dir: Rob Marshall
When Elizabeth Taylor was paid $1,000,000 to star in Cleopatra back in ’64, it was considered both a record and a travesty. When man mountain Marlon Brando was paid $3.7 million and a percentage of profits for a few minutes of screen time in Superman, it was considered a fiasco and a symbol of how the days of Hollywood were numbered, seeing as it was starting to resemble the last days of Rome.
In the present day, Johnny Depp gets paid $55 million dollars to appear in another Pirates of the Caribbean flick, and it’s no big deal. Business as usual. Whatever.
And why? Well, surely it’s because these are the most beloved flicks of all time, and Depp, for playing the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, deserves every bloody well-earned penny? Surely?
Isn’t it a bit obscene, though? I don’t want to come across all ‘Workers Unite!’ and like some retrograde commie-pinko wanker, but is there really anything in this world that justifies getting paid that much? For that amount of money you’d think he was getting paid to sexually service, to the point of guaranteed happy ending, every person who steps into the theatre, anywhere in the world, any way they want.
The only calculation that justifies paying anyone that unholy amount of cash is the fairly basic economic one of ROI (Return on Investment). In the wash up, when it’s shown that it cost $55 million to keep Depp on board, $200 mil or so to make the goddamn flick, and it made over 1 billion dollars at the box office, you’ve achieved the pinnacle of capitalism at its finest. If they’d paid Depp some LeBron James – David Beckham style payday of $400 million for a few month’s work, Disney would still be way, way ahead in the scheme of things, and laughing all the way to the organ bank.
It’s fascinating. At least, these issues or questions are fascinating to me. Probably not to you, or to any other sane person with time to be apportioned and enjoyed in the most productive manner possible. At the very least, it’s more interesting thinking about these issues than it is thinking about this flick.
I have watched this flick, that’s true. Watching a flick usually means I feel entitled and qualified to review it thenceforth, having paid the due required. Again, that’s debateable. But I can’t really tell you much about it. There’s not much there there.
Oh, there’s certainly a lot of colour, movement, actors, special effects, rum drinking, music and ye olde ships and cannon-fire. Oh, and there’s lots of Captain Jack flouncing about. And there’s a plot, I guess.
And though I could tell you the individual components of the script, and all the various scenes that occur, I couldn’t really you how it hangs together or what it all means.
It’s like someone took thousands of photos and just threw them at me for over two hours. Two long, long goddamn hours.
There’s a kind of incoherence which can result even from something where perhaps the individual elements are understandable, but you can’t really see how any of it is meant to mesh together. Maybe it’s my fault, to be fair.
There’s little through-line, there’s little decent connective tissue, and little that makes actual sense as the film chugs along. It wouldn’t matter if I was entertained; you shouldn’t even really notice such an absence if a film’s half-decent. You should be ecstatic enough if it’s somewhat more sensible that the last abysmal flick these sheltered workshop types were responsible for, being the last Pirates flick At World’s End, which sucked so badly I still alternate between crying into and punching my pillow when I think about it each night as I struggle in vain to fall asleep.
Being better than a terrible film doesn’t make this a good film. Not having Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom in the flick doesn’t necessarily make it a better flick. It certainly helps, but perhaps not by enough.
This fourth flick, lifting the title and little else from the Tim Powers book of the same name, has as its objective the quest for the Fountain of Youth. All sorts of people, from the Spanish Crown, to the English Crown, to the evil pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), to the evil pirate’s alleged daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz), to Captain Jack’s former and perhaps current enemy Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), resplendent with his newly tricked out peg leg, all are in pursuit of the Fountain, following in the footsteps of the Ponce De Leon.
Who or what is the Ponce De Leon? Well, the flick never feels the need to explain it, so why should I? From the name alone we can gather that he was some poonce of some description, possibly a band member of the Kings of Leon, which not only means he once set off on the quest to locate the Fountain of Youth, but that he was also responsible for some pretty mediocre chug-chug-chug FM radio rock.
For these crimes and more, perhaps, the various members of the cast are in hot pursuit of the Poncey Leon’s stuff, and the Fountain itself, and a mermaid’s tears… What? Oh, yeah, they decide that mermaids are the monster du jour. At the very least, I’ve established that there’s a plot to this flick, some kind of plot. Some semblance of a plot.
I mean, there are characters, there’s a setting, and there’s a set of objectives and locations people travel to in order to fill up. And lots of things happen over the long, dreary running time that the film afflicts us with.
Is that all a plot is? If that’s a plot, then whatever happens to the morons of Jersey Shore is a well-written drama, with believable motivations and reasonable objectives resulting in a compelling program that transports people for however long they are lucky enough to bask in their presence.
Here, along the way, everyone and their dog gets to wherever they need to get, but it is managed in the clunkiest, absurdist, dumbest, least believable and least compelling ways possible. It’s not a problem when you’re having fun watching it. At least in theory. It’s a difficult balancing act to make something like this fun, engaging, exciting and all the rest. I don’t think they manage it at all. Surely a hack like Rob Marshall, who made crapfests like Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha, isn’t going to manage it.
Oh, sure, everyone loves Captain Jack and his ambiguous ways, and it’s great not to have to endure bony Keira Knightley or Orlando Bloom’s non-acting, and Ian McShane definitely looks the part as the infamous pirate Blackbeard. He’s also got a way with dialogue. Oh, the ways it rolls around in his mouth like he’s going to violate it... Penelope Cruz can definitely act, but she’s terrible here through no fault of her own.
None of them are really supported by the idiotic plot, or the strange script which feels like it was slavishly attended to by teams and teams of disparate writers, all throwing their two cents’ worth into a salad of ideas and visuals that never really hangs together in the pursuit of a pointless finish line of their own undoing.
At the end of all this, any of the misgivings I might have had were amplified instead of alleviated, because much of what happens at the end, as in, the revelation of what the Spanish were really trying to do, or what Barbossa really wants to achieve, or what Angelica really wants, as the daughter of the monstrous Blackbeard, all of it falls apart and makes a mockery of everything that came before.
As for Jack, pretty much nothing he does throughout the flick makes any sense, nor is there any consistency to any of his actions or motivations. And it’s not like the ladies care. Some of the individual action set pieces he takes part it are swashbuckling enough, and are thrilling enough as they’re happening. But then a wild ride ends, and you’re wondering what next pointless sequence is going to ensue once you endure some scenes of people explaining away the implausabilities of how they got where they are and what they’re going to do next.
Look, I am savaging it, and the truth is there were times enough where I switched off and laughed, or where the ‘novel’ twist on sea myths (like the one about the mermaids, who are murderous skanks with only one exception) is different enough to make me take interest. It’s just that overall I found myself saying “why the fuck… what the fuck… how the hell?” more often than “huh, that’s cool.”
Not that I talk to myself in the cinema. That’d be a worse crime than anything Blackbeard, the one here who does voodoo and supernatural bullshit, or the one in real life, ever managed.
5 times maybe if they pay Johnny Depp even more money next time, he’ll do a better job out of 10
“I support the missionary’s position” – Captain Jack strikes me as a supporter of far nastier positions than that – On Stranger Tides.