Few summer blockbusters have ever been as much fun as Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The movie had thrills, humor, and charming characters. But the more movies they attempted to squeeze out of Johnny Depp’s iconic Jack Sparrow, the more the franchise began to lose its luster. Dead Man’s Chest was good, not great. At World’s End was far too long and overstuffed to truly enjoy. And… and… there was a fourth one, right? Something about Blackbeard? Anywho… this newest installment hopes to bring the Disney magic back to the eerie waters of the Pirates franchise.
The aptly named Dead Men Tell No Tales once again finds an undead sea captain searching for the bumbling, alcoholic, but keenly clever scoundrel known as Jack Sparrow. This time, said sea captain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spaniard who once hunted pirates but was tricked into defeat by a young Jack. To escape Salazar, Jack must team with a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Jack’s old ally Will (Orlando Bloom returning in a cameo role), to find a legendary trident that will grant them power over the sea. Meanwhile, Jack’s old rival Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) seeks to save himself from Salazar and his henchmen of zombies who can’t step on land by helping in the hunt for Jack Sparrow.
Like most Pirates movies (even the good ones), the plot can get a bit caught up in itself as it lumbers on for over two hours. There are some characters, like a British Naval Captain (David Wenham), that take up too much screen time despite being both generic and unnecessary. The plot itself also carries its fair share of conveniences. But what is Pirates of the Caribbean if not an unbelievable tale hidden beneath massive set pieces and well crafted costumes?
For the most part, Dead Men Tell No Tales manages to recapture the swashbuckling fun that made the franchise so popular. Yes, the plot often seems filled with holes so big that previous films can even get sucked into them, but that doesn’t take away from the fun at all. Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush effectively step back into their roles as if they never left. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario provide wholesome focal points as a boy fighting to reunite with his father and a woman trying to forge her own path in a world where a woman is deemed a witch if she reads a book. Javier Bardem even manages to succeed in being a wholly threatening adversary even though he’s essentially no different from the villains in the other Pirates films.
The movie is filled with some scenes so over the top or cheesy that your eyes might fall out of your head. But those moments are eclipsed by all of the genuine laughs and charm brought to the story. With stunning CGI effects and likable new characters, this entry feels much more like what audiences fell in love with. By reconnecting with the original trilogy (something the fourth film almost completely failed to do), this new Pirates manages to give us an adventure both nostalgic and compelling.
FINAL GRADE: B
What if I told you, that Gerard Butler trouncing around as an Ancient North African mythological God whilst speaking with his normal Scottish accent isn’t remotely the worst thing about Gods of Egypt? Sure, it’s a sloppy detail that makes the filmmakers seem incredibly dense, but a racially accurate cast is far from the element needed to make Gods of Egypt watchable. Like 2014’s Exodus: Gods and Kings, this movie is dead on arrival mostly due to a poorly written script and lackluster direction.
The film tells the story of a power struggle between Set (Butler), vengeful God of the desert, and his nephew Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), God of the Sky. After Set kills Horus’ father and takes Horus’ eyes, he overtakes Egypt and begins his mission to rule all of the world’s realms. After stealing back one of Horus’ eyes, mortal thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) reluctantly joins Horus on a quest to save the love of his life, Zaya (Courtney Eaton) and take back Egypt from Set.
The plot seems decent enough to carry out a movie with at least the competence of a film like Clash of the Titans. And yet, this movie manages to be chocked full of as many plot holes as action sequences. For instance; despite having an army that is about a tenth of Egypt’s population and despite being outnumbered by God’s who don’t support him, Set manages to overtake Egypt without the slightest hint of difficulty. There are also rules established by the film, like Horus needing both of his eyes for flight, that are repeatedly and conveniently thrown aside to further the film’s plot. Combine that with dumb elements like the God of the Sun (Geoffrey Rush) battling a giant Space worm, and this movie feels like it’s been written by a 9 year old with each passing second.
There is some clever dialogue thrown in that manages to make the film go from atrocious to so-bad-it’s-funny territory, and that may be the movie’s only saving grace. The fact that the film is poorly cast, filled with hardly relevant/unlikable characters that do idiotic things, and is about 30 minutes too long all make for an unpleasant overall experience. And if you’re looking for decent special effects, look elsewhere. The CGI seems at least 10 years behind it’s time more often than not.
FINAL GRADE: D
A dystopian society and a teen that must set the people free from it… sound familiar? These movies have become so abundant that it is hard not to right them off as copycats before you even sit down to watch. But just like with the Superhero origin story, or the slasher film, these movies can actually be worthwhile if you give them a chance and at least try to take them as individual stories and not a member of a collective whole.
The Giver, based off of a novel published in 1993 by Lois Lowry, is the story of Jonas (Brenton Thwaites), a boy living in a community of people who live in a world of Sameness. Everyone takes a drug that eliminates emotional depth. Teenagers are assigned their jobs based on their personality traits. And no one has memories of the world before sameness. Things like animals, snow, even colors, are lost to this community of seemingly happy people. After being assigned as the Receiver of Memories, a job assigned to one citizen who withholds all of the knowledge and records of the world before Sameness, Jonas begins to realize how shallow his society is. Along with his teacher, the Giver of Memories (Jeff Bridges) he seeks to restore the world to what it used to be and overthrow the chief Elder (Meryl Streep).
The movie is essentially Divergent meets Equilibrium. The funny thing is; the source material predates both of those films. So, all of the clichés and moments that hearken back to other dystopian teen stories are a bit forgivable. Understanding this makes the movie very fascinating though it lacks the action of similar stories. It makes up for the lack of big action sequences with a more philosophical approach to its story, because unlike Hunger Games or Divergent, the antagonists aren’t committing mass genocide or doing any damage for the sake of power. Even their most heinous acts are justifiable via their emotionless logic and quest for true peace.
The films biggest shortcomings are actually with the cast. Thwaites and many of the younger actors, carry themselves like they’re doing an ABC Family sitcom and not a major motion picture. They dominate most of the screen time, so it can get a bit annoying. The ending of the film is also very confusing and a bit ambiguous, but readers of the book will tell you that this is no different than the source material. I personally read the book too long ago to fully remember the details, but I found this theatrical version fairly entertaining. As for as the themes and the questions they raise, the movie is actually a step above last springs hit, Divergent.
FINAL GRADE: B. Won’t be a waste of money. Worth seeing if you’re bored.