The Review: There used to be a few well held and rarely disputed rules about certain genres, including that there’s never really been any good pirate movies (as in movies with pirates, not dodgy market copies of Jurassic Park III filmed on a shakycam and transferred to VHS), and that to make a film based on a theme park attraction was tantamount to insanity. Then in 2003 Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl arrived, got Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination and scared up a huge amount of money. Unsurprisingly, two sequels followed, which raked in even more pirate booty, but there was an inescapable feeling of quality, well, escaping. The third film especially, which starts with child hangings and then proceeds to kill of most of its peripheral characters as an afterthought, really should have killed the franchise stone dead, but it seems that people can’t get enough of Captain Jack Sparrow, so other characters have been cast aside and Captain Jack gets to take centre stage.
He’s not quite on his own; returning alongside Cap’n Jack are Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a little legless and in the Royal Navy; Kevin McNally as loyal sidekick Gibbs, chugging along in much the same manner as the first three films; and Captain Teague (Keith Richards), repeating his cameo as Sparrow Sr. from the last, ill-advised entry. But never fear, there’s a whole host of new characters to make up for the loss of Orlando, Keira et al, including Penélope Cruz as blast from Jack’s past Angelica and Ian McShane as pirate legend Blackbeard. Those paying attention at the end of the last movie will remember some nonsense being spouted about the Fountain of Youth, and that’s where we’re setting sail for this time, picking up more waifs and strays along the way, including a young priest and a feisty mermaid that will make you wonder quite why, salary considerations aside, they got rid of Orlando and Keira in the first place.
Director Rob Marshall replaces Gore Verbinski this time out, and it’s another change that leaves you pining for the original. While the third Pirates might have been offensively bad in places, it was at least never offensively dull, which is more than can be said for this entry. Sparrow, Barbossa, Blackbeard and even some random Spaniards all trek around the high seas looking for a couple of MacGuffins in addition to finding the Fountain of Youth, but since Jack’s been there before there never feels like a significant obstacle to overcome. On top of that, everyone else’s motivations are murky and no one really seems that interested in finding what they’re supposed to be looking for anyway; if the characters can’t invest in the quest at hand, it doesn’t leave much hope for the audience. If this film has achieved anything, it’s that despite lopping over half an hour off the bloated length of At World’s End, this still feels about forty minutes too long.
There’s also a problem with Captain Jack himself. Being odd on the periphery while others drove the plot worked well, but now Jack’s the driving force somehow everything else feels just a little off kilter. It’s not helped by the writers forgetting what made Jack so appealing in the first place, but the joy of lines from the first film such as “I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place. Spiritually, ecumenically, gramatically…” have been replaced by general oddness which might raise the odd chuckle at the time but fails to linger any longer than a few seconds. Suggestions of romantic tension with Cruz fall flat through a lack of both romance and tension and very few others seem to have their heart in it, certainly not McShane or Rush on this occasion. There’s some interest early on before the plot wheels start to grind to a halt, and a couple of the set pieces entertain briefly, but On Stranger Tides is just a little too strange to have lasting appeal. Remember that rule that there’s no good pirate movies? It seems that Curse Of The Black Pearl was just the exception to that rule.
Why see it at the cinema: The mermaid sequence is pretty reasonable and there’s as much impressive scenery as ever, but this feels oddly small in scale compared to previous entries.
Why see it in 3D: My wife watched large parts of the film without the 3D glasses, and other than appearing brighter it made very little difference. Apart from the occasional thrust of a cutlass there’s very little here to justify the higher ticket price.
The Score: 4/10
The Review: It’s one of the most commonly held theories in movies that you can’t make good cinematic adaptations of computer games. Don’t believe me? Then look at this list. Not one live action movie based on a computer game has a Rotten Tomatoes score of over 40%, and the box office for that list is also generally pretty poor. But surely any movie based on a computer game that’s managed to get to its third sequel, and has done big box office business quickly enough to ensure that the fourth sequel is already on its way, must be doing something right? Right?
If it is, then it’s gone over my head. There’s an obvious appeal from Resident Evil: the series of computer games – zombies and other mutated creatures, and you get to dispatch them in various satisfying ways. The games themselves have always succeeded in creating atmosphere, but there’s precious little of that on offer here. An opening sequence wraps up the cliffhanger from the previous entry, doing so with precious little in the way of wit, imagination or style. It does then kickstart the real plot, prompting Milla Jovovich to have to act briefly in a confession to camera sequence that manages to be both tedious (it’s very short but doesn’t feel it) and unbelievable.
Ah yes, Milla Jovovich. Just because you’re married to the director, love, does it really mean you have to keep doing these? You’ve got a movie coming out with Edward Norton and Robert De Niro soon! Jovovich continues to fill the function of acting as your avatar in the movie world but adds very little else in the way of proceedings to anything. Those missing Ali Larter or Wentworth Miller from their cancelled TV series might think they’ll get a fix here, but other than the fact they’re actually playing characters from the computer games (unlike most of the others here), they’re not adding much either.
Paul WS Anderson is content to reference other action movies without ever coming up with anything especially original. Shots are poorly framed and have no weight in the action sequences, characters are picked off in uninteresting and undramatic ways (at least throw in a bit of gore if people we don’t care about because of your poor plot and character exposition are dying?), and for a movie that should be full of zombies, this goes to great lengths to keep them fenced off and leave you purely in the company of the other insipid excuses for characters, which is completely inexcusable. The games themselves are renowned for their puzzles – the only puzzle here is why you’d want to watch it in the first place? *
Why see it at the cinema: If you’re a fan of the series, then seek help you’ll be going anyway. If you’re not, then you won’t be going anyway – hopefully. Frankly, if you’ve read this, if you haven’t been to one of these before and are still tempted, then I’d be checking that pulse – the zombies might have gotten you already.
Why see it in 3D: Nominally, because this is filmed with the same 3D camera set-up used for Avatar, so the 3D isn’t applied in post-production. The effect they have achieved is not only that the 3D looks dark, but in some places it actually appears the movie is in black and white. Still, things will occasionally be thrown in your virtual face, if you like that sort of thing.
The Score: 2/10
* You may indeed be wondering why I watched it in the first place? Foolishly, I had eight hours while my wife was out on a volunteer assignment and I could fit in three movies, Cyrus and ‘Tamara Drewe’ being the first two, and this then being the only realistic possibility for a third. On reflection, sitting in the car for two hours staring at a hedge may have been preferable. Hey, it’s not the worst movie I’ve seen this year, just the second worst. Thanks, Catherine Zeta Jones.
The Review: Ever since Shaun of the Dead and 28 Days Later, there’s been a renaissance in zombie movies and other similar horror movies. So is there anything left to offer to the zombie-type horror movie?
Well yes, but not a huge amount. Remaking movies that you’ve not heard of is probably better than a dodgy remake of a classic, but there’s only glimmers of new ideas here – some of the best moments have not only been used in other recent movies, but sometimes get a repeat airing within the running time of this movie.
Most of the characters are cyphers, but you’re still left occasionally guessing as to who will make it out alive. Sadly, some gaping holes in the logic undermine what momentum the movie has built up, and by the end some occasionally effective moments are all that linger, rather than the film itself.
Why see it at the cinema: Horror films are always better when they get the benefit of the collective shock experience, and this is no exception.
The Score: 5/10