Saturday, May 28, 2011

Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Before anything, I just have to say that I've been a huge fan of the Pirates franchise all along. Pirates of the Caribbean was always one of my favorite rides at Disneyland. I've always loved "all things pirate" and was super excited when the first movie came out. As with most viewers, I wasn't quite as impressed with the second and third films individually but I loved the trilogy as a whole. Black Pearl was just fabulous and really set the bar for what an epic pirate fantasy adventure should be like. The next two films maintained that epic feel and kept the story and characters alive and vibrant but I felt they suffered a little from being a little two "dark" (both literally/visually and thematically) as well as trying to do too much.

At Worlds End left us very much open for and expectant of a fourth movie in the series. So it wasn't a huge surprise when the info started trickling out, but it was very exciting to know that it was finally coming. Still, I was a little nervous to see what they'd do next. Over the course of the films, I'd grown fond of the dynamic between Jack, Will and Elizabeth. They played so well off each other. I was glad to see that Barbossa would be returning, but seeing him as a "King's Man" made me a little wary.

OK...enough introduction...what about the movie?

NOTE: I will attempt to avoid spoilers where I can but be warned there may be some minor mention of spoiler-esque elements.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is a fairly lengthy review starting with my general thoughts on the movie stepping through each element (trying not to "spoil" anything) followed by an overall reaction. If you just want my overall reaction, skip to the last couple of paragraphs. :)

The opening scene was intriguing. It set the stage for the adventure to find the Fountain of Youth. It also presented new characters/players in the game...the Spaniards.

We were then whisked to a trial in London and our first small surprise of the show...Gibbs is back and it is he who is on trial for piracy. Naturally Jack appears and works to save Gibbs and perhaps more naturally, the rescue attempt fails and Jack is brought before the King and a newly minted privateer of the King's Army, Captain Barbossa (touting a wooden leg).

The escape sequence from the King's palace was absolutely ridiculous to the point of madcap. It was entertaining but truly stretched the limits of believability in a few places. Still, in light of the overall nature of the adventure, I overlooked them and moved on since had Jack not escaped, the story would have been considerably less interesting. :)

As can be expected though, it's out of the frying pan and into the fire for our dear Jack and before long he finds himself pressed into service (slavery) on a Pirate ship...Blackbeard's ship the Queen Anne's Revenge. The method and mode of his imprisonment/enslavement once again felt a little strained, especially considering the specific reasons he was brought on board and his relation with Blackbeard's daughter Angelica.

Angelica as a character continued to be a connundrum for me. She always seemed to have her own selfish motivations and yet she also seemed to be altruistic and seeking for the general and greater good. I like the idea of her internal turmoil and conflict with reconciling the bad with the good, but it felt a little forced or rushed at times. To an extent, she was a parallel to Will Turner, the good boy forced into bad situations and still trying to do the right thing but through "bad" means. While Angelica preached good morals and chided her father for his wickedness, she also did some things that seemed downright underhanded and just plain shady without good reason for being dastardly. I just had a hard time reconciling her.

Anyway, with Jack on board the Queen Anne's Revenge, we get more information on the Fountain of Youth, Blackbeard, and the reason Angelica and Blackbeard are looking for the fountain. We also get to discover more about the fate of Jack's favorite ship, the Black Pearl.

Before long, we finally get a glimpse at Blackbeard. He isn't played as over the top comic-book evil in some of the ways Barbossa was. Instead, Blackbeard is evil just through his character and his actions. His emotions are generally very calm and collected, which makes him all the more frightening. He is definitely a force to be reckoned with. From his first appearance on screen, it is quickly evident why Blackbeard is the "pirate that all pirates fear" and it adds new tension to the story as it now looks very unlikely that Jack will be able to properly escape.

As per the other Pirates films in the series, there is plenty of supernatural goings-ons with Blackbeard. First of all, he seems akin to Tia Dalma in that he is a practitioner of voodoo. He has Zombie crew members that he himself has "zombiefied." He has voodoo dolls to further control individuals. And he has a mystical sword that gives him some rather interesting powers. We get to see some of this magic in action but we never get a good explanation of what this sword is, where it came from or what it's capable of. I personally would have loved some back story on the sword. Maybe in the extended DVD?

And then...we reach the Mermaids. In order to access the power of the Fountain of Youth there is a ritual which requires a tear from a mermaid. Which means, you have to catch a mermaid and carry her with you to the fountain. After all, tears don't last too long.

So Blackbeard employs a wicked trap to catch himself a mermaid. The mermaid mythos presents them as beautiful and utterly enchanting to sailors but also dangerous in that they drag sailors down to the depths and drown them. The mermaids here are shown as very lovely creatures but with a predisposition to turn into vampiric demonic creatures. This turnabout was very abrupt and interesting...almost as interesting as the almost instant "love at first sight" way the sailors reacted on first seeing the Mermaid. As my brother pointed out, the sailors must never have seen a pretty girl before in order to be that taken so quickly by a pretty face in the water, especially knowing how dangerous they were.

After some exciting action, Blackbeard and crew catches a mermaid through the unintentional intervention of another odd character thrown into the mix...Phillip. Phillip was captured by Blackbeard during a raid and only survived because he was a missionary and Angelica begged for his life in order to help save her father's soul. Plenty of interesting morality play going on. Whatever the case, Phillip continues to preach goodness and salvation while faced with Blackbeard's harsh wickedness. He's given a little leeway since he helped catch the mermaid but it's still obvious that his life hangs by a thread.

As can be expected by the "love at first sight" spell, Phillip falls in love with the mermaid. Due to his missionary spirit and general goodness, he works to help her be comfortable and safe while imprisoned. And thus she also falls in love with him. This strange romance seems to slowly bloom as the group treks across the island for the fountain. By the end of the movie, a lot is made of their relationship...but it is left very unresolved and of those loose ends I'd have liked tied up.

Now on the path for the Fountain, Blackbeard and company need two silver chalices found long ago by Ponce de Leon. For whatever reason, Blackbeard sends Jack Sparrow to get the cups alone while the rest of the group continues on looking for the fountain. The reasoning was partly explained by the geographic situation, but it still felt odd that he was sent off entirely alone. He doesn't stay alone for long as he then stumbles upon Barbossa and his crew and we're given a comic scene as the two clatter about in Ponce de Leon's ship and then form a temporary alliance.

The Spaniards finally come back into play. They are also on the island. Jack and Barbossa have to sneak into their camp and more battle ensues along with a degree of nonsense.

Eventually all is well in the plot...Jack has the cups and makes his way back to Blackbeard. Again, the motivation was a bit odd but Jack returned either to regain his compass or because he cares for Angelica (maybe Phillip and the mermaid Syrena too?). He then bumbles about leading them to the fountain. Angelica then asks a question which has been alluded to throughout the film but has been unclear "Has Jack ever been to the Fountain of Youth before?" The question is still left unanswered but somehow he leads them through the entrance...whether by plain luck or some knowledge is still unclear.

And now, at the fountain, we have our final confrontation. Blackbeard's company meets up with the English led by Barbossa. It's now clear that Barbossa isn't on this errand so much out of loyalty to the crown but more out of a desire for revenge against Blackbeard. Their own battle is just starting when the Spaniards arrive on the scene. The Spaniards have been an enigma through the entire film...playing mostly in the background and without letting us get close to any of the characters or their motivations. We finally get to learn what their motivations are and it is a bit of a surprise to find out their role and desire in all of this.

The final battles play out. We're given a happy ending for some, a sad ending for others and just "an ending" for most. As with the other films, there is a short clip after the credits. While this clip made me smile a bit, it seemed a bit more forced/leading than those from the previous films.

....And now, my reactions to the film. Overall, I still give this movie thumbs up and really enjoyed it. From the franchise, Black Pearl is still my favorite, but this movie is still enjoyable.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's EndA couple of things left me a little unsettled or wanting more. In many ways this film had the same problems as Dead Man's Chest and At World's was dark and tried to do to much. Except On stranger Tides took these problems and made them worse. So much of this movie was in the dark and/or at night. Blackbeard was evil and dark. And I felt like even though there was a single goal (the Fountain), the movie tried to do too much...too many characters trying to be "primary" characters but without the depth to make them accessible or make me really root for them...too many important elements that we're left with a bunch that can't adequately be explained (Blackbeard's sword, the Spaniards, Syrena and Phillip).

I was also a little underwhelmed by the scope of this movie. Black Pearl was epic. It sprawled across expansive ocean scenes with fantastic boat battles, outrageous sword fights, amazingly vivid and deep scenes in taverns (Tortuga) and gorgeous islands. Because of the amount of stuff going on in this film, we had little depth in any of the scenes except Queen Anne's Revenge...and even there most of the time we're kept under guard. Many of the exciting scenes happen in the dark...and unlike the darkness of Black Pearl, moonlight wasn't required to make the effect and so sometimes the darkness hid nuances.

Films 2 and 3 were able to get away with their shortcomings because they were still building on the amazing and epic nature already built by Film 1. With film 4, we're continuing with a few of the old characters but we are starting a new story and so the only history we have to go on here are the nature of the characters.

I really wanted some sea battles...would loved to have seen the English and Spaniards get into it...or maybe seen Blackbeard sack a couple of ships along the way to Whitecap Bay. Instead, we're given a couple of distance shots of ships and only hear about the sea battles in a narration from Barbossa telling about the capture of the Pearl.

The sword fight sequences weren't as engaging as the previous films...the initial fight between Jack and Angelica was alright but it was dark and wasn't nearly as engaging as the initial fight between Jack and Will or the later fight on the yardarms between Jack and Davy Jones.

So, while I still really loved this movie and felt it fits into the franchise, it fell a little flat for me in some regards. Still, I can recommend this to pirate/adventure lovers. If you liked the earlier movies, you should like this one. If you absolutely hated either the second or third movies, then you may not like this one either.

Disney has left themselves open to keeping the franchise going as long as it makes them money...and even though they've set the bar too high to easily be reached, this movie is still a success and I wouldn't be surprised to see a follow up. I'd go see a fifth movie. And I'd definitely be willing to see this one again...though given the choice, I'd watch Black Pearl first.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Today's Quote from Quoting Quotes:



Brian Miller said...

nice. been waiting for a review on this one...about what i expected but i will still def go see it!

Okie said...

Yeah it's still definitely worth seeing. Have fun. :)

rebecca said...

you sir, are very good with your words. i felt exactly the same way about the movie!

Aubrie said...

Wow, what a detailed review! I also thought the mermaid/Phillip storyline could have had a few more scenes. Did she take him to the fountain of youth? Or did he become a merman? Makes me wonder. :)

Phoenix said...

Great review, and I had a lot of the same problems you did, mainly with Angelica ending up not being a very sympathetic character towards the end with all the things she does. It was fun to see but I don't think anything compares to the first film. :)