Friday, 17 June 2011

"You seem somewhat familiar, have I quoted you before?"

Title's not great. But I refuse to do something as simple as naming a blog post after what I'm writing it about!
In any case, I think the people responsible for On Stranger Tides had a similar problem. I mean, compare with the other three Pirates of the Caribbean films:
Curse of the Black Pearl - film is about the  crew of the Black Pearl, who are cursed.
Dead Man's Chest - OK, the chest belongs to Davy Jones, who isn't technically dead, but it's a pirate cliche. Close enough.
At World's End - Well, they're sailing off the edges of conventional maps to get Jack back. And Beckett could be said to be trying to bring about an end of the world the pirates know. Qualifies well enough.

On Stranger Tides - The fountain of youth has what exactly to do with tides, strange or otherwise?
Though, wikipedia has just reminded me it was named after a book from which it was adapted. So maybe there was more relevance in the book?

Anyway, titles aside, onto talking about the film. I went to see this film about two and a half weeks ago, on my birthday. I should really get into the habit of blogging about things sooner, lest I forget important details. Though on the other hand, those details which I remember for a couple of weeks afterwards are likely to be the more important ones.

OK, firstly, things which slightly coloured my impression of the film going in:

Review by Jeremy Jahns.
Blogpost about Captain Jack Sparrow by Jeremy Jahns.

Now, I don't agree with everything he says, and in fact that's how I'm going to approach this post, by saying where I disagree with him. I feel he's too harsh on the second and third films, which while not so well constructed as the first, were still perfectly enjoyable. Especially the third. On his points about Jack in the blogpost, I definitely take his point about how he became something of a caricature of himself in the second film, I think less so in the third, though there were still some moments.

That's the first point I'm going to talk about with regard to the new one - I feel they really regained that original appearance of confidence and being in control that he had in the original. There are still moments of apparent stupidity, but it should be noted that he was not entirely without those in CotBP either. ("Parsnip, parsley, parley!" anyone?) The distinction to me is that I think in the first and fourth films these come across more as Obfuscating Stupidity (No TVTropes link, but you can go find it if you want), whereas in the intervening two he appears at times to be actually stupid, or in the third film, insane (Yes I know he was stuck in Davy Jones Locker and went a bit mad, but it didn't entirely work for me). As he should be, people may assume him to be an idiot, attributing his attitude to arrogance and his successes to simple luck - but in fact he's a very canny character, who, while boastful, is nonetheless perfectly willing to take advantage of people who underestimate him.
I should note also that some of his success is due to luck. But not that much of it. The point is, he's astoundingly good at improvising, and just takes everything as it comes - it doesn't always go his way, but when it does, he always takes the opportunities. You can say "Oh, that only worked because he was lucky enough that such-and-such happened," but if such-and-such hadn't happened, he would've had a change of fortune somewhere furtehr along the line.
I had most of these thoughts during the big chase scene early on in the film. Which is magnificently Jack Sparrow.


Another point Jeremy Jahns commented on was reusing things - now, I don't recall noticing any other than the one he mentions: "Have I threatened you before?" They didn't transfer it over directly, it was adjusted to fit a different context, but it still doesn't really work for me, it only works because people will recognise the line from the first film. But personally, that disappointment was easily compensated for by his following claim to still  not know who he was talking to even after the man was identified (Minor spoiler, not really significant - it was the King of England). Now that to me exemplifies the supreme confidence of Captain Jack Sparrow.
As a sidenote - though it was only a bit part, Richard Griffiths gave a brilliant performance as King George. Same goes somewhat for the other bit part - Captain Teague, Keith Richards.

Other characters - Gibbs is good as usual. Barbossa is brilliant - they gave him more of a character arc than in the previous films, rather than just being there to antagonise Jack. On which note, we also got to see more of the friendship and rivalry between those two, and the comparison between them - in a straight contest, Jack is likely to come out on top due to his superior improvising skills, but Barbossa is quite possibly the most treacherous pirate in the series.
New characters - now Jeremy complained about there being too many factions going after the fountain, but I disagree. You have Jack, Blackbeard, the British under Barbossa and the Spanish. You could perhaps lose the Spanish, but I didn't really mind them, because they're not so much characters as they are a plot device. They serve their purpose and don't detract from the important characters.
Actual new characters - There's a missionary on Blackbeard's ship. If anyone is the replacement Will Turner, it's this guy. Morally upstanding among a crew of self-interested brigands. But he works well enough, and again doesn't detract from the other characters (Not saying there would be anything wrong with that character having more to do, but clearly the writers wanted the film to be about Jack, Barbossa, Angelica and Blackbeard - the missionary is a side-plot). There's a mermaid, whose purpose is mostly to be attractive and naked. There's also something where aither she's different to the other mermaids or she simply responds differently to the missionary than to everyone else, but it's not really explained.
On which note, the mermaids. A friend of mine described them as "vampire mermaids who are apparently also Spiderman." I don't really see the vampire element, but they do have some unexplained ability to grab people with something remarkably similar to Spiderman's web-shooting ability. No idea how that works, as I said, it's not explained, and sort of comes out of nowhere. That said, the initial portrayal of them is very good.

Finally, I get to the really interesting new characters. Angelica, for me, works better as a lady pirate than Elizabeth Swann did. A hot-headed Spanish woman is perhaps a bit of a cliche, but it is so for a reason, and her interactions with Jack really allowed both of them to shine (They have history. He met her in a nunnery, having mistaken it for a brothel).
And Blackbeard. Given his apparent reputation, one has to wonder why he was never mentioned in the third film - but on the other hand, he doesn't seem like much of a team player, even by pirate standards, so he'd probably have nothing to do with the Brethren Court, and maybe he was just too scary even for Davy Jones to attack. Given the portrayal here, I could believe it.
Now he is potentially relevant to an interesting point regarding villains in general. Because people will criticise villains for being too one-dimensional, for just being evil for the sake of it or because it's fun, rather than having a more complicated motivation. And yet, one of the best moments in the film is when the missionary is coming up with some explanation for why Blackbeard is the way he is, and he says "It's a lot simpler than that. I'm just a bad man." (Note: this may not read as such a great line, but when Ian McShane says it, you better believe it's amazing)
And of course in contrast, people can get rather tired of almost every villain having some sympathetic backstory, and it has been observed that one must be cautious about exploring your villains' backstories too much because you risk 'devillainifying' them (Yes, that's a word). So, really, it seems to me that the issue is not so much the villain's motivation or lack thereof, but rather how well they're written in general. It's not what is done, but how it's done, that really makes it good.
Anyway, Blackbeard is a truly wonderful villain.

And without giving any significant spoilers, we are decently set up for them to make more films, with a few really interesting elements they can do something with. I believe there are plans for 5th and 6th films for the series, and I'm looking forward to them. Impressive, given that when I originally heard about this film, I was skeptical, thinking it was just a money-grabbing idea, that I'd probably be amused by Captain Jack Sparrow but otherwise expecting to be fairly disappointed. On the contrary, it's revitalised my interest in the franchise. If they can keep going like this, I'll  be very pleased.
I think that's about all I can say without talking about details of the plot, and I prefer to avoid giving people spoilers. Go see the film if you haven't already!

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