Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with some thoughts on the new Pirates of the Caribbean flick. I’m exhausted, sitting in a New Orleans hotel after 12 hours of being on an unnamed set, attacked savagely by blood-thirsty mosquitoes and, worse still, Louisiana humidity. However, I did want to put some words down about the big movie of the weekend.
I didn’t walk out of the theater hating Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides like a lot of my colleagues, but I was massively disappointed. Say what you will about Gore Verbinski’s Pirates movies, but this new film has all the same flaws as his sequels (overly-complex, very fatty and long, etc), but little of the spark of life, the charm they carried. And ambition, too. That’s a big problem with this film, which goes from a massive multi-ship firing cannons while swirling down a giant water funnel to Hans Zimmers’ bombastic and adventurous theme as the backdrop to a series of shots featuring Jack Sparrow stepping lightly from one moving carriage to another.
All of that is minor, nitpicky stuff. This is the beginning of a new run of Pirates movies afterall. The real disappointment for me was the flat-out lazy script. When I say lazy, I mean lazy. Characters pop up in totally random locations to save the day, deliver some exposition and then ooooooo, mysteriously disappear. There’s leaps of logic throughout, which I can give some leeway on if they deliver the spectacle, but what I can’t abide are ridiculously stupid leaps of logic.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a last minute save towards the end of the movie that blows my mind made it to the screen. There’s a character that FOR NO REASON goes a long, long, long way to thankfully be at the right spot to help somebody they barely know and have every reason to hate. And then they go away again.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand this was adapted from a book and I’m sure it made more sense for this character to do what they did within that context, but for fuck’s sake don’t shoe-horn it in here if it doesn’t make any sense.
Not only is the writing lazy, it’s pointless. I don’t mind one-off stories, but do you know what it all builds up to? To get the characters back to where they were at the beginning of the first movie! Really? After battling the Kraken, surviving death itself, Jack Sparrow’s only motive in life is still obtaining the Black Pearl?
I’m a fan of Jack Sparrow as a character. I love the concept of the fool being the smartest one in the room with it ambiguous how much of the persona is a premeditive, strategic act. That character was at his best in the very first movie and at his worst in this one. Not because Depp doesn’t give a shit, but because the writing isn’t there to support him. Depp finds moments to inject that good ol’ Jack Sparrow sardonic humor, especially in the final moments of the movie, but I was very sad to see that for the majority of the movie he was just… there. That’s not a character I want to feel indifferent about.
Penelope Cruz is a fun addition to the world… or would be if the writing supported it. We’re told a lot about her relationship with Jack Sparrow, but we’re shown very little. I also love Ian McShane as Blackbeard, but again the writing lets us down. At least Davy Jones had a real, emotionally complex story tied in with his villainy and felt like a real threat. Blackbeard should have been terrifying, but he’s a bad guy on the run the whole movie, scared of a prophesy. McShane showed up to work, the character writing just wasn’t there.
Geoffrey Rush is Geoffrey Rush, just like Johnny Depp is Jack Sparrow. It’s good to see those two on screen again and playing off each other, but it’s like flat soda without a strong adventure underneath it all.
Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey are fine, but they feel shoe-horned into the plot. Claflin plays a religious man and Berges-Frisbey a mermaid who is “different.” Why is she different? No reason, just because they need her to be. And Claflin is so bland you’ll long for Orlando Bloom and that’s saying something. It’s not the boy’s fault. Marshall didn’t feature him well enough and his character writing was pure vanilla.
The 3-D was fine, but to be honest it didn’t really add much except for the occasional stab-you-in-the-eye stuff that I actually like in a weird gimmicky way. The score felt like 90% of the music used in the first three films recycled. The cinematography lacked a little of the panache of the Verbinski films, even though cinematographer Dariusz Wolski returned to lens the movie.
But all that adds very little to my disappointment. I hang the faults of this movie on the shoulders of Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, which may be unfair. Believe me, I know how writers are abused in this system and I know how what works on the page still needs to translated successfully, but I have a hard time looking at the finished product and thinking that ever made any sense and wasn’t just the easiest possible, blandest way of telling this story.
On Stranger Tides isn’t a bad movie. It’s not eye-rolling Prince of Persia bad. It’s just bland, small in scope and safe. There’s no edge to this one, no abstract weirdness that gave even the weakest of the previous Pirates movies a little personality. There’s money on the screen, so it’ll be easy for those who just want to revisit some familiar friends to let go of the film’s weaknesses and enjoy the ride, but I think time will show this one gets the least repeat play.
I’m not tolling any bells pronouncing the death of the franchise… I think they have a great world full of high adventure and fantasy the likes of which we haven’t seen since Ray Harryhausen’s heyday. It’s a fascinating world, Depp has an iconic character on his hands and there so much potential to tell really big, fun, crazy stories that audiences eat up. I’d love to see the series keep on chugging, but for the love of God they need a better captain on that ship. I love Chicago, but Rob Marshall proved a bad choice for this franchise.
Die Hard 4 pissed me off. Indy 4 makes me really sad and gets worse every time I rewatch it. Alien 4 is crazy ridiculous and kinda shitty. Pirates 4 is just there. I’ll probably watch it again when it’s on cable or if they make a giant super awesome blu-ray set or something. That indifference is the killer, though, and why I find myself like a sad mother as I think back on this new film and the series as a whole. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.