games about diving off the cliff, just because it led to this. :P

There weren't many truly spectacular set pieces in this movie, and certainly nothing like the more iconic scenes in the other films (the moonlight reveal, the underwater walk, the mill wheel, the Kraken, and the absurd final ship battle in AWE). Jack's chase on top of carriages across London was a bit lackluster, but his sword fight with "himself" wasn't. I really loved Blackbeard hanging the mutineers from the rigging and Jack's escape up the trunk of a palm tree. And most of the third act was pretty incredible, if you ask me. I especially loved how director Rob Marshall envisioned the actual Fountain and the entrance to it. Oh, and LOL at Jack's suggestion that everyone else hang back, have some drinks, and place bets, while Barbossa and Blackbeard duke it out just between the two of them.

This film was less about spectacle and more about character and story, which I thought was a welcome step back from the increasingly ludicrous (though admittedly entertaining) antics of the second and third films. I enjoyed it immensely, and even went back to see it a second time. I feel it's also worthy of a DVD buy and a place on my shelf along with the other three. True, Marshall didn't add anything special to this franchise, but nor did he ruin it (as some people seem to believe, judging from some overemotional responses I've seen).

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