PG-13. for ridiculous Hollywood blockbuster action involving rotting shark corpses and CG absurdity.
DIRECTORS: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
I don't know how to put the line through the "O". I'm sorry, Mr. Ronning. That's not your name, yet I continue to call it that. Despite what you might think, a review for Muppet Treasure Island didn't exactly drive traffic to this site. But I have the give the background on why I watched this movie. I was on the Disney cruise and I had already seen Muppet Treasure Island with my kids. Then they had this one on board. As you will find out from this review, I'm not a big Pirates fan, regardless of interpretation. I don't think pirates are cool. I don't like the film franchise. I don't like baseball, hence I don't like the baseball team. There's little driving me to see this movie. But, it is still first run and free, so I went to go see it. You now have insight into my film viewing process. I felt like I was sticking it to the system, which ironically is a pirate-like attitude. I almost saw Cars 3 for the same reason. The insane part is that I broke one of my rarely broken rules to do this. I didn't see the previous entry in the franchise before seeing this one. Good news, there's not much to discover. (Although I'm trying to find a way to see the last Pirates movie just to balance my film karma...)
The best way I can explain my opinions on the most recent Pirates movie (I refuse to write the full title again) is to say that it is the second best in the franchise (assuming that On Stranger Tides reflects the taste of everyone who has actually seen it). The thing is, that really isn't praise. The second best in a mostly bad franchise means that the movie really has a lot of problems. I really liked the first one. I'm also now realizing that those titles are mouthfuls. The first one is a straightforward action movie with fun and goofy characters. The film doesn't mind doing larger than life set pieces and throwing everything at the wall. Like The Matrix, the first film does little to actually worry about setting up a franchise or a trilogy, which makes it a really pure film. Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner do some crazy things and it makes me chuckle. The plot is a little bananas, but there's little investment in what the world can provide. Rather, the audience is challenged just enough so that these moments in the film can play out without seeming like it a stunt video. I'm okay with this. Then parts two and three really hyped up the world. After all, the first Pirates movie was a phenomenon. Parts Two and Three had to have something to up the stakes and that is where the franchise fell apart. Like The Matrix, the films weren't necessarily worried about telling a good story, but rather making the movies bigger and more complicated. I've talked about this in the past, but many sequels try covering up their lack of plot by overcomplicating the stories. The Star Wars prequels did the same thing. So I fell off. The odd review for the most recent entry is that it gives the audience too many plots to pay attention to, but all of those plots are pretty simple.
Honest-to-Pete, I don't know who the protagonist of this movie is. It's not Captain Jack. I'm going into heavy spoilers here, so ye be warned. *sigh* I just did that. The movie starts off with the son of Will Turner trying to save his father. I know that this is fodder for the real Pirates fans out there, so I don't mind. But if this was the story, I'd say that's great. I can follow that. Henry Turner needs to find Neptune's Trident to undo the curse and I can get behind that. Then Captain Salazar's ghost tries getting revenge on Jack Sparrow and freeing his crew. That's a whole different movie there. Jack Sparrow could spend the entire film just escaping pirate ghosts again and that works. Then new character Carina Smyth is trying to decode a mythical book that would take her to an island to discover who her father is, who just happens to be Captain Barbossa. Captain Barbossa wants to hide from her daughter so she thinks she has an honorable man for a father. The British want to do something, which is even more loosey-goosey. What I'm saying is that we have five very different plots that are all wrapped up in the one search for Neptune's Trident. That's weak. I don't mind Mad-Mad-Worlding the plot a little bit, but they should have the same objectives. Creating plots A-E without stressing which is the most important is just bad storytelling. Instead of one or two strong storylines, I never really feel invested in any of the characters or their problems. I just have to shut off my brain and watch the action set pieces, which are...okay?
These movies love the CG set pieces. The franchise has gone a little Charlie's Angels / Friday the 13th, making many of its characters unkillable unless there is a very defined moment when they are meant to die. I do like movies that throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, but this movie may have taken it a bit far. The first major action sequence starts off as very charming. Captain Jack waking up in an unbreakable safe is clever, but the sequence completely deteriorates past James Bond absurdity. Dragging the whole bank through St. Martaan is beyond the suspension of disbelief. This building is being dragged through town by a pack of horses. The building is hitting other buildings and knocking them down. The thing is that there's no scenario where this would work. It wouldn't even be close, so watching this moment just makes me groan. This sounds nitpickey and I know I should just enjoy the movie, but this breaks so many rules that it means no rules apply later on. I know many science fiction movie break the laws of physics all the time. Spider-Man's arcs alone destroy physics. It's just that there was never any real risk for Jack because physics was completely broken. You know that James Bond is going to make it through ridiculous scenarios unscathed, but that's because there's a one in a billion chance that it could happen. That one in a billion is all the audience really needs. But by making the horses impervious to damage and super powerful, there's no scenario where this could play out. Again, I realize it sounds stupid, but I can't help it. I have space to fill on this blog and who else is going to gripe like this. (Oh, there's a whole Internet out there? I withdraw my argument.)
There's something that I can't get out of my head when it comes to the pirate phenomenon. I think it was augmented by the fact that I was on a boat in international waters and the fact that we were celebrating being boarded. I kept making Captain Phillips references because pirates are intrinsically bad guys. I know that there are rogues and smugglers. Robin Hood and his Merry Men get a pass because they rob for noble causes. But Captain Jack and similar pirates are bad guys. I get that people have a sense of admiration for those who raise their noses to authority, but Jack causes more destruction than he fixes. He's actually a really evil dude. This is where my moral high horse comes in. Captain Salazar kind of is the good guy. He goes weirdly crazy with his quest for revenge, but he actually is somewhat noble. The only reason that he's considered the bad guy is because he's going against the protagonist of the franchise. Salazar starts his flashback stating that pirates had killed both his father and his grandfather. They had become a blight on the ocean and it was his job to clear the seas of this evil. Sure, he should have given mercy, but people root for the Punisher. (I'm not saying root for the Punisher. The dude is a psychopath, but you know where I'm going with this.) Salazar was the ocean's police. He was really good at it and then Jack got his whole crew killed and cursed. Seeking out Jack was a way of freeing his crew. Why is he considered the bad guy? Jack genuinely deserves the punishment chasing him across the seas. I can see why the pirates are admired in the other films. The British have their imperialistic attitudes all over the world and they have some dastardly schemes in the movies. Salazar is simply clearing the seas of murderers and thieves. It's a really weird intention that the movie gave him.
Captain Jack is a problematic character. In the first movie, his Keith Richards impression is hilarious and great. He's a pirate who looks out for himself and is always just a little bit drunk. But the thing about Jack is that he's an extremely talented fighter and captain. It's just that no one really takes himself seriously. Look at the wheel well fight in the first movie. That is a guy who is charge of his situation and has a specific set of skills that are amazing. Jack, in each of these movies, learns that he is a better man than he thinks he is. He knows that the sea is his home and that he will always be a pirate, but he is also aware that he has a heart of gold. The problem with that is that Jack thrives in his foibles. So he spends an entire film learning that he is a better man than he thought he was only to come back and have to learn that all over again. The only consistency to him comes from the fact that he has the same internal conflict over and over again. He also has slightly become a Mr. Bean character, getting into scrapes through oafishness and blind luck. That first movie had bad things happen to him, but he actively found a way around his situations. That bank scene was him just falling over himself and narrowly missing instant death by a hair by dumb luck. The character doesn't really have depth to him, so he's just fun to laugh at. But I don't find the joke funny anymore. I go into the Pirates movies with the thought, "Even if I don't like the movie, at least I have Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow for a good time." I liked Captain Jack the least, and that's kind of saying something.
Finally, the biggest problem I can think of is Captain Barbossa, played by Geoffery Rush. I never really understood his major plot through all these stories. He keeps getting reunited with Captain Jack Sparrow and is either a friend or an enemy in these situations. Geoffery Rush probably wants out of the franchise because, again SPOILERS, he dies. He dies saving his daughter immediately after revealing that he is her father. That's impressive, if there was any gravitas given to the whole situation. Instead, Rush goes out of the franchise with somewhat of a chilched whimper. There wasn't a time of bonding between the two characters. Instead, we are meant to feel emotional simply because the revelation is there. This goes back to the fact that we have too many characters with too many plots. None of these characters get the time that they deserve. I'm not saying that there isn't a story to be explored there. I just think that one of their stories developed into a slow building fire would have been interesting. I didn't care about her relationship with Barbossa because she didn't have one. She had an idea that her father was a great man and she seems satisfied with that simply because of one moment seemingly out of context. She knows nothing about Barbossa except that he is a pirate, which she loathes. That one selfless act is great, but it has no basis for a relationship. Perhaps if she discovered that Barbossa was her father from the beginning of the movie and he started to change for her, that would have been something. But he was a scoundrel until the moment he sacrificed himself for her. That's not all that great. It just felt like an actor getting out of a franchise that is coming to a slow and pathetic end.
The movie isn't good, but I had an okay time with it. I don't know why Paul McCartney is in the movie. Is it because Keith Richards was in another one of them? Johnny Depp is doing a Keith Richards impression and there has always been a weird background rivalry between the two bands. I don't get it. Either way, it's entertaining for the most part and the cameos are fun. My big recommendation is to shut your brain off and just enjoy. Hopefully you get to watch it for free while its in first run. I'll forgive a lot when it is free.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.