Pirates of the Caribbean: On Done-to-Death Tides

Written by  //  May 23, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  3 Comments

How can you tell if summer is really here? No, it’s not the heat or that sudden desire to take long vacations. It’s that slew of big-budget, explosion-filled movies where talented actors embarrass themselves to pay for their designer outfits for Cannes.  I often hear people say, “Don’t take these masala movies too seriously.” Jerry Bruckheimer for one, is clearly taking that advice to heart.

Pirates of the Caribbean (POTC): The Curse of the Black Pearl was a superb film that reminded us how roguishly charming bad guys are. The characters were fun, the jokes were fresh, the plot was interesting and funny, Jack Sparrow was  suave and magic underscored the plot rather than being a deus ex machina. It all rapidly went downhill from there, unfortunately. I mean, there is only so much you can milk out of a ride in Disneyland.

The fourth installment of the POTC series, On Stranger Tides, sees Captain Jack Sparrow searching for his ship, the Black Pearl blah blah evil pirate searching for some magical MacGuffin must be thwarted revenge blah. Sounds familiar? Probably because we’ve seen it three times already. We’ve seen Jack Sparrow duel with someone on rafters, we’ve made the Gibbs-and-pigs connection, we’ve seen Jack’s hilarious escapes from extremely British and comically inept soldiers, we’ve seen Jack do the old climactic switcheroo and yes, we freaking get that pirates drink rum.  The trouble with this running gag thing is that, like memes, they have a very short shelf life.  The fifteenth in-joke about hats and marooning on islands makes you roll your eyes like when somebody updated their Facebook status about Rebecca Black one hour after it became mainstream.

Very early on, the film makers realised that the POTC movies were simply a vehicle for Jack Sparrow. Which is why I’m puzzled as to why they would so effectively destroy this character. Jack is a slightly unhinged, no-good pirate who is always stealing stuff and searching for immortality and occasionally, he surprises everyone (including himself) by doing something selfless and immediately regrets it, of course. His brilliance lies in his unpredictability and he is not some grand saviour and defender of justice.  When Jack Sparrow’s actions can be predicted in the first scene, when you know that he will be selflessly saving a damsel/Orlando Bloom’s life in the climax and when you know that Jack is the Good Guy of the movie (except for destroying the livelihood of a coal seller, who, probably languished in debtor’s prison for the remainder of his days), it is time to bury him and the series.

As for Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, rolling Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan into one character (who wants to kholor her hair) doesn’t help because Jack Sparrow never needed a love interest. Besides, you’d think that two ridiculously attractive people paired together would set the screen on fire, except, Jack and Gibbs had far more chemistry than those two. I also have some trouble understanding her character’s motivations.  When a woman who grew up in a convent finds out that her father is one of the most terrifying and evil pirates that ever lived and who regularly performs needlessly cruel acts in front of her knowing very well that it annoys her,  it is hard to believe that she is willing to die for him. Then again, one must have some serious daddy issues to sleep with Jack Sparrow.

Now when I enter a movie hall, I hand over my disbelief along with my stray pack of chewing gum. I expect physics to be defied (to a point) and movie logic to tease my temper (to an extent). I don’t even bat an eyelid when a cartload of coal bursts into a flaming inferno because of a stray spark.  I nod along in the spirit of the thing when everybody in London believes that Jack is a magistrate because he has a wig on. Who knows, right? Maybe kaajal was a la mode for judges in them yesteryears.  But when the entire movie is centred around searching for the Fountain of Eternal Youth and then you find out that it is actually the Fountain of Maximum 4- 8 Decades Of Extra Life, I feel cheated.   I also find it hard to believe that an entire species of intelligent life forms never ever wondered why shiploads of men regularly baited them, caught one of them and made them weep using torture.  A word of advise for mermaids: instead of behaving like starving sharks, try capturing a man, interrogate him and stop swimming into the same god-damned trap every single time.

I’m willing to throw this film a bone, though: Captain Barbossa daintily drinking rum out of a china teacup was priceless, the banter between Jack and Barbossa hasn’t (yet) grown old and those mermaids were nightmarishly terrifying till they started channelling Spider-man.

You know a series is finished when it takes tips from the Karan Johar School of Film-making (a.k.a. 5000 pointless celebrity cameos). They should have quit while they were at the top (somewhat-ish) and stopped make POTC sequels 3 movies ago. Unfortunately, judging by how much money this movie has already made, we may as well prepare ourselves for POTC 5, starring that horrid monkey and more apathetic shenanigans from the House of Depp.

3 Comments on "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Done-to-Death Tides"

  1. Arghya May 23, 2011 at 8:40 pm ·

    This is an absolutely brilliant review, Lekha. I couldn’t agree with you more; it’s killing the golden goose and I don’t think there are any more golden eggs to offer anyway. A lovely read!

  2. Danish Sheikh May 25, 2011 at 3:31 am ·

    Completely agree. I was enjoying the movie on a delirious ironic level for the first 15 minutes when the over-the-top hammy acting was at its hammiest before it became all, well, soggy.

    I love Ebert’s take on Cruz and Depp’s hamminess: “Depp and Cruz are so over the top, they function as their own supporting characters”.

    Also, that missionary. I wanted to slap him, but I also wanted to raise a fairly obedient God-fearing kid with him eventually. Stupid Serena.

  3. Lekha Sridhar May 25, 2011 at 5:41 am ·

    @ Arghya: Thanks! It was surprisingly hard to resist using phrases like “This movie made me want to walk the plank” and “This movie did not shiver me timbers.”

    @Dan: One look at the missionary and I knew his shirt was coming off soon.

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