The official story is that Johnny Depp was totally committed to On Stranger Tides ... The fourth Pirates film, released back in 2011.  He made casting decisions, tinkered with the story.  He really got involved.  Sometimes that can lead to great, inspiring work.  Other times that can make a for an unwieldy vanity project.
            The resulting film was okay.  The inspired casting of the literally-can-do-no-wrong Ian McShane helped things along.  Freshened things up.  But Rob Marshall isn’t an action director, and he isn’t a director with the dark vision that Gore Verbinski brought to the first three films (the second and third of which are far better than most people give them credit for.  There, I said it).
            Despite being just okay, the film went on to gross over a billion, which guaranteed there’d be another.
            Anyway, the point is he was totally committed to the fourth film.  Gave his all.  
            So, what the fuck happened?  Cos, this time, he’s phoned his performance in.  I did wonder if he was genuinely drunk, or stoned; as the lightness of touch that he brought to the role originally has now gone, and he’s playing Captain Jack simply as a clumsy, drunken oaf, with a perpetually bored expression.  Not unlike that on my face when I was watching this turd float across the screen.

What do you mean?  This is my happy face.
            Since the catastrophic industry-shaking nose-dive of Depp and Verbinski’s Lone Ranger in 2013, Depp’s career has entered a challenging phase.  In fact, when exactly was the last time Depp made a financially successful film?  Y’know, when he isn’t wearing Sparrow’s dreads?  Well, there was Alice in Wonderland in 2010, but everyone pretty much knows that was hit mostly because it was riding Avatar’s 3D coat-tails.  So, when was he actually good in a film?  Personally, I thought he did great work as the gangster Whitey Bulger, in Black Mass (2015).  If anything, the story let him down; but it was true so, whaddya gonna do?  And, of course, he was glorious in Rango in 2011 but, y’know, that was just a few days in the recording studio.
            It’s fair to say that Depp is not the cultural behemoth that the first Pirates made him.  Before that film, he chose mostly odd-ball indie films, when he wasn’t playing Tim Burton in various Tim Burton films.  He carved out a very lucrative, very eccentric niche for himself.  This didn’t, apparently, prepare him for megastardom.  It’s been common knowledge over the last couple of years that his life has been in something of a (relative) free-fall and it is, therefore, very possible that he wasn’t emotionally and psychologically in the best place when he was making this Pirates film.

When your career gets to that 'I can't get arrested' phase ... Take a trip to a land down under.  They'll sort you out.  (Just don't forget to take the dogs).
            The story concerns the son of Orlando and Keira’s Will and Elizabeth, and his search for the way to break the curse that keeps his dad undead on The Flying Dutchman.  Despite the success of Stanger Tides, this film, essentially, ignores it and returns to addressing questions that were already answered in the original trilogy.
            We start with undead sea captain Barbarossa Salazar in his haunted galleon The Pearl The Flying Dutchman, Silent Mary, a ship which swallows up other ships (like Stromberg’s tanker in 19777’s The Spy Who Loved Me); he tasks young Henry with finding Jack Sparrow and delivering unto him a message.  “Why can’t you tell him yourself?”  “Because ...” Pull back to wide shot, deliver the punch line: “Because ... Dead Men Tell Know Tales!”  And there is the title, written large across the screen: Salazar’s Revenge.  God knows why they decided to change the title from Dead Men Tell No Tales here.  It’s not like we culturally don’t understand the phrase.  But, it is emblematic of the lack of identity this film has.  It isn’t really its own beast; it’s more just a patchwork of elements from the first three films.
            Newcomer Brenton Thwaites plays Henry, the son, and you can tell why they cast him, he very much has the air of a younger Orlando, all fresh-faced and bushy eye-browed.  His opposite number is Kaya Scodelario as Carina, who is quite convincing as that most terrifying of creatures, an intelligent woman.  So intelligent that she spends the first act of the film avoiding being burned as a witch by terrified men.
            It was a nice move making the female lead an independent and intelligent woman, who doesn’t need rescuing and, indeed, actually does some rescuing.  It’s just a shame that they then felt the need to get her into her (voluminous) underwear and make repeated lascivious jokes about her being a HOR-ologist.  That’s hardly advancing the cause of women in film.
It's alright, it'll be fine.  I'm sure SyFy will hire us both for one of their shark films after this.
            Both of these young leads do earnest work here, but the returning lags mostly seem distracted and irritated by the needs of acting a scene.  Presumably it was annoying being dragged away from counting all the money they were getting, since that is clearly the only reason they came back.  Yes, okay, Jeffrey Rush’s Barbarossa has been given more to do than in any film since the first one.  Which is good, cos he was kinda window-dressing for a while there.  But he’s still fairly superfluous here, since Javier Bardem is on hand to be the proper badguy.
            Although he is really just an amalgam of Barbarossa from the first film (he’s cursed to be dead but not dead) and Davy Jones from the second (his hair swirls around his face like Jones’ tentacles did his).  Bardem is obviously having fun, spitting black ink and chewing up the scenery.  It’s a shame they chose not to bring back Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, it would have been interesting to see Spain’s most glamorous married couple in a fun film.  It might’ve helped erase the memory of The Counselor (2013).  It might have helped erase the memory of this film!

Looking good, there, Bardem.  You must let me know your moisturising regime ...
            Visually, the film is quite dark, with that muddy lack of contrast that bad 3D has.  Except, I watched this in 2D.  The dialogue is similarly charmless, and never more than functional.  The film lacks the transgressive energy and thrill that Verbinski brought to the first three.  It’s not completely without charm, though, the scene where Jack is in the guillotine as it pendulums and the blade gets closer, gets further away, gets closer again; that has something of the inspiration of the set-pieces of the first film.  But, all too often, the film falls foul of its lame sense of humour.  The scene where Jack is forced to marry a fat woman, for example, is lifted straight out of a Carry On film.  Isn’t this the guy who faced off against a vast tentacle monster ... And yet it’s come to this?
            There’s a lovely tip of the hat to Ray Harryhausen, when the ship’s masthead comes to life and attacks Jack.  And there’s an enticing flashback to young Jack, played by a ‘digitally de-aged’ Depp, taking on his first captaincy.  That’s the film I want to see, not this bilge!

A fresh faced digi-Depp, offering us a tantalising taste of Jacks of the past.  A much more engaging person than the tired, overly familiar and dissolute character (and actor) we get here.
            So, what we’re left with is a muddled plot, which Jack Sparrow doesn’t drive, but is more of a passenger within; a leaden script with very few well-turned lines or memorable one-liners; and a roster of faces returning who do little more than wink at the camera and say “Remember me?”  I love the magic and the marvel of the first three films, but that’s almost entirely lacking here (with the exception of the parting of the waves scenes at the end - but it’s too little too late by then).
            At just a hair over two hours, this is the shortest of the five Pirates films, yet those two hours drag on forever.
            And Paul McCartney?  Really?

Written by: Jeff Nathanson
Directed by: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Cert: 12A
Dur: 129 minutes

No comments:

Post a Comment