Friday, June 2, 2017

Hedging bets

When I watched Pirates of the Caribean: Dead Men Tell No Tales on Wednesday night -- and frankly, enjoyed it well enough -- I thought it made a pretty fitting end to the five-part saga. To my surprise, it has been billed as the final Pirates movie, and the way they wrapped it up seemed fine to me. Better than fine, actually -- it may have salvaged some of the series' lesser entries, of which there are several.

And if I hadn't stayed for the entire closing credits, I would have figured that was that.

But we live in a Marvel world now, so I did stay for the entire closing credits. And now I know otherwise.

In true shared universe style -- if not by virtue of the actual sharing, but the corresponding style -- there was a post-credits sequence at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, one which not only suggested that things might not be over, but potentially confirmed the future participation of two characters returning to this series for the first time since the third movie.

That's all I'll say before my official SPOILER WARNING, though I can't imagine you're too worried about that. Either you've seen it and nothing can be spoiled, or you just don't give a shit and are reading this because you like my writing. Anyway, that was the SPOILER WARNING so here it goes:

It's no great surprise that Orlando Bloom is in this movie, given how Bloom has been generally out of work for the better part of a decade now and probably needs either the money or the screen time. But a bigger surprise was to see a cameo appearance at the end by Keira Knightley, who certainly does have better things to do and who would seem to have to deign to be in this movie. That was not a deigning that I particularly thought would or expected to happen, and in itself it lent a dose of credibility to something that should have been merely a soulless cash grab.

A cameo is one thing. Seeming to possibly be the focus of a potential Pirates 6 is quite another.

In this post-credits sequence, it's actually Bloom's Will Turner who wakes up from a nightmare to imagine -- or did he? -- the presence of Davey Jones, the octopus-like creature with a crab's claws, in his bedroom. But sleeping wife Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) is lying in bed with him, and as they are now reunited after God knows how many years of Will being cursed to ride under the waves on the Flying Dutchman, it seems likely that she'll be involved in his further adventures.

Of course, there are many ways around that and Knightley may not deign again. But more interesting to me than who might be in a potential Pirates 6 is that they are considering making it at all, after going to the trouble tell people this would (probably) be the last one.

I said it interested me. I did not say it surprised me. Nearly every long-running franchise has at one point or another intimated or actually said that the franchise was wrapping up, from something like the fourth of an eventual 37 Friday the 13th movies being billed as "The Final Chapter," to the Fast & Furious guys kind of indicating that they would put that series to rest to coincide with the death of one of its founding fathers, Paul Walker. Those series continued, so why shouldn't Pirates too?

But I kind of think there's something extra insidious about saying it's the last movie and then, within the very same movie, tipping your hand to the possibility -- nay, probability -- of future installments. You can't blame Dominic Toretto or Jason Voorhees for giving his retirement speech, then deciding he had too much time on his hands to garden and paint landscapes, and getting back into the game again. You can blame Jack Sparrow for saying "I'm retiring -- psych!"

Although I haven't read up on it and can't be bothered to do so now, I kind of suspected that it was the announced retirement of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow that signaled a likely end to the Pirates franchise. Even as much as Depp has humiliated himself over the years in roles far lesser than this, I can still easily imagine him not deigning (there's that word again) to play this character a sixth time. Heck, I think even Robert Downey Jr. is getting tired of playing Iron Man, and Hugh Jackman is finally hanging it up as Wolverine (or so he says, heard that before).

But Depp, a bit of a Nicolas Cage in his own way, has gotten to a shameless enough point that I doubt he would weary of playing Sparrow, or at least weary of the creature comforts associated with that paycheck. If he really did announce a retirement from playing Captain Jack, that's an even less reliable retirement than many of the other athletes and entertainers who have faked us out with multiple retirements in the past.

Unless they are actually considering doing a Pirates 6 sans Jack, which would be about as naked a cash grab as a studio could make. That would display such a cynicism about the consumer hypnotism of familiar brands, the notion that Bloom and (if she's willing) Knightley could carry a Pirates movie without Depp, and just the name over the title would put the asses in the seats.

And it's a bit of a shame because they really did wrap this one up nicely. Jack has a ship and a willing crew again, Elizabeth has Will again, their son has found his own true love, and her father, who happens to be Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa, has nobly sacrificed himself to save her. Which of course does not keep him from coming back either, as ghosts are and always have been a significant percentage of the cast of these movies.

Maybe they won't do it. But probably they will.

Some other Pirates thoughts ...

Forrest Zelig

It occurs to me that even as Sparrow has become this series' big constant, making him the de facto hero, he barely does anything that ever demonstrates his own agency or willful impact on the unfolding of the plot.

Now I'm sure I'm not remembering that second or third movie very well, but as I recall, he's ever the bumbler, finding himself in the middle of history more than a man shaping it. He's the type of character accidentally present at numerous momentous events, which often ostensibly involve him, but without actually seeming to commandeer any of his own influence on these events.

In fact, he's a bit like Zelig, the Woody Allen character, or perhaps like Forrest Gump. He gets credit for being there but never for, you know, really doing anything. (Okay, okay, Forrest Gump is a bit more of a traditional hero. It's Zelig who finds himself in a crowd at a speech by Hitler and waves at the camera.)

Whether the filmmakers are in on this joke, or have just written the movies sloppily so as not to give their hero actual courage, is anybody's guess. Or, whether Depp's confused/soused performance has been his attempt at subverting any attempt to elevate Sparrow to traditional hero status.

In any case, of the two Pirates movies I've seen in the past week, I don't recall him being, you know, actually good, or, you know, effective. He's a perfect combination of lucky and luckless, a court jester along for the ride.

That great score

More than 24 hours have passed since I watched the movie, and I have to say that I still have the rousing score in my head.

Well done, Hans Zimmer.

If I have any great complaint about where we've come in movie scores, it's that few themes seem newly to be joining our landscape of classic movie music. It wouldn't be "new" per say in Zimmer's case -- he wrote the theme back in 2003 -- but I do think it is particular to this franchise and that if I heard it out of context I could match it up. That's really saying something in this day and age, where people still write great music but it doesn't inextricably link itself to the source.

Even Zimmer's score for, let's say, Interstellar -- it was loud and bombastic and the recipient of a lot of comments both positive and negative, but can I remember it? No. And I've seen Interstellar twice.

Then again, perhaps the true test of remembering that score would be if they made Interstellar 2, 3, 4 and 5.

The return of rousing set pieces

If I do like Dead Men Tell No Tales -- and I do, having granted it three out of five stars -- then one of the big reasons has to be the set pieces. I can think of at least three really fun ones in this movie, and not only fun, but basically new. That's a tricky accomplishment in a series with five films, to say nothing, of course, of potentially being derivative of a hundred other action movies that were made in the past 20 years.

But at least two of the film's three opening scenes -- Will Tuner's son plunging into the depths to find his father's submerged ship, and Sparrow's crew pulling a bank on horseback in St. Maarten -- are pretty cracking. And come to think of it, just off the top of my head, I've got two others that qualify, Sparrow's near beheading in which he swings around in an unhinged guillotine, and the climax, in which the ship skirts the edge of a wall of water while trying to raise our heroes on its lowered anchor.

At least one of these scenes actually is derivative, but in a fairly unlikely way -- when they were dragging that bank, and eventually the safe at its center, through the streets, I was reminded of the similar scene in Fast Five. And yes, I am as surprised as you that The Fast & the Furious has now come up twice in this piece about Pirates of the Caribbean. But if this scene is in any way inspired by that one, it earns its own distinction by taking place 300 years earlier and doing different, yet still clever, things with a safe being dragged through the streets.

It's all about the villain

A friend of mine said that the villains are always the best part of these movies, and though I may not be able to sift through all of them (even the one I saw as recently as Saturday night), I can certainly attest to that in terms of Javier Bardem as Salazar. Some really eccentric choices in his presentation -- like purple goo coming out of his mouth sometimes when he talks, and the anti-gravity of his hair floating around his head in a field of floating ash -- really make him memorable. And Bardem is only too happy to chew every bit of scenery in the area. He's fantastic, and he's actually pretty scary.

Who are these guys?

When big movies like this have fresh-faced directors attached, those who are ready to take the next step forward, you've at least usually heard of them somewhere before. "Joe and Anthony Russo are directing the next Captain America movie? You mean the guys who made You, Me and Dupree?"

That is not the case with the directors of Dead Men Tell No Tales, the spelling of whose names I will have to go look up right now.

They are Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, and who knows where the hell they came from.

I do, but only because I just looked them up on IMDB. They directed the 2012 film Kon-Tiki, which I believe was a nominee for the best foreign language Oscar. Which doesn't make them much different than Hollywood trying to make Florian Henckel van Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others, later The Tourist) or Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In, later Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) happen, something that obviously has varying levels of success.

But it makes them different for me in the following way: I have not seen Kon-Tiki, so to me they are just two random Norwegians making a Pirates of the Caribbean movie.


And I think that is just about enough for you to read about Pirates of the Caribbean 5.

Then again, maybe the ship has already sailed. so to speak, on "just about enough."

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