Sunday, May 22, 2011

More Pirates

Well, I took the inevitable trip with the boys to see the new Depp/Pirates film this weekend. And either my sensibilities have been blunted, or it really wasn't as bad as I expected.

Let's be clear: I love the first of the three films. It's a gem, a marvellous mix of homage, irony, spectacle, character-acting and sheer damned fun. The second film was a much less vivid work, aimed mainly at bringing the third onto the screen. And the third was a muddy, plodding, noisy wreck that disappointed in almost every way.

Obviously, I wasn't expecting much from the fourth. Admittedly, the fact that they felt a need to credit Tim Powers' book for the title and elements of the plot was a positive factor. I do like Mr Powers work. Nevertheless, I went in expecting little more than eyestrain (3D again, yes) so the fact that I was entertained more often than I was bored counts as a success.

The problem, for me, with the movies since #1, is that they've lost the momentum and the character interplay that carried the first from one set-piece to the next. The set-pieces are fun, sure. The complicated Jack-Sparrow-Escapes-From-The-Royal-Palace effort was positively balletic, and filled up the screen nicely, while remaining very much in character for Sparrow. But in between the shiny set pieces in the first film, we got a certain amount of character development. Minor plot arcs that kept the film from getting dull.

There's little of that here. In between the set pieces, what we get is essentially exposition aimed at moving the plot to the next set-piece.

Credits: Ian MacShane has an absolute lock on 'menace', and does a fine job as the villain of the piece -- Edward Teach, or Blackbeard. Penelope Cruz looks the part (as always), and is sufficiently fiery of mien to allow us to believe she's actually able to buckle those swashes up there in the action scenes. Depp has Jack Sparrow under his skin now, and Geoffrey Rush is reliable as ever in Barbossa's boot. (Not boots. He's had a very piratical accident.)

Brickbats: the subplot involving the preacher and the mermaid is tacked on to add something resembling complexity to an otherwise painfully straightforward go-there-and-grab-the-maguffin plotline. I didn't give a flying fart about the preacher, and my only real response to the mermaid was to wonder whether or not the Internet had any slightly less clothingy photos of her. (It does.) Keira and Orlando may not have been the most riveting actors on screen in the first flick, but they were given more room to play, more depth, and most of all, more goddam significance to the storyline. I actually feel rather sorry for the people playing Mr Preacher and Ms Mermaid.

Overall? Don't bother seeing it on your own, but if you've got kids who like the franchise, it's entertaining enough to justify an afternoon out.