Saturday, May 28, 2011
Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides
"Pirates of the Caribbean 4" is kind of a milestone for me, because now I can officially declare 3D to be dead. After "Thor", where an extra ten dollars for those stupid glasses for basically nothing, I am absolutely done with this movie fad. I can name three moments in movies where 3D actually made it better: all of "Drive Angry", the balloons in "Rapunzel", and the flying in "How to Train Your Dragon". That's it. Even when its done well its entirely unnecessary, and the extra ticket price is never worth it. So I am in protest now - until 3D movies cost as much as regular ones and actually manage to deliver a better movie experience, I will not see another movie in 3D again.
So onto my grand gamble: was "Pirates 4" any good? Well, to what was my real surprise, I actually rather liked "On Stranger Tides". I like all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, its my favorite film franchise of the last decade. Jack Sparrow is awesome, the action is crazy, and the plots are just as wild and mixed-up. Its my kind of film. Despite everything, I actually think I want to see a "Pirates 5".
At the opening of "Thor" I suddenly had a deep feeling of dread in my heart. Like "Oh my God, I'm watching goddamn Thor, what is wrong with me?" I didn't get that feeling here, and I honestly I thought this movie would be bad and that one would be good. Ultimately I guess, you just gotta follow your heart.
I think we can all agree that "Pirates of the Caribbean 1: Curse of the Black Pearl" was one of the best movies of the last decade. It had everything: high swashbuckling adventure, Kira Knightley looking fine, zombie pirate villains, Geoffrey Rush properly hamming it up as Barbarossa, and of course, Jack Sparrow. Some people don't like how the characters Will and Elizabeth are such serious figures when compared to Jack, the fun silly rogue, but I never minded them. I mean, some people just hate Orlando Bloom, but I never fully understood why Will and Elizabeth are so despised. They have roles to play, Jack has his too. I really liked the sequels too, even the much maligned third installment "At World's End". The whole complex shifting alliance business was really interesting to me, it kept the story unpredictable and away from formula. But by the end of "World's End" even I was done with the Pirates franchise. They was just a bit too much silliness, too many throw-back jokes. Not to mention that the story was very definitively over: Will and Elizabeth were together, Jack had a new mission in life, and everybody could sail into the sunset. I thought the Pirates franchise managed to wrap up at the perfect time: just when it was getting stale it concluded.
Now here's "Pirates 4". You can tell I had reservations. There has never been any film franchise to make a good fourth installment. Never. Notice that Star Wars started to get bad right at "Phantom Menace" the fourth movie? "Indiana Jones 4" is another terrible example. And as for limping franchises, like Pirates of the Caribbean pretty much is, a fourth movie is the final killer. Like "Superman 4: The Quest for Peace" or "Jaws 4: The Revenge", both some of the worst movies ever made. What was the worst Saw movie? "Saw IV". Oh wait, it was actually "Saw 3D"... which is part of the reason I never want to watch a 3D movie again. Luckily "Pirates 4" averts the trend is a decent enough batch of entertainment for an afternoon. No classic, but entertaining.
So after the events of the third movie, most of the old Pirates of the Caribbean cast has been wiped out. Will and Elizabeth of course are out. Norrington is dead, the voodoo chick is now Calypso, Davy Jones is dead, Elizabeth's dad is dead, and for some reason those two comic relief pirates have disappeared (died off-screen I think). Its basically a whole new cast taking over this time, with only Jack Sparrow, his sidekick Gibbs, and Barbarossa making up the old guard. Even the Black Pearl is gone, killing the one piece of visual continuity that kept these films together. No Tortuga, no Port Royal. This film should have been called "Jack Sparrow: the Movie", its really that different from the other Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
So here's the new characters: Jack needs a love interest because he's the hero now, so they roped in the very lovely Penelope Cruz to be a female swashbuckler. Jack's first love interest, Anamaria from the first movie is still lost to Davy Jones' Locker without explanation. The main villain is now the legendary Blackbeard, played Ian McShane, a man so good at playing villains that I wonder if he's a serial killer or something in real life. Penelope Cruz turns out to be Blackbeard's surprisingly loyal daughter. The goal this time is the Fountain of Youth*, which Jack was looking for at the end of the third movie. The Black Pearl is gone, Barbarossa has turned Privateer for England. By the way, King George III of England is "Futurama"'s Hedonism-Bot come to life, you will not believe your eyes. On board Blackbeard's boat is the new Will Turner, a stale boring White guy hero character who is just as terrible as everybody accused Orlando Bloom of being. I never caught his name, but he's a missionary that falls in love with a mermaid in the worst subplot ever. Between Blackbeard, Penelope Cruz, and Barbarossa, Jack Sparrow has been forced into a wild chase adventure for the Fountain of Youth... and he really doesn't care.
Jack Sparrow is not really all that interested in the Fountain of Youth here, or any of the warring factions. Between Blackbeard, the English, and a random Spanish armada full of unimportant characters, Jack could take them all or leave them. He only really gets violent when dealing with an impostor of himself. I had real worries if Jack Sparrow could carry the dramatic weight of being a hero, so the way the movie handles it is to just place him in a situation where he isn't all that concerned. He's roped into the plot by being kidnapped a lot, he's the most reluctant hero ever. What he wants is basically Penelope Cruz and the Black Pearl which Blackbeard has managed to shrink down into a bottle using Pirate Magic. Since the Fountain of Youth requires a human sacrifice, audience's would hate Jack Sparrow if went for it, so he can't want the McGuffin. Its odd, but it works in Jack Sparrow's odd sort of way.
"Pirates 4" ultimately is a really uneven film, I'm sorry to say. The opening action scenes in London are great, and the bit with an army of killer mermaids is pretty cool**, but other than that the movie doesn't have all that much great action. Blackbeard has a ship with twin flamethrowers at the front and he can control ropes and rigging to strangle people, but he never gets a chance to use any of this stuff. And the final conclusion isn't all that great either, since Jack hides the entire time. They were trying to avoid the unbelievable silliness of "At World's End"'s giant whirlpool battle, and ended up with a final fight scene that isn't all that good. There's none of the epicness of the other movies there. Plus the movie's pacing has some issues. The scenes with that goddamn priest are intolerable. I could not care less about his love affair with a mermaid. Oh, and the entire system of getting the Fountain of Youth to work is way too complicated, seemingly designed only to make the movie longer for no good reason. Then there's the issue that there's no sea battle in this whole movie. What they wanted in "Pirates 4" was a less bloated movie that was a lot shorter than the others... but they wound up cutting some key stuff. I really wish this movie were longer. But somehow or another, it all just came together in the end for me. And I really wanted to see more of this, which is amazing since I was certain that "At World's End" had tired this horse out.
Part of the reason why I might have really liked the ending is because the mermaid drags the priest down into the sea where he dies horribly as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, they say in the movie that a mermaid's kiss can stop you from drowning, but screw that. This aint "Splash" and the priest aint Tom Hanks - that cat is dead. He went Under the Sea and was eaten by all the mermaids. Ariel herself cut the first slice.
I really don't know where the Pirates movies can go from here, but honestly I'm once again interested. Here I thought this was the last sputter of life from a dead franchise, and yet somehow it managed to really surprise me as to how good it was. Even Pirates of the Caribbean at its worst - which this sadly was - is still a really fun movie, much better than "Thor" or any other Superhero hunk of crap. What makes this story really sad is now that I'm in such a big Pirates of the Caribbean mood I would like to play a video game based on this. But Kingdom Hearts has been ignoring these movies lately (instead deciding to redo old worlds in bad cash-ins) and "Armada of the Damned" the interesting video game from last year's E3 was cruel canceled. There's always Lego Pirates of the Caribbean... but who the Hell wants to play another Lego game? At least this movie itself has done well, so there is some hope for a "Pirates 5".
Still, I gotta say, if this is the end of Jack Sparrow's journey, it was a nice little epilogue adventure to the last three movies.
* Honestly this whole Fountain of Youth business sounds like a better idea for an Indiana Jones movie, and the ending is extremely Indiana Jones. Too bad instead of a Fountain of Youth movie we got "Crystal Skull", goddamn it. Indiana Jones still had so much to find: Excalibur, the Golden Fleece, the Spear of Destiny, the Philosopher's Stone, Atlantis, and the Garden of Eden. All wasted.
** The whole killer mermaid business here is a shameless ripoff of a B-movie called "She-Creature" from 2001. That movie is actually really really good for a B-movie, I'd give it a rent if you could. I'm not joking here, its like exact. The whole movie they carry around a mermaid in a glass case, I was waiting for her to transform into this and eat that lame priest-guy.