Friday, May 27, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

"Sinking to Lower Depps"
"PG-13? It Should Be Rated "Arrrrrrrrrrr."

I enjoyed the boisterous first Pirates of the Caribbean—who would have thought that even talented film-makers and writers could turn a ride at Disneyland into a good movie?  But, it had been awhile since there'd been a quality pirate pic, and POTC hearkened back to the giddy Saturday-matinee thrills of past sea-faring adventures, but with a nice, gritty frou-frou quality.  Yes, it was loud, and confusing, and piled on too many episodes of buckling swashes, so it was hard to separate the buccaneers from the privateers.  And it gave Johnny Depp a break-through role that saved him from the pit of despair that is Tim Burton's cob-webbed basement-rec room. 

It was just plain, simple fun.

I passed on the second and third films because I figured they'd run the formula for movie trilogies: the second one turns dark and complicated without the fresh feeling of the first, leaving cliff-hangers that could grow barnacles on any writer's knuckles; then the third complicates things more, and resolves everything quickly and rushes to a well-deserved finale where everything (*sigh*) turns out alright.

I gave them not so much as a hailing shot across my bow.  I'd sailed on.

But, I thought I'd give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides a chance.  For one thing, having resolved the Keira Knightley/Orlando Bloom romance (again), they're no longer present on this passage and the additions of Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane was an inducement.  Plus, the director is Rob Marshall and I wanted to see how he did with a project of a lesser pedigree than his previous work.  I liked Chicago, and parts of Memoirs of a Geisha.  But I thought Nine was an unmitigated disaster, occasionally brightened by performance (I was surprised to find numbers by Fergie and Kate Hudson the highlights).  Marshall needs a hit, and On Stranger Tides is just the ticket—an established franchise ($2.6 Billion in revenues?) with a built-in audience that doesn't care who directed it—all they care about is Depp's tipsy Keith Richards imitation and running like a girl from trouble.

Those sunken souls will be pleased; Depp does that schtick but with that silent-comedian's crack razor-sharp timing in the reactions.  It plays like It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with three groups of sailors all after one thing: Ponce de León's fabled Fountain of Youth (it seems, all of a sudden, Spain, England and the Pirates are interested in the same thing).  After a brief sequence where Sparrow frees a member of his crew, he is arrested and brought before King George II (Richard Griffiths—when he sits there is a big musical fwump from Hans Zimmer's "Mickey-Mousing" score).  It seems that Spain's interest in the FOY has reached the King and he hires Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, or most of him anyway) to lead the expedition.  Jack escapes...and then things get complicated.

In the meantime, there are McShane and Cruz, as the pirate Blackbeard and his daughter, Angelica, mermaids, a Jack Sparrow imposter, silver chalices to find, and the series' obligatory focus on the supernatural (while also having a missionary hero, despite all the disparagements of religion in the script).  Blackbeard knows his voodoo, has a "zombified" crew, a magic cutlass, and a fine collection of ships-in-bottles.  Plus, his vessel "Queen Anne's Revenge" has a few nifty tricks that other pirate ships do not.  McShane is terrific, playing the comedy for truth ("If I don't kill a man now and then, they forget who I am"—a line similar to one from The Princess Bride—is played absolutely straight and with a baleful disinterest that never leaves his face.  Cruz is fine, but it appears she's just along for the ride—as duplicitous as her character is, she doesn't register much range, or she can. 

Marshall keeps things moving, editing things a bit too quickly for continuity to rush the dialogue, eliminating any pauses, and he does a few cute things with the 3-D imaging, beyond the snakes and pointy swords and rolling barrels, moving his cameras over the heads of a court-room, giving a sailing shot of the sea actual depth, and making the split-screen Jaws water's edge shot work well.  And although he isn't that good framing the fights, which jerk along with the breezy calculation—and lack of zest—of a Roger Moore fight from a James Bond film,* and there really isn't much of an ending—although there are three of them—it's pretty sprightly, the highlight being an encounter with mermaids—portrayed as supermodels with the manners of piranhas**—that is genuinely exciting.  There are even a couple of charming, if brief, surprises along the way. 

There is another quality issue, though.  On Stranger Tides, shot in 3-D, has an opening that is pretty murky once you put on the dark glasses, the same kind of clarity issues you get at drive-in's when they would start a movie at dusk.  Even in 3-D and IMAX (which is how I saw it—I was splurging), it's a little difficult to determine precisely what is going on.  It's something of a toss-up just how one should see the latest Pirates of the Caribbeans. It might be worth it to see it in three dimensions, but I'd do it at home.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides makes a fine Rental.

* Every once in awhile, sitting through this, I got the odd "formulaic" bustling feeling I get from the Bond films and the Indiana Jones movies (Zimmer's "Pirates of the Caribbean" dance-step has to accompany every bit of derring-do, like the "Indiana Jones Theme"), where the dialog is just not clever enough, but "it'll get by," if you don't mind a bit of eye-rolling (it does, after all, relieve some of the eye-strain produced by those glasses), and the action set-pieces just go on and on.  And one can set their watch by when action is timed in this thing.

** ...or is that redundant?

No comments: