Monday, January 02, 2012

Dear Charlie:

Well, it's 2012. Does it feel any different? Not sure yet.

So I finally broke down and watched the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, On Stranger Tides. Mind you, I wasn't actually ignoring it and had no real reason for having not seen it yet. I just hadn't gotten around to it and didn't realize it was out to rent yet. Heh.

Of course, I watched all three of the others back to back before popping it in. Any excuse, eh? Anyone who's visited my sidebar knows how I love this series. I don't know why people have any quibbles with these three movies. They're wonderfully entertaining, emotionally engaging, and far cooler than their ride could ever be. I honestly feel my heart soar at the end of At World's End (that's a mouthful!) when they hoist the colors to start an unwinnable war. If that isn't the point of a movie, I dunno what is.

But I admit I had my reservations about the new one. It wasn't Gore Verbinski, and he's definitely what brought so much life and vigor and flesh-melting good fun to the franchise. And truly stunning vision, like when the Singaporean boat is sailing through the sea of stars. That, coupled with the mournful tinkling of Calypso's music box necklace, is perhaps my favorite image of the whole lot.

But it's still Johnny Depp. It's still Captain Jack. So I leapt in.

Honestly, it's not bad. It's entertaining, and Cap'n Jack is his rum-soaked, mind-bogglingly cunning self. It's still Barbossa -- though a more embittered one, which is a strangely good twist -- and the addition of Ian McShane is a definite boost. He's wonderfully amoral as the heartless, heedless Blackbeard. The adventure is fun, and I like the little side-story of the mermaid and the priest. I also like that the king is quite bonkers. Historical accuracy, much? Ha!

But....

Yeah, there's a but. It just seems like something's missing. As much as I was glad to see Will and Elizabeth's story end as happily as it could, I have to admit to missing their liveliness this time around. No offense to Penelope Cruz, but I just didn't care about her character. I think they were trying too hard to be as fun as the earlier folks. So she was a corrupted nun who finds out she's Blackbeard's long-lost daughter. So? I just never felt sorry for her, and I never could figure out what about her was so sterling as to win Jack's affections.

Think about it: Jack, an admittingly self-serving pirate with only the most tentative hold on anything resembling loyalty or admirable character, goes against his better judgment countless times to help Will and Elizabeth. Why? Because, despite all odds, they became his friends. Elizabeth because she's a firebrand who insists on a certain measure of honor and decency even while being willfully determined to do whatever she must to save the people she cares for. Will because he's so disustingly honorable that Jack can't help but take him under his wing to show him how to manipulate the world around them to their better ends.

But... Angelica? Meh.

Consider it: why would Jack Sparrow, a womanizer of perhaps legendary status, give up his own immortality for an innocent he seduced and left years before? Unless it's just because the writers say so?

Will and Elizabeth earned his aid and grudging affections by sticking to their honor even when it hampered their own survival. Angelica turned into a sorry imitation of a pirate who turned into a sorry imitation of a doting daughter who wasn't even an imitation there. Why should he care? She's shown no sturdiness or fieriness of character to earn more than a passing glance from a man who's already tasted the goods and walked away.

It seems like Jack's lingering feelings for her are just sort of penciled in to make him part of the plot, which wasn't necessary considering he was already on the way to the Fountain of Youth, anyway.

Maybe if she had been lying about being Blackbeard's daughter, she might have been interesting enough to keep his eye, but it turns out, she's just ho-hum. Just... written in to have a woman involved. Love Elizabeth or hate Elizabeth, she's infinitely more relatable than Angelica.

Hopefully, they'll take the continuing sequels a different direction in an attempt to find the elusive something that made the first three so effective. They've set Cap'n Jack's standards so high that they can't just say he'd give up everything for someone without proving why. Sparrow doesn't go against his own impulses for no good reason. Maybe winning his loyalty is what made the original interactions so engaging.

Maybe they should stick with that.