Monday, May 23, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - Early Thoughts

I went, I saw, I come bearing ill-gotten plunder. In other words: SPOILERS, SPOILERS, this post contains nothing but SPOILERS.

These are just my early thoughts after having seen the film only once. A longer, more coherent, and potentially more ranty review will no doubt come later. Also I will note that I did not watch this film in 3D format, because I think it’s a stupid gimmick to make people spend money on something, that I find makes the movie experience worse, it’s cheesy, it’s stupid and I will not support it. Okay on to the movie, first stop characters.

We'll start with the new ones first and Angelica is a good addition as a new love interest for Jack, especially because they both know they love the other, but they also don’t trust each other because of their past history. And holy crow I think every second line that they spoke to one another was a reference to sex. I like Angelica’s personality because she is confident while still having faults. Her motivations are a bit lacking though. A bit more back-story on the whole Spanish convent thing might have been helpful in making me sympathize more with the whole wanting to save her father thing.

Speaking of her father, Blackbeard is cool, at least his voodoo powers are, and I like the fact that we don’t know how the sword works or where he got it from. He’s the pirate all the other pirates fear so it makes sense that he can do stuff they can’t do to overwhelm them, otherwise where’s the menace. He, unfortunately, is the most shallow villain in the rogues gallery thus far. As I praised Barbossa and Davy Jones for being more than villains just for the sake of being villains so I must condemn Blackbeard for being a moustache twirling, cackling bad guy. It’s more his legend that makes him interesting not the man himself, which I guess makes sense since that’s true for the real life version of Blackbeard too. Also the flamethrower on the Queen Anne’s Revenge is either really cool or really lame I haven’t decided which yet. Now for our other main characters: Barbossa, Gibbs and Jack, I have one word to describe these people: badass.

Gibbs burns the charts, that he stole from Jack, after memorizing them thus making himself invaluable to Barbossa during the start of his own hanging, badass. Barbossa is still kicking ass and taking names despite only having one leg, a leg that he cut off to continue to be master of his own fate and keeps alcohol in, badass.

And Jack...Jack you have claimed your spot back as one of my favourite characters in all of the Disney canon, congratulations mate. He is back to being exactly as I love him to be. He is a good man again with the way he reacts when he finds out that using the Fountain of Youth requires a victim. How he tries to take responsibility for the mutiny by saying he was on watch; and telling the crew to retreat from the mermaids, before blowing up the lighthouse, obviously a great risk to his own life, to get the mermaids away from the shore. He’s back to being smart and resourceful, giving Gibbs the compass to go get the Pearl while he continues to take the rest of them to the fountain, because he doesn’t trust them and he shouldn’t. Nobody has to act like an idiot, unless it’s deliberate, to move things forward hurray!

Also helping lift the film is that Jack and Barbossa still have such chemistry. From the way they snark at each other in the King’s palace, to how they play off one another in balancing the ship when getting the chalices, and how they just move like clockwork stealing the chalices from the Spanish. (Loved the ride reference with the skeleton on the bed in the ship, I’ve been wondering if they would manage to get that in one of these films and I’m glad they have.) These two are a marvellous team and I want to see them keep working together.

In terms of adding more mythical elements, besides the fountain, the zombies are interesting and the mermaids are nice looking. The battle with them was also very cool. I like the contrast of the mermaids being both beautiful and deadly. That probably has some standing in some legend somewhere, the writers know how to do their homework and I obviously haven’t, but good work none the less.

Not sure what I think about the cleric and the mermaid storyline and the Adam and Eve allegory they are trying to develop? And the potentially unfortunate implications that having Serena be rather flat-chested, I’m assuming to keep the rating lower, is making her come off to me as pre-pubescent; also the fact that the man out to ‘save’ people has blond hair and a broad-chest. I do like the quest for the fountain though, but the look of the fountain itself reminds me of the Guardian of Forever. So, instead of its reveal being awe inspiring it nearly made me choke on my popcorn in unintentional laughter.

On the negative side of things this is going to be the first film where I will break tradition and say that I don’t really care for the music or the visuals as much. Oh, the music is nice, but that’s because most of it is from the other films! Including the battle music with Barbossa’s crew, He’s a Pirate, of course, and the Black Pearl theme. I had a hard time hearing anything really distinct and new here, like we got with the Locket theme or the Hoist the Colors instrumental. I don’t count the Jolly Sailor Bones song, although I did like it. The visuals well...we don’t get a lot of grand sweeping establishing shots that the earlier films did so well. The ones we do get are short and don’t really establish the dangerous landscape, or its beauty, or even where the hell anybody is in relation to the landscape. It’s have a shot of island, cut to group walking, boring. Further hampering the visuals is that we have a lot more close ups and medium shots than the others films and this gives the overall film a cramped and boxed in feeling; as opposed to the open and sprawling vastness that the other films had.

And a note about the scene with Jack and Gibbs in the prison cart: hold the damn camera steady! Take a lesson from Hitchcock. Just because what the person is in is moving doesn’t mean the camera has to move. In fact it helps us focus on the characters and their dialogue when you don’t shake the camera everywhere. Oh, and a major punch to the face to whoever decided to put locations tags on the first two cities in the opening scenes. We didn’t have it before and it’s jarring to start seeing it now. It‘s also completely unnecessary to know which city in Spain the guys bring the fisherman to; and since we all say the trailer we all know that the following city is London. The Spanish themselves fall into what I’ll call the Pirate Lords category. Cool idea to bring in another nation and their different religious ideology and politics, poor execution. A further thumbs down on the sword fight between Jack and Angelica. I may have complained about the three way swordfight in Dead Man’s Chest, but at least that one had a different location and some new chorography with adding a third person to the mix. This just directly stole from the first film by having a fire pit and them fighting in the ceiling rafters.

Still overall I’d recommend people go see this film. The interplay between Jack and Barbossa is wonderful and their characters individually are still strong and interesting. Gibbs gets to grow further as this franchise develops without becoming an obnoxious jerk like those I’ve talked about in my earlier reviews. Angelica is a good leading lady and even if you don’t think so you can still make a great drinking game out of finding the sexual innuendo in her dialogue with Jack. While the visuals are lacking and the music is ripping off the first film it’s the characters and their growth that I like so much. While Jack retains his traits of being a good man and a good planner he is also coming to terms with the idea that the journey, that is life, is more important and, indeed more interesting, and more worthwhile than immortality. Barbossa continues to work to be master of his own fate, because I don’t think he was aware that him defeating Blackbeard was foretold, and being totally awesome while doing so. It didn’t capture that lightening in a bottle of the first film, but it may have caught it in a different bottle so, drink up me hearties yo ho!

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