Buff Review Show- 78% Rum, 22% Swashbuckling
Finished! And before the rapture hits. I am glad. Time for a rum and coke.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
I think to best way describe the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is to liken it to completing a triathlon. After a strong and refreshing swim into new waters, the series started off brilliantly with ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’ in 2003. Then we were served up a large helping of uphill cycling with ‘Dead Man’s Chest’, which was to be part one of an epic two part pirate extravaganza, and after a bit of panting and puffing many fans got right the way through to the end, a little saddle sore, and ready for ‘At World’s End’. The 3rd Pirates film saw many start off with hope in their hearts that they’d get to the end okay, but a convoluted path and even longer distance to tread left many audience goers rolling on the floor clutching their chests and feeling a little exhausted. I personally have loved all three and can put up with the twisty-turny plots because that is somewhat the nature of piracy, and some of us are clearly more built for triathlons than others.
Anyway, I digress, and it would appear that I am trying to dodge the central issue that everyone is here for. Is the latest film, ‘On Stranger Tides’, good? Yes. Is it better than the first? No. Are they ever going to achieve such a feat? No. Jerry Bruckheimer struck gold with the first film, and will always be favourite in the hearts of anyone who’s seen it. And no amount of gold leaf and glistening Spanish cleavages stuck to any new film is going to help it exceed the first in the hearts of the fans.
So, let me review ‘On Stranger Tides’ for the film it is, and try not compare it to the first, or indeed any of the previous Pirates films that have come before it. Obviously there are reoccurring characters and plot threads here and there (although they have kept it relatively clean cut for a fresh start this time out). So a warm welcome to Captain Jack Sparrow and, newly re-titled and peg-legged, Commodore Barbosa, and also that funny bearded fellow who never seems to catch a break in these films. And that, really, is the extent to familiarity we have here. Oh, and Keith Richards makes his token cameo as well. For anyone who isn’t the faintest bit surprised by this news, I’d start expecting him to crop up in each and every film from now on.
Newcomers for this voyage into all things swashbuckling include Ian McShane as Captain Blackbeard, and Penelope Cruz as his daughter, Angelica. Filling the pirate-baddie shoes of Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones from the past two films is no small feat, as Davy Jones was equal parts evil and tragic, and was fleshed out rather well into a baddie whom we could all feel a little sorry for. Whereas Blackbeard just appears on his ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge (I’m expecting a ship in the next one to be named The Black Pig at this rate…) apparently having been told that a one legged man will kill him, and that the plan is to find the fountain of youth to try and fix this. It’s not the strongest I felt they could have done with the plot (which was, albeit briefly, hinted at in the final scene of ‘At Worlds End’), and a handful of secondary characters, human and somewhat more mythical, come and go to flesh things out, but really we’re only committed to Jack, Barbosa and just about to Angelica.
I felt Cruz was a good choice for the part, with her and Depp having some great scenes together, but I felt like something was missing from the performance throughout. Every time here and Jack had another tantric tête-à-tête it just felt like going through the motions, as oppose to the spontaneity I remember from the scenes with Depp and Kiera Knightley from the earlier films. I didn’t really feel for her in the same way that I didn’t really give a lick about Blackbeard and his quest to try and stop himself from an early death.
And since I have from the first scene he appeared in, Geoffrey Rush’s character of Barbosa is the most human and most interesting character still around in the franchise to date. I’m certain Johnny Depp’s agents will be writing me a very stern letter as we speak, but there are a couple of scenes in Stranger Tides that really make you feel for Barbosa and remember why we’ve been rooting for him, whereas Jack Sparrow becomes more of a charicature with each passing venture. I still enjoy the performances, but there is very little that makes Captain Jack a three-dimensional human in this one. His past life with Angelica is all rather quickly forced into the exposition, and although as we’ve come to expect he does the noble thing in the end, albeit for his own means, it doesn’t seem satisfying for me the fan.
Equally I am disappointed, as mentioned previously, with Blackbeard. I don’t think it’s Ian McShane’s fault, but the character just doesn’t seem menacing enough. He has some zombiefied crewman (yes, I know we’ve covered the undead before, but what has worked once will certainly be re-tread and milked to the last droplets of effect) whom are zombified because… well we don’t really know, and just have to take it as it is, but neither Captain nor crew seem as menacing as I perhaps expected. And all the previous traumatised and cursed crews have been more human for having been put under some curse or affliction that they wish they didn’t have, but the zombie dudes just get on with things and don’t seem to be any worse off for being undead, and might well have not been zombies at all.
Zombies are one of many other strange and wonderful oddities stuffed into this film like a sawdust and formaldehyde filled Kraken. Accompanying the undead crewmen are voodoo dolls, vampiric mermaids, ancient prophecies, London fops, the Spanish Inquisition (who’d’ve suspected them, after all), and of course the all important Fountain of Youth.
The film is a less CGI-heavy than the third instalment in the franchise, but replaces this with bad 3D trickery, which literally results in about two sword thrusts and a couple of cleavage shots from a mid-pregnancy Cruz. I shan’t make my usual rant about 3D here, having just made the same rant in my Thor review, but it seems 3D films need to be made, or shown, a shade or two lighter than their normal state, because the slightly tinted lenses of the 3D glasses make everything that much darker. This lead me to one rather hilarious outbreak of laughter in the cinema screen during a rather serious scene, in which I couldn’t tell if Barbosa was talking to Captain Jack or the trunk of a palm tree. Irritating, but fugging funny.
I don’t feel like I’ve been hornswaggled (pirate word) coming out of the film, I just wasn’t surprised by much of it, which I guess I should come to expect from sequels, but you know what, it’s still enjoyable, although a second viewing will be taken in 2D. The bonus scene at the end definitely keeps me interested for what they will do with Pirates 5, which will likely take place in Outer Space and feature a mummified narwhal whom races against Captain Jack et. al in the quest for the Shroud of Turin… I called it here first guys…