Tuesday, May 30, 2017

RockOtaku Reviews: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, deviants, pirates and privateers.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream, shout, and save the galaxy again.

Today, I review a movie that I’ve recently seen that both fits my interests alongside my standards of high-octane, high-caliber blockbusters: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.

If you’re not sure what this is, here’s a brief history.  In 1967, the ride Pirates of the Caribbean, one of if not the final ride observed from start to finish by Walt Disney in its development, opened in Disneyland, becoming one of the most acclaimed attractions in the park with its theming, atmosphere, charm, and state of the art Audio-Animatronics.  It later got versions in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris.  The ride would continue the interest of piracy and its legends to the current day, leading to everything from The Secret of Monkey Island to the manga One Piece.  Then in 2003, a film adaptation from Walt Disney Pictures, known as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, with Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, The Rock, Armageddon) as producer, Gore Verbinski (The Ring) as director, and starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Orlando Bloom, was relased, becoming a massive hit for the company, making Depp, a character actor known for his work with Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam beforehand, a superstar and pushing boundaries for the family entertainment-based company with its focus on swashbuckling action and adventure in a PG-13 format (yes, this movie was Disney’s first film with that rating not released under the Touchstone label), leading to later films and releases such as the Marvel Cinematic Universe under their distribution as well as the current crop of Star Wars films (all the current ones released under the Disney brand were rated PG-13).  Obviously, it got sequels, with Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End, and On Stranger Tides being released in 2006, 2007, and 2011 respectively, the first two helmed by Verbinski.  And while the series is successful, each one is notorious for getting worse word from critics and general audiences not caring as much successively, and now we’re at the fifth film, which has two new directors, Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning of Kon Tiki and Bandidas fame, at the helm with Disney hoping to continue the franchise while also breaking its curse of lesser returns and acclaim than the last film while also making it more like the first in execution.  Did they succeed?

First, the plot.  The film follows the adventures of notorious pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he’s put in a scenario where he has to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon to prevent the evil Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who escaped the Devil’s Triangle, from eradicating piracy from the Caribbean with said item.  Along the way is Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a sailor familiar with the myths and who has some history through his family with Sparrow as well as Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a female astronomer who knows how to get to the Trident.  Along the way are several friends of Jack, including Gibbs (Kevin McNally) alongside the British Navy being a pain in the Captain’s nautical arse as per usual and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who loses his power on the high seas to Salazar.  Ensuing is multiple swashbuckling battles, sword fights, ship battles, and bizarre mythology, as per usual in the franchise.

Is it any good?  That’s the million dollar question.  And my answer is… uh, I feel two ways about this.  While a good chunk of the film is pretty standard for the series, with only one or two, possibly three or four, moments that are truly memorable.  And yes, Henry is Will Turner’s and Elizabeth Swan’s son, so his motives involve trying to rescue his father from his curse, bounding him to the Flying Dutchman since the third film.  And that’s where the film arguably stumbles.  While I can say, because I’ve seen all 4, now 5, that I can follow the plot a little and understand each detail, I can’t say that about everyone else, considering that the filmmakers are trying to go back to basics here.  What I mean is that, like with COTBP, the film’s primary antagonists are a bunch of ghostly cursed sailors (gee, where have I seen that before), you have the British Navy as co-antagonists, the focal point of the main plot is a Turner with Jack Sparrow as the wild card comic relief (while he plays a major role in the overall plot, driving the bad and good guys mainly), there’s a headstrong female co-lead (who I’ll get to), and some of the moments feel like they came straight out of the first film, including an execution scene that may include a fun little moment but, due to its placement in the story, doesn’t have any stakes.  But if I have to give the filmmakers credit, they finally have a scene with sharks trying to kill our heroes, which is something that I didn’t realize I needed (even if the closest thing to it earlier were mermaids and, wait for it, a cursed pirate crew). 

Character-wise, the performances are pretty interesting, but with a few weak points.  First is Brenton Thwaites, who’s definitely the hero and takes from Orlando Bloom in the swashbuckling hero department, and manages to have a few decent moments, even if he ends up being less important later on.  However, I have to say it, while Johnny Depp is great as Sparrow, and will definitely be remembered for it, even he’s getting a little tired in the role and showing signs that the freshness of the character that made him so loveable is starting to weaken, and it’s causing me to not care as much whether he makes it, even when he manages to bring a few funny and charming moments in the film.  Also, we get to see a younger Sparrow, created through de-aging effects like what’s been seen in other tentpole films by Disney (they seem to really care about continuity and iconography lately), in a scene where he’s arguably more interesting and engaging than in the present, since it’s the moment where we are revealed the villain’s motives and reasons for his curse.  Speaking of, while Javier Bardem can be a great villain actor (with No Country for Old Men and Skyfall showing this perfectly), the character of Salazar, probably due to the writing, the characterization, or how similar his role is to COTBP skeleton Barbossa, is not as menacing, terrifying, or memorable as previous villains.  I mean, while his appearance is cool, and it really captures just how screwed up he and his crew has gotten thanks to the Devil’s Triangle, it’s not as scary as a skeleton Geoffrey Rush, a half-squid Bill Nighy, or even Ian McShane hamming it up as Blackbeard.  And while his ship does have some cool aspects, such as the ability to destroy ships by simply sailing over them, and then there’s the otherworldly aspects of his crew, he’s not as threatening or as dangerous as the previous antagonists.  Seriously, I’d like to see a Pirates film where the British Navy are the true antagonists for a film (At World’s End barely counts), and the character is played by a modern British actor with some true menace.

But not every character is a disaster, as Barbossa is pretty entertaining as usual, and is arguably one of the better characters here.  Also in that running is Kaya Scodelario’s Carina Smyth, a brilliant astronomer and horologist who’s trying to complete a puzzle set by her father in a diary containing clues that’ll get the characters to the trident.  And she’s memorable because she’s a woman of reason and the smartest character in the movie, which leads to a dumb running gag of the rest of the characters calling her a witch due to her intelligence, since woman aren’t expected to be smart (ah, 18th-century sexism, how do I not miss you).  Seriously, that gag, which only has plot relevance for the aforementioned execution scene, is so half-assed that I think that the filmmakers wanted to give us a reason to root for her but couldn’t think of something as clever as her.  But what she does bring is a sense of logic and reason, and being able to find some of that in the mythology of the Pirates franchise.  No seriously, she’s ultimately the most important character in the movie, as she’s the one that solves all the plot-relevant stuff going on.  But there’s also a twist with her backstory that weaves into one of the more notable characters in the film, but I’m not going to completely spoil it, despite the fact that I can admit that it leads to her having some dumb moments before she figures out what the audience did beforehand.  And finally, she does have some funny lines addressing the outlandishness of the moments she’s in, despite some of the weirder aspects of the series causing her to act out of character.

But while the characters are important and all, what about the action, which is why I’m sure you’re going to check this out.  First off, the shark scene is arguably one of the better moments in the film.  Second, the execution scene does have a funny moment that involves a certain execution device developed in the movie’s time period and a few close-calls due to its notoriety.  Third, there’s a few moments where Salazar’s ship does some weird things that are cool but not as memorable.  Rather than that (as well as a moment that comes right out of Fast Five), it feels like the movie is built around a greatest hits montage of the best action scenes and beats from the previous films, from the sword and ship battles to a moment where it involves the ocean doing some weird stuff.  It’s not as memorable as when it was done the first time, but if you’re looking to turn your brain off and enjoy the explosions and pirate action, then it’s fine.  But it’s still done with a lot of skill and practicality (unless CGI is involved, which there is a lot of it that looks outright fake), and the set design, the cinematography, the sound design, and the choreography is clear, easy to follow, and professional.  Also, the score is the same as you’d expect, with a lot of brass, electric guitar-esque strings, and pounding drums for the action and softer sounds for the quieter moments as well as all the musical cues you’d expect in a Pirates movie.

And for the plot, the biggest issue with is that, despite its attempted simplicity, there’s still a lot going on here.  The weird part is that it’s simple in concept, but there’s so much going on, with all the side plots, side motives, multiple character point of views, and the double-crossing as per usual muddling the story and making the movie feel a lot longer than it really is.  I mean, this is around 2 hours (maybe 2 hours and 15 minutes), and it feels like 2 and a half hours with the amount of filler in the movie, including several gratuitous moments for the sake of humor, action, story, or trying to get a cameo in (Spoiler: there’s a Beatle in the cast, and it’s during a moment that’s there for fan service).  As a result, this, while not as exhausting as At World’s End, is pretty exhausting and it’s ultimately hard to remember it all.  Speaking of which, I’m sure that my immediate family is still wanting to see Transformers: The Last Knight when even the signs that it’s going to be a mess are present.

In short, while this isn’t as bad as On Stranger Tides or At World’s End, nor is it as convoluted, it’s still a convoluted film with attempts at entertaining the crowd and pleasing Jack Sparrow fans.  While that is fine for this movie, this is not one that’s going to survive a drunken bender of rum after seeing it due to how stale it feels.  But the worst aspect is that it proves that Disney would rather have arguably one of its most important franchises jogging in motion rather than progressing into more interesting directions (like Marvel, Star Wars, or even the DCEU) to appease a very easy market to make movies for (and no, leaning Japanese won’t allow me to ask China and Russia for why they keep demanding these movies to be homogenous).  But to be honest, I did like it a bit, and there are some moments where I laughed and was on the edge of my seat, so this may lead to a much higher score than you’d expect.  But if you’re looking for quality, stick with Curse of the Black Pearl or wait until Wonder Woman, which is looking to be the smash of the summer.

Final Rating: 6/10 (Yar har, fiddle dee dee, this pirate movie is okay to me)

And no, I’m not discussing spoilers.

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Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and Drink Up Me Hearties, Yo Ho.

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