Pages

5.21.2011

On Stranger Tides Review


When Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl was released in 2003, it surprised everyone who (understandably) didn't except much from a movie based on a theme park ride. I mean, that's a weaker concept than a video game movie and we all know how well those usually turn out. But Pirates proved a giant success with audiences myself included.

And then, of course, we got sequels.

Similar to the Matrix franchise, most agree that the first film was great, but the sequels were rather dividing affairs.

I really enjoyed Dead Man's Chest for it's inventive use of sea-monster mythology and still in-tact humor. By the third movie the franchise had become too bloated and wrapped-up in itself. At World's End, seemed to jettison most of the humor and lighthearted fun of the first film in favour of setting up a giant good-vs-evil battle between the evil, money-grubbing British and the nasty, money-grubbing pirates. Wait - who were the good guys again? Also there was a goddess who turned into a bunch of crabs or something... that was bizarre.

When I heard that Disney planned to continue the series after the disappointing third act, I had mixed feelings. By far the best decision they made with On Stranger Tides was to make it a standalone story like Curse of the Black Pearl. That's a really good thing since that's how adventures movies tend to work best (see Indiana Jones) and it means we shouldn't have as much plot baggage to carry over from one movie to the next.

Speaking of baggage, another welcome change in the fourth installment is the absence of Will and Elizabeth Turner since their story was one of many that was concluded in At World's End.

Blackbeard's ship the dreaded Queen Anne's Revenge.
On Stranger Tides follows Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and Gibbs, along with some new characters on a quest for the Fountain of Youth. The new characters are a mixed bag.

Penelope Cruz plays Angelica, a love interest for Jack Sparrow. Let me just say this: Jack Sparrow should not have a love interest. He's a bloody pirate - a scalawag. That kind of commitment even to another pirate seems very out-of-character. But then we're constantly being told that Jack is somehow an ethical pirate. We never see him kill anyone who's not far worse than he is. Angelica's main problem is that she's kind of annoying. I never understood why Jack would find her more appealing than any of the other women he might have run into on his adventures. Why does Jack have genuine feelings for this women? Because the script says so.

Ian McShane, on the other hand, plays an absolutely fantastic Blackbeard. He's intimidating without acting over-the-top evil which makes him far less likable than say, Barbossa, who's theatrical on purpose. Blackbeard feels appropriately commanding and sinister - a real, genuine antagonist for the film. What I didn't care for [slight spoiler warning] was how the script characterized him as some wizard of the sea. His ship somehow has quite a few magical abilities. Magic is an established force in Pirates lore, but we are never told why Blackbeard has command of it. It made sense for a character like Davy Jones who was clearly dealt with the supernatural. I would have preferred Blackbeard to have just been an ordinary human with extraordinary talents for piracy. [end of spoilers]

A fun sequence in London that drags on for a bit too long.
My favourite new character was a missionary named Philip who was one of the most positive portrayals of a Christian on film that I've seen in a long time. Was not expecting that. Philip stands strong in face of Blackbeard's obvious evil and Jack's hedonism alike. As much as we are supposed to like and root for Jack, I found myself rooting for Philip just as much if not more. I won't spoil Philip's subplot, but I will say it's left open-ended making me wonder if he might return in possible sequels.

All the returning characters are a welcome sight although Barbossa and Gibbs don't get as much screentime as their characters (and actors) warrant. Jack is probably better written in On Stranger Tides than he has been since the first film. He's a real character again, not the walking punchline he had become in the last movie. Like in Pearl, he runs into the plot rather than inducing it or being at its center. That's a very good place for Jack to be as it turns out. It strikes the right balance as did the first film.

After a trilogy of Pirates films I wasn't expecting to be surprised. I actually was at several points in the film. The set pieces are fun. The mythological elements including mermaids and old school voodoo-created zombies are realized in interesting ways.

Blackbeard is very well acted by Ian McShane though
strangely characterized by the writers.
There are, unfortunately, several problems that keep it from being as good as the first or second films. It felt long to me which is never a good thing to think in a movie. That's probably because the film starts off with far too much action before getting to the plot. The pacing is better in the second half of the movie. However, I still felt like I was watching film that was close to three hours when in reality the runtime is was less than Pearl.

I don't think the film will hold up to repeat viewings like the original. There's just something a little fatiguing about it. It's a shame too. With a little trimming of the script here and there (or better yet: removing some unnecessary actions sequences) it might have been a much stronger movie. Still, a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean could have been much worse than On Stranger Tides.

I am looking forward to another film. As long as they keep this standalone serial formula going I think there's more life left in this franchise. Pirates 4 brings us the welcome return of Jack Sparrow. It is a more-than-satisfying summer popcorn movie. What else do you want from a Pirates movie?

5.02.2011

That's the end of that...

Happy May, everybody. I wish it looked more like Spring in my neck of the woods, but at least the end of the school semester is right around the corner.


So the big news right now is, of course, the death of Osama bin Laden. Am I happy he's dead? At first I was somewhat gladdened by the news, to be honest. I know that's not a very Christian response.

The truth is Osama bin Laden was made in God's (Yahweh, not Allah) image. He needed to know Christ just like anybody else. But I do believe that God is a God of justice. Whether we as fallen creatures ought to extract justice from each other through means of capital punishment is something we can debate (there is disagreement between the contributers to this blog). One thing's for certain: Osama bin Laden was a very lost soul who believed that he was doing good when, in fact, he was doing great evil.

Did Osama get what he deserved? Yeah, he did.

What saddens me is how this has once again brought to mind the tragedy that befell the country almost 10 years ago. While my patriotism has waxed and waned in the years since then, 9/11 nevertheless will always remain a formative part of my childhood. To me, this event gives that one some closure.

Another saddening thing: Twitter along with the internet in general seems predisposed to do nothing but make unfunny jokes about it. I hate to sound like a killjoy, but... this is such a sad and predictable response.

I've been through the #osama trending topic. While some people are merely reporting the news to their collective circles, about 2/3 of the comments are jokes, flippant comments, or otherwise irreverent chatter.

The best Tweet I found one the issue (and one of the few mature ones) was this:
"I'm not going to be happy about  being dead. Evil or just doing things the wrong way, God still loved him"
from @Erinsoap
I can't say I blame people for making deriding comments about bin Laden. I get that. But to I feel that it's making light of something that we probably shouldn't in this case.

I am someone who likes to make light of a lot of things because, to me, it's a good way of putting things in perspective. I treat a lot of things irreverently because I truly don't think they're that significant or worthy. Most of what the 24 hour news media likes to drum up as "news" is utterly ridiculous. We focus on absurdly stupid things and that makes us cynical or just bored so that when something like this comes around that genuinely matters we don't have any other response than irreverence.

One man is dead. Let us be thankful he can do no more harm. I, for one, am not thankful he is suffering eternally for serving the wrong god.


Whatever you believe about the issue, is it really too much to ask that we be adults about this? What are your thoughts on the death of Osama bin Laden? Is it a truly significant event or no big deal?