Director: Rob Marshall
Screenplay: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
Synopsis is here
I haven't fought the urge to walk out of a cinema as badly as I did today during POTC 4. Was it really that bad? In a way no. I've seen films way worse than this. This isn't bad from a technical standpoint like the films of Ed Wood or Troll 2, nor is it as shockingly appalling as something like Lesbian Vampire Killers. No, the reason behind such an urge to leave was the searing apathy this feature brings with it. It is a lazy laborious bore. To hate it would be to have something to feel towards it. Pirates 4 doesn't try to bring anything to the table. I felt no joy, no pain, no hate, no nothing. The film has a vapid emptiness so substantial that I actually asked myself "what's the point?"
Pirates 4 reminds me very much of how I felt about The Omen remake, in the grand scheme of things it isn't the worst film ever made, as that's a stupid claim. However, this film is so transparent in its purpose (to make money) it doesn't even try and mask its reason of being with anything approaching solid entertainment. I 've always considered the pirates franchise to be one of diminishing returns. However I despite my disappointment of the installments as the series went on there was always something to be had from them. Gore Verbinski doesn't come anywhere near my fave directors list but you could never say that his approach to the material lack energy. Even through the overcomplicated plots overdone double crosses, at least there was a set piece to take something from or a moment of humor or two.
Pirates 4 offers nothing to hang a hat on. It is a lackadaisical Pirates-lite retread full of sub-plot-points which go nowhere (Blackbeard's magic, the mermaids physiology) , eye rolling attempts at humour (cracker joke bad) and "fresh" characters who are nowhere near as appealing as those who have left us. It also contains the fear that bothered me the most, Jack Sparrow as the lead and not the comic foil. This is Depp playing a caricature with nothing to do and no one to bounce off of. You would think that "bouncer" would be Penelope Cruz but unfortunately the screenwriters decided to leave her character at home. Here Sparrow claims love to this new character but does little in terms of action to prove it. There is one moment that tries to salvage some sort of chemistry, unfortunately it's too little too late. But then this is what you get when you have a film that has a first half of merely introducing characters with no character. Yes Worlds end and Dead Man's Chest were overstuffed with plot, but leaving us with hardly anything doesn't restore the faith.
Other reviews have lamented at the loss of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan and I have to agree as while Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly weren't a romance that would set hearts a flame, but at least it was there. You could sense an attraction even if you didn't think it was the best. Their flat performances can always be attributed to being the "straight men" and in a round about way it worked. On Stranger Tides shoehorns in a weak substitute in a Priest (Claflin) and a Mermaid (Berges-Frisbey) but their need within the movie is superfluous and poorly executed.
Even the action within the movie suffers; with nothing coming close to the final fight in Worlds End, the endless wheel sword sequence of Dead Man's Chest or you know the whole first movie. None of the events carry any weight or risk, but nor do they bring any inventiveness either. Action happens, but you can almost forget it in a blink of an eye. Verbinski gave a cartoonish verve to proceedings before. What does Marshall bring? But then again when Rob Marshall brought to us two very uninspiring modern musicals before this what did I expect?
Acting wise, what we get is beyond flat. Depp trots out Sparrow again but this is forth time and the well is clearly running dry. But then how could Depp still be as entertaining whenhe goes up against a villain as flavourless as this installments Blackbeard? Ian McShane plays the legendary pirate as a grumpy Lovejoy with little wish to inject any animation within the portrayal. You could say that all the scenery chewing is left to Geffory Rush's Barbossa, however Rush is so sidelined he makes Owen Hargraves look like he played for more than ten minutes last season. Penelope Cruz sleepwalks through scenes with one eye on her baby and one eye on the next time she can hook up with a director like Woody Allen again.
So what do we get? We get a bland retread, but it's worse than that as it's step down. It does nothing to suggest that money was the only reason this forth film even existed. Now lets not get things mixed up here. I enjoy the fruits of capitalism (check my DVD collection) and I'm well aware that it's called show business for a reason. But when you are given a film that simply doesn't try in any aspects of creating a sense of fun, that's when things become frustrating. I do not write this to get a rise out of fans of the franchise. Why should I? I'm sure there's films I love, that they probably despise. However,this is cinema as commerce at its worse, trading in on the fact that it has that Hans Zimmer score and Johnny Depp merely being on screen to give the belief of real enjoyment. 2003 is almost 10 years ago. Marshall's film help remind us that the fresh air of that year would clearly be stale now.