Pirates of the Caribbean

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Once again Disney sets sail with another installment in the hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. With their fifth film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush reprise their roles as Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa, respectively. Also staring are newcomers to the franchise, Javier Bardem as Armando Salazar, Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth. Also featuring Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, following their absence from the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

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Much grumbling was done with regards to the second film in this three part adventure series.  The low expectation and incredible payoff of the first film made the second, written specifically to accompany this the third, bound to disappoint.  My readers know that I found #2 (Dead Man’s Chest) to be action packed, funny, and fun.  I knew there had to be unfinished business (see also: Lord of the Rings Two Towers and The Empire Strikes Back) so I wasn’t bothered by the non-ending.  Nothing in that film confused me, which was a complaint I heard a lot after the second film- I found it very straightforward.

That said, if you though that 2 was confusing, muddled, or that it sacrificed the original’s wit for “everyone’s a pirate” multiple plot lines, then you should definitely not see World’s End.  Number three gives no brook to those who did not rewatch 2 before this month, nor does it slow down its relentless pace to help you catch up.  There’s action, plenty of it, more than you think, in meticulously staged set pieces, but the humor is mostly gone.  Where we should have 3 movies’™ worth of chuckling affection we have zero.  What began as a jiggery caper of like-minded folk becomes here all out war.  World’s End has all the trappings of a war movie (which is great if you’re Clint Eastwood) – but this is a comedy-action epic franchise, with romantic and/or comical skullduggery and hot guys fencing.  Now we have grim hopelessness, lips pressed and brows furrowed, suspicious glances and dastardly facial hair.  It’s very dark, very serious; in taking itself so seriously, Pirates of the Caribbean has (have?) lost sight of why we love the chaotic neutral glory that is Captain Jack Sparrow.  (Hint: it’s not because he’s a brilliant and well-connected tactician.)

Sparrow (Johnny Depp) gets a golden opportunity to mine some delicious, esoteric comedy out of his role while he limbos around at World’s End, awaiting his compatriots.  This is funny, but it could be even funnier.  I can’t see where it slipped up, except in making the end of the world a deadly serious place.

My companion and I, unbeknownst to each other as it was happening, mentally checked out of a scene or two because we couldn’t follow/justify/comprehend the double crosses, backstabbings, hidden agendas, or allegiance flippery.  We both glazed over, enjoyed the ridiculously excellent production design and our giant popcorn, secure in the knowledge that by the end, everyone will be where they need to be to make the ending happen.  Is that a spoiler?  Not really; I had one surprise by the end but overall I was just waiting for the finale that had been inevitable after the 2 hour mark of Dead Man’s Chest and grooving on the production values.  I missed the jokes and carefree spirit of the crew of the Black Pearl.  I missed the simple pleasures of the walking id that is Jack bumping into the consequences of his nature.  I enjoyed the action, wondered at the twin pillars of extreme female liberation and extreme chauvinism, but I’ll probably not see it again.  I mourn the damage the sequels may have done to the still-impressive excellence of the original, but I am glad I got to see some of these elaborate sequences.
MPAA Rating  PG-13
Release date 5/25/07
Time in minutes 205
Director  Gore Verbinski
Studio Buena Vista Pictures

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

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When we all walked into the theatre of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, we probably all had pretty low expectations. A director who basically only weirdos like me had heard of, helming an adaptation of a corny but beloved 1960’s ride at Disneyland? I mean, seriously? We walked out nominating Johnny Depp for an Oscar and a cult was born. Every time you pop that DVD in, it’s a stop what you’re doing and sit on the couch and relive the fun kind of movie. So, expectations for this sequel are way higher than knee-high on a mermaid. My dear and constant readers, this movie kicks total butt. I was mentally shoving DVDs aside on the shelf to make room for this one before the second reel had finished.

What are the cardinal rules of sequels? More of the same (the stuff that worked), and more of everything else. New stuff to excite us, old stuff to make us clap with happiness and recognition, and bigger, please. And, my personal addendum, the movie still has to stand on its own. Did director Gore Verbinski do it? Oh yes he did. Depp’s Jack Sparrow is the amoral, untrustworthy self-preservationist sea dog we love, Will Turner is a purely motivated hero, and Elizabeth Swann is feistier than he deserves. The gang is back (even handsome Jack Davenport!), and while there is less hilarity, there is enough, and plenty of action and mayhem to fill in the gaps. At a bladder-challenging 145 minutes, it’s still packed to the gills, but never feels rushed or lazy. Lazy? No way. These people are working HARD.

You’ve seen by the preview that we get to meet the legendary Davy Jones (not the Monkee), played by the inimitable Bill Nighy. Despite having an hexadecioctopus for a head, Nighy’s insanely interesting performance still comes through clear as day. He and his crew are a visually delicious bunch of barnacle and coral encrusted bunch – where the makeup ends and the CGI begins is a topic I hope they spend much time on for the special features on the DVD. I want to see the movie again just to watch them, since I was distracted by the three criss-crossing plot points.

Hans Zimmer’s swashbuckling score gets used again, pounding excitement into scenes that are already pretty bloody exciting. Verbinski wisely brought back everything that works; so many sequels mistake what they thought the audience loved about the original and end up gutting the whole franchise (see: nearly every sequel). He touches on key notes of delight from Curse of the Black Pearl and then brings on the cannibals and hoodoo and the Flying Dutchman and – oh my word! I’m out of breath. It’s fun, relentless fun, a terrific adventure. I should warn you; there’s a third movie already in the can, and let’s just say this one doesn’t quite tie up all nice and tidy because of that. Stay through the credits for a little treat as well. This is the Lord of the Rings of pirate movie franchises, and it’s a total treat.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/7/06
Time in minutes 145
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio Buena Vista/Disney

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

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At first I thought, “Really? Full Price Feature? That seems extreme.” Then, when I sat down to tell you, Constant Readers, about the film, well, I couldn’t find anything wrong with it. I had a great time and immediately want to see it again. That’s pretty much the definition of Full Price Feature, isn’t it? And yes, full price in this economy! It should also be noted that Gore Verbinski is officially my favorite director. His gift for amazing set pieces continues here, aided by his unique (and that of his cinematographer, Dariusz Wolski) eye for composition. Don’t scoff when you peruse his filmography; this man knows how to tell a story and how to show it. It’s 143 minutes long and it flies by!

A few movies have managed to be based on absolutely nothing, and make absolutely fantastic feature films. One very clear example is Clue, based on the Parker Brothers board game. Conversely, movies based on a long, deep oeuvre of material sometime manage to come out pretty much content-free…for example, Star Trek Nemesis. Thankfully, Pirates follows the Clue model. Yes, yes, I know the ride has a plot of some kind, almost impossible to follow what with the 36-year-old recording playing under the noise of the ride. Forget all that. You’ll get your sly nods to the ride without really depending on it at all. The movie is fun to watch and funny as well.

Orlando Bloom is sweet, lovelorn Will Turner, who loves lady fair Keira Knightley of old. Their lives were joined by fate and piracy, and it is fate and piracy (in the form of hilariously cocky Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow) that keeps them together. Watch for Jonathan Pryce as well. The triangle avoids most conventional narrative traps, thankfully, and the dynamics between the trio balance and tilt just so to keep you awake and amused. The film hearkens back to the pirate films of yore, when it wasn’t about dressing up a conventional action movie in gunner coats and a tricorn, but about adventure, really about pirates as a group. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. would have truly enjoyed watching this movie.

Depp reported in an interview that he was channeling Keith Richards in his performance, and I have to say, it works. He’s always a joy to watch and this film is no exception. Geoffrey Rush sheds his joyless Quills persona and camps it up as the captain of the Black Pearl, and my god, he’s fun again at last. Bloom and Depp are both terribly swoony boys, as most ladies with a pulse know, but they also have great onscreen chemistry and clearly are having great fun. When the cast has fun, we all have fun – and it doesn’t hurt that we have a fun story, super extra groovy cool evil pirates, and a zombie monkey! Who doesn’t love a zombie monkey?

And finally, ILM puts its best foot forward with a truly amazing climactic scene involving the damned pirates and the requisite cave of booty. It’s *fantastic* and I really can’t wait to see it again. I loved it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/9/03
Time in minutes 143
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio Walt Disney Pictures