Saturday, 21 May 2011

At Wit's End

I'm more than a little disappointed with On Stranger Tides. Others will disagree, I know, but I think it's by far the worst of all the Pirates films so far. People's main complaint about the previous two seems to be that the narrative wasn't coherent enough. I understood what was going on, but whatever. I can understand that the general weirdness of At World's End isn't to everyone's taste. Still, if we are to acknowledge that, I think it would be fair to say that the scripts, at least, were still punctuated with witty dialogue - they hadn't quite forgotten that the films are meant to be funny, even if they did spend too much time faffing around making big, epic action scenes with, at times, laughably shoddy CGI. For me, it didn't matter too much. I love the characters, the various little double acts (Mullroy and Murtogg, Pintel and Ragetti, Jack and Barbossa), and the 'story', which let's not forget was that of Bloomin Orlando and Ikea Knightley, was always secondary. On Stranger Tides is the first film in the franchise to have genuinely bored me. I think I have a fairly high concentration span, but even I couldn't be bothered with this.

Whilst watching it, I could only assume that they'd got a new script writer in, but apparently not: it's just that the old ones aren't funny any more. There were one or two odd jokes ('Mr. Beard') that made me laugh, but on the whole, what little humour that there was was almost all physical, created through the action (A slightly clichéd 'food on the ceiling' gag at the start, Barbossa's rum-flask leg, and my own favourite, a well-timed falling stalactite). In other words, it was as much down to direction as writing.

Characterisation in this film was seriously lame, which is unfortunate, since that was one of the best parts of all of the others. Depp and Rush did their best with the crappy lines they were given, and were still pretty good, but you'd have to have seen the other films to really give a damn about them. Predictably, Penelope Cruz couldn't really keep up with Depp, who genuinely sparkles when he's got something decent to work with, and still outstrips most of the people around him even when he hasn't. Quite aside from that though, her character just wasn't very interesting or convincing. What she should have been was a kind of Irene Adler to Sparrow's 'Sherlock', if you like - that is to say, not someone he ever has been or ever could be tied down to, but a kind of recurring nemesis/love interest who wouldn't really want to stick with him any more than he would with her, somebody his equal in both intelligence and independence. Instead, Angelica was mostly just annoying, especially in her last scene, when for no apparent reason Jack tries to leave her on a desert island. Then, obviously, the comic duos Mullroy and Murtogg and Pintel and Ragetti were completely absent, with no attempt made to replace them, already removing the potential for a bucketload of the earlier films' comedy. Worst of all were the incredibly weak "Pheeleep" and "Syrena", who seemed to have been tacked on as a kind of afterthought, when some bright spark decided that they'd better stick in some Will/Elizabeth replacements. Pretty awful replacements they were, too, which is saying something, given that Will and Elizabeth were so uninteresting to begin with, but at least they had enough screen-time to count as actual characters, rather than asides. By contrast, one gets the distinct impression that neither of these two really ought to be there at all. Philip, we discover, is travelling on the Queen Anne's Revenge because Blackbeard (who, despite attempts to convince us of his murderous psycho tendencies, isn't actually remotely scary) has been soft enough to allow his ex-nun daughter to bring a missionary priest along with her (we never really find out why he's even agreed to bring her with him, let alone her confessor). Unsurprisingly, the priest soon begins to get on Blackbeard's nerves and so ends up tied him to the mast. For some unexplained reason, Blackbeard chooses not to dispose of him in his usual slaughterous fashion, despite doing this with almost everyone else. All of this might just about make sense if Blackbeard had enough hidden tenderness in his black heart to care about his daughter, even a little, but given the number of times throughout the film that he tries to kill her, it's all rather implausible. As for Syrena - who Philip eventually falls for and runs away with - despite being a priest, and a supposedly good priest too - she is, as her rather unimaginative name implies, a siren, or mermaid. As we're shown earlier in the film, mermaids are evil, murderous, carnivorous bitches, about the scariest thing in the film. Only not to priests, apparently. So they'll happily kill a load of guys who aren't actually that bad, and are only in the mermaids' way at all because they've all been captured and forced to work for Blackbeard, but when it comes to 'Pheeleep', his goodness and religiosity 'shine through' and magically protect him. Not only is this complete drivel, it's also rather patronising and annoying to us non-religious folks who don't believe that Christianity = goodness and love. In fact, it's probably even patronising and annoying to those people who do, because it seems like yet another case of non-Christian people who don't understand Christianity trying and failing to use it as a handy plot device. This completely irrelevant Goddy strain crops up even before Syrena comes along, when one of the pirates tells the tied up Philip that he's either with them or against them. He replies that he's neither. Said pirate asks Jack, "Can he do that?" to which Jack answers, "He's religious. I think it's required." Now I'd have to say, I can't really see how being a member of a church prevents you taking sides. In fact "with us or against us", or rather, "with us or damned to eternal torture in Hell forever and ever amen" is a pretty neat summary of what religion's all about. Given that the film's set not long after the Reformation and Restoration and all that business, and that they actually incorporate a bit of British anti-Spanishness, it's probably amongst the most ridiculous things they could possibly have said. Religion was the main excuse (if not the main cause) for virtually all the wars that took place in and around this period.

All that said, it's still a Hell of a lot better than the last thing I saw at the cinema. My partner promised to come and see this with me because I went to see Thor with him, which was dreadful. Still, I suppose it could be worse. I expect most people's boyfriends make them go and see things like Transformers. In case you've had the good fortune not to see it yet, here's the trailer for the new Transformers film. It pretty much shows you the whole movie: big robot things, destroying things, people shouting and shooting and talking in clichés, except for the only female in the film, who just gazes around with a pouty open mouth, crying occasionally, apparently having not quite evolved to the level of speech capability yet. It's almost a surprise that there isn't drool running down those collagened lips and mixing with the crocodile tears on her chin. Welcome to the age of sexual equality.

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