Bless the Beasts and Wizards (Fantastic Beasts 2: The Crimes of Grindelwald, 2018)

Fantastic_Beasts_2_Crimes_Grindelwald_PosterThe first film, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them had Newt Scamander, witches Tina and Queenie and muggle Jacob trying to save a young but powerful man from being both destroyed by his power and that of being a pawn by a wicked wizard. In the end, it appeared the young man, Creedence, was dead and the villainous Grindelwald was revealed.

The sequel picks up with an action packed escape by Grindelwald before returning to Newt Scamander who is trying to get his right to leave the country reinstated. The Ministry of Magic reveals that Creedence is alive and well.  He is hiding in Paris trying to find out who he really is. He has fallen in love with a young woman. Tina and another Auror trying to catch Creedence (but with different goals).  Jacob has regained his memory and he and Queenie are an item, but after a fight, Queenie runs off to Paris to find Tina, but Grindelwald is in Paris looking for Creedence…confused yet?

I actually quite liked the first film. I enjoyed the introduction of a decent and prominent “muggle” character. I felt the four leads had a nice chemistry. I was sympathetic to Tina’s attempts do things all by the book, but also her sympathy for Creedence in the film.

And yet, this film has none of that. For one thing, there are about twenty separate storylines, separating almost all the characters for a large part of the movie. So, it is all really a mess. And by themselves, some of the characters start to become grating.

The film is full of scenes giving us back story and it becomes super clear from the earliest moments in the film that this is literally all a set up. The film  is more interested in its world building and fan service with origins to characters that never needed an origin. A lot of things feel like they will not pay off until a later film.

The last half hour or so just keeps hitting the audience with twists and reveals…and none of them feel consequential.

I mean, I basically liked Jude Law as a young Dumbledore. But can I say…the most controversial casting of the film was Johnny Depp. And I really do wish the filmmakers had listened to the outcry.  Because, honestly? This is one of the most uninspired and dreadfully dull Depp performances I have ever seen.  It is just lifeless.

This ends up being a lackluster sequel…and I am disappointed to say it did not keep me entertained.

Yo Ho Ho! Let’s Try This Again (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, 2017)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Dead_Men_PosterDead Men Tell No Tales comes six years on the heels of On Stranger Tides, and returns to the territory of the first three films.  We meet a young boy named Henry.  He takes a boat out to sea, ties a rock to his ankle and leaps into the sea.  He is saved by the flying Dutchman.  This is Henry, the son of Will and Elizabeth Turner. He tells his father he thinks he knows a way to undo the curse his father is under.  However, Will sends Henry back.  Several years later, Henry is on the hunt for Jack Sparrow to help him find the Trident of Poseidon.

In his travels, he meets the Ghost Captain Salazar who wants him to give Jack Sparrow a message for him.  Salazar was cursed while trying to kill Sparrow and is now trapped as a ghost.

Henry does find Sparrow, and an accused witch who is also seeking the Trident.  She is not a witch, but rather a very scientifically inclined young woman named Carina.  It becomes a race against time as they search for the Trident, pursued by Salazar and the British.

As previously noted this film came out six years after On Stranger Tides and this film completely ignores the events of that fourth film.  This is not to say they did not happen, but rather they bear no impact and feature none of the characters specific to that film.  And they return things to the Turner family.

It feels like they anticipated this being a final film as it brings everything to a feeling of finality (in spite of a post credit scene that makes little sense in regards to the way the film ends).  The film is packed with numerous action and escape sequences.  There is a thrilling sequence involving ghost sharks.  And the introduction of Jack Sparrow in this film is memorable and entertaining.

It takes awhile to get going, though the film is thankfully only about two hours, making it a lot more fun and less bloated than some of the previous installments.  As always, the visuals are top notch.  Salazar and his crew are crack and missing limbs and parts of their heads.  There is a neat look where Salazar’s hair flows like he is underwater.

And the cast is quite good.  The returning cast each get moments to shine and Javier Bardem appears to have had a lot of fun in his role as the angry and determined Salazar.

While not quite at the heights of the original film, this is still a fairly fun outing.

Yo Ho Ho! Let’s Restart! (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Stranger_PosterAfter a somewhat lackluster reaction to At World’s End (don’t get me wrong, it made money) the franchise went quiet.  And it may be that it could have been just left at being a trilogy.

But Disney wanted to keep it going, and four years gave us On Stranger Tides.  This time, they leave aside Will and Elizabeth Turner.  Will is apparently off being the new Captain of the Flying Dutchman, content to visiting Elizabeth and their baby once every ten years.

Instead, our focus is now squarely on Jack Sparrow.  This time around he discovers that someone is pretending to be him to gather a crew for a new quest.

He discovers it is Angelica, whom he took the virginity of on the night before she took her vows to be a nun.  Angelica is also the daughter of the infamous Blackbeard.  Their quest is for the Fountain of Youth. Blackbeard and Angelica are not alone in their desire to find the Fountain.  King George and the Spaniards are both looking to find it for their own reasons.  Everyone is seeking Jack because they believe Sparrow knows where to find it.

In the midst of this race, there are a lot of random crew, along with the regulars, such as Barbossa and Gibbs.  We are introduced to Philip, a compassionate young missionary who is under the protection of Angelica.  She still holds strong to the idea that God must be respected and is hoping to save her father’s soul.

As they get closer, they must capture a mermaid.  The mermaid Syrena is kept in a glass coffin as they make their way to the Fountain. While most of the characters are indifferent to her pain and suffering, Philip is both drawn to her and overwhelmed with compassion.  This sets up a nice moment where a mermaid’s tear is needed and Blackbeard finds they cannot extract it through torture.  He notes Mermaids are “too cold for that”.

On Stranger Tides was intended to kick off a new trilogy, though it feels like a one-off story.  It is pretty clear that this film was based on an outside source (a novel by Tim Powers), fitted into the existing film mythos.

That is not to say that it is totally close-ended.  Much like the Curse of the Black Pearl, it simply ends at a point where you do not have a lot of dangling plot points.  Well, except for the storyline of Philip and Syrena.

The overall story is pretty weak, the fountain of Youth is not really that interesting of a MacGuffin, and it is a bit unclear of how it works.  The film makes mention that you get all a person’s years if you and that person drink from the fountain.  Plus, the Spanish explorers have somewhat nebulous goals.  I mean, apparently, they are trying to stop anyone from gaining access to its power.  But who are they?  So, while much of the film feels like a one-shot, there are random mysteries left hanging.

Overall the cast is strong.  Ian McShane’s Blackbeard is primarily dependant on his performance.  Which is a good one, but the character is pretty undefined.  Does he have a mystical power?  Unsure really.  He collects other pirates ships and keeps them in bottles.  Not sure how or why.  And what exactly makes him more fearsome than other pirates.

Cruz holds her own with Depp in their playful and innuendo-laden banter.

The visuals are great, and that is pretty much par for the course in the film.  There are plenty of great action sequences holding the film together.  But ultimately, On Stranger Tides feels like a placeholder as Disney tries to determine what to do with a franchise, rather than a kickoff to an epic new trilogy.

Yo Ho Ho, It is OVER! (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Worlds_End_PosterHoly. Crap.  THIS. MOVIE. IS. SO. LONG.

Like, super long. It is ten minutes shy of three hours.

Anyhoo, picking up where the last film left off, the Kraken ate Jack Sparrow and now Elizabeth Swann, Will Turner and Barbossa are trying to rally the troops to find and return Jack from Davey Jone’s locker so they can stop Davey Jones.

And this ends up taking over an hour.  We see Sparrow in the afterlife and boy is he bored.  And frankly?  So was I.  This sequence is just excruciatingly long.  There are so many subplots, it just gets tiring and uninspired.  I found myself constantly wondering about how much longer we had to go.

The films seem to want to position Jack as some magical key to the universe, rather than some lucky idiot.  But really, the whole lunatic rockstar thing is wearing thin at this point.  If you cut about an hour of the film or a little more, this might be a lean and fun adventure.  Instead it makes the the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King look sleek.

Filmed back to back with Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End tries be a massive epic, but it really only accomplishes feeling ridiculously bloated.

The visuals are quite good, as are the action scenes.  But the road the story takes is so meandering as it is hard to not get bored through great portions of this film.

Yo Ho Ho! Let’s Go For Another Ride! (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, 2006)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Dead_Mans_Chest_Poster“Abandon Ship, or Abandon Hope”, declares Kevin McNally’s Gibbs. Disney was full of hope they had a franchise after the hit of Curse of the Black Pearl. To make sure they could recapture the magic, they kept on the director, writing team and…of course… Johnny Depp and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Will and Elizabeth are engaged, Norrington has left the British Navy and now a bigger threat has arrived.  A man who seeks to destroy the Pirate Scourge.  His first act is to arrest both Will and Elizabeth, though this is a trap to try and force their hand in locating Jack Sparrow.  Who they want because they believe he holds the key to a bigger weapon against all pirates.

Jack Sparrow is finding himself trying to avoid a debt to Davey Jones (who gave him the Black Pearl to captain for thirteen years, even if Barbossa took over a mere two years into the deal). He must serve 100 years upon Jone’s ship the flying Dutchman which ferries those who die at sea to the afterlife.  Bootstrap Bill (Will Turner’s Father) comes to warn Sparrow that his time is up.  But when Davey Jones sends his leviathan beast after Jack, they decide to beach the ship and hide on an island.

Will Turner is searching everywhere for Jack, but the best people seem to be able to do is say where they heard he was headed.  He discovers the shipwrecked boat on a remote island and encounters Jack and the Black Pearl crew. They meet with witch Tia who tells them of a way to defeat Davey Jones, the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman. Setting out to find the heart of Davey Jones, the crew re-unites, including Elizabeth Swann and the disgraced Norrington.

While Will and Elizabeth are played up to be the thread for the series, Jack Sparrow was the standout character for audiences in the first film, so the writers make sure we got a lot more Jack.  Elizabeth is gone from the film for a good forty-five minutes, stuck in a prison cell. She is relegated to the prize that drives Will, which is rather unfortunate.  Once she joins back up with the crew, she becomes much more active.

The visual design of the film is terrific.  As with the Curse of the Black Pearl, we have cursed pirates, but this time they are more elaborate.  Jones and his crew are connected to the sea so intensely, that they are blended with sea creatures.  Jones’ head is an octopus, with his tentacles serving as a beard.  Bill Nighy is terrific in the role, giving a darkly comic performance.

The film actually brings back almost the entire surviving cast, and everyone seems rather comfortable in their skins.  The film has a lot of fun action sequences and of course many, many narrow escapes.  But the extra focus on Jack also starts to run the risk of making the character more annoying than amusing.  The film also is starting to try and set up an “epic” tale thing for Will, Elizabeth and really Jack.  One character even notes that Will has the air of “destiny” about him.

This film is a lot of fun for the most part, and I would say it comes out pretty favorably in relationship to the first film.

Yo Ho Ho! Let’s Go For a Ride (Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, 2003)

Pirates_of_Caribbean_Curse_PosterDisney was trying to find ways to tap various IPs (they did not yet own Marvel or Lucasfilm).  They started to look to their theme park rides.  And they tapped the director of the remake of the the Japanese Horror film the Ring. And hired Johnny Depp.

Young Will Turner was orphaned when a ship he was on (When he was much younger) was attacked by the pirates of the ship the Black Pearl.  Turner is found with a gold coin that young Elizabeth Swann pockets when she finds him.

He is now an apprentice to a blacksmith, but as you would suspect longs for adventure. He is also has a crush on Swann, daughter of the governor.

Elizabeth has been involved with Captain Norrington, who proposes to her.  Captain Jack Sparrow, a rock and roll pirate, arrives on a literally sinking ship.  He is attempting to steal a new ship in a quest.  But he gets captured when he sees Elizabeth fall into the sea and leaps in to save her.  The gold coin she found years earlier has a surprise reaction when it touches the sea.

That night, the Black Pearl arrives and pillages the village, as well as kidnapping Elizabeth.  The authorities do nothing, so Will teams with Sparrow to pursue the Pearl and Elizabeth.

Of course, being based on a ride, the  filmmakers have a lot of room to do whatever they want.  And so, Pirates of the Caribbean is equal parts adventure and fantasy.  The pirates of the Black Pearl are not just pirates, they are ghost pirates!  In the moonlight, they become skeletal monsters.  Led by the immortal Captain Barbossa, they are seeking the missing coins of the treasure that cursed them many years ago.

This ends up making for a rollicking fun, full of wild stunts, sword fights and high seas action.  While Orlando Bloom is a bit bland, the rest of the cast is extremely strong.  Keira Knightly’s Elizabeth Swann is a spirited fighter, while Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa is a despicable and duplicitous fiend.  And while it is clear that Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann were meant to be the focus of the film, Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow pretty much steals the show.

It’s effects still largely hold up, which is a good thing, considering the film is very relient on their support.  Curse of the Black Pearl is an absolutely fun surprise of a film.  It does not take itself too seriously and has an enjoyable cast of characters.

Might As Well Jump (21 Jump Street, 2012)

21_Jump_Street_PosterA trend began in the early 2000’s of making movies based on dramatic action shows from the 70’s and 80’s, but treating them as a joke.  This has had…decidedly mixed results.

21 Jump Street was part of the line-up of a upstart new network called Fox.  It was the story of a division of young cops who would go into schools undercover, posing as students, to bust drug dealers and the like.  The show’s biggest claim to fame was that it introduced Johnny Depp to the world.

In the film, we meet loser Schmidt (Jonah Hill) who has a humiliating day at school.  He is rejected by a girl and pushed around by his bully Jenko (Channing Tatum) .  Except, Jenko is having his own trouble…his grades are so bad, he is not going to be allowed to go to prom.  A few years later they are both at the police academy.  At first, Jenko resumes his role as bully, but they quickly realize both can help each other get through.  As Jenko helps Schmidt with the physical tests, Schmidt helps Jenko pass the mental ones.

They are disappointed to discover their first gig is as bike cops in a park.  But an ill fated drug bust leads them to Jump Street, an old program that is being revived.  They are sent into a high school to determine who is selling a new and dangerous drug.

The story is not entirely fresh, and yet, this is kind of the point.  The filmmakers are seeking to have some fun with both cop and action film tropes.  This leads to a lot of entertaining visual gags.  The drug ring is run by hip and socially conscious kids.  When Jenko tries mocking kids for being concerned about the environment, he is informed that this is just so uncool.  In fact, the two friends find their social heirchy inverted.  On top of that, they confuse who is which undercover character, forcing both into roles outside their comfort zone.

21 Jump Street is not an outright parody of it’s namesake.  It is set in the same universe as the show (with original actors reprising roles from the TV Show), but it sees some of the absurdity in the concept.  And it plays with the conventions pretty well (including the very problematic area of the “Inappropriate Love Interest”).

What really holds the film together though is Hill and Tatum.  They are a genuinely enjoyable combo with a friendship that is a bit endearing.  The action scenes are well choreographed.  And, important to any action comedy film?  The action and jokes do not step on each other, so to speak.  21 Jump Street is a pleasant surprise, with it’s combination of humor and enjoyable characters.

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