Sunday 29 May 2011

Movie Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, you're fully aware of what Pirates of the Caribbean is. It began as a dark theme park ride which first opened in California's Disneyland during Spring 1967, and since then has evolved into a world renowned franchise, spearheaded by the original film adaptation released in 2003. Two back to back sequels followed, the first being one of seven films to gross over $1 billion worldwide. Naturally, a fourth installment was bound to follow, and here it is in the form of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

As you may expect, the plot of this film doesn't build upon the storyline of the previous two films, with Davy Jones and all that. Instead, Will and Elizabeth are, to the joy of many fans, out of the picture, and the film starts a brand new tale. Our favourite pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, played brilliantly once again by Johnny Depp, is forced to guide an expedition to the Fountain of Youth by the notorious Blackbeard (Ian McShane) along with his former lover Angelica (Penélope Boobs), but the journey won't be easy as Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a privateer in the King's court, is also racing to the fountain, not to mention the many dangers that follow including mermaids, zombies and...the evil Spanish guys.

With a run time of around 137 minutes, On Stranger Tides is still a very long film, and only 30 minutes shorter than its predecessor. Is this length truly warranted? In most cases, yes. Sure, the film has moments that feel pointless and dragged out, but the majority of it works to advance the story and develop the characters, and the action scenes are truly thrilling. The sword fights start to get a bit old towards the end though, and there are times where everything gets far too noisy for my liking. Not to mention over two hours of that bloody 3D is enough to give anyone a headache. Yes, the 3D sucks as usual, and does nothing to enhance the experience. It only reduces the saturation of the various landscapes and adds a bit of depth; nothing to truly warrant the extra cost.

One thing I've always adored about these movies is the magnificent usage of set design, costume, make up and, in some cases, computer generated effects. The carries over into On Stranger Tides which, despite having two thirds of the previous film's budget, still manages to offer a visual treat, with wonderful set pieces that don't solely rely on CGI. You'll find that the level of computer generated mayhem on screen has been heavily reduced, making for an experience that doesn't feel as artificial as the previous films sometimes did. You'll still get your computer generated fix in the form of vicious mermaids attacking Blackbeard's crew and a few moments to capture the supernatural essence of the Fountain of Youth however, so don't fret. But as I've said; it's the brilliant usage of set design, costume and not to mention camerawork and lighting that makes this such a great looking movie.

The plot of the film pans out nicely. It's easier to follow than before, and character motives are clearly shown throughout. Jack is his usual tongue in cheek self, Angelica is often two faced and hot headed and Blackbeard is, aside from evil, just plain awesome. Everything flows well across these two hours, and the many plot threads that plagued the previous installment are long gone. Jack's history with Angelica is never deeply explored which, in my eyes, is beneficial to keeping things simpler. We're told briefly that he did bad stuff to her (not in that respect), and that's all we need to know. That's the kind of thing that works in the film's favour. However, why Blackbeard has supernatural powers and why some random Christian bloke fancies a mermaid is never truly explored. We find out almost nothing of Blackbeard's gaining of these powers, which in fairness does add to the mysteriousness of his character, but at the same time feels like they just slapped it in to make him look more evil. But the Christian and the mermaid...that's just so daft. He gets sliced by a sword twice and doesn't die, and is obsessed with letting her have the finest care and treatment when she is take hostage by the crew, despite her kind brutally murdering several crew-members a few minutes earlier. But above all, it's just a ridiculous and unnecessary plot element that serves no purpose other than to...serve no purpose.

As I expected, the acting throughout is just fantastic. Depp portrays Jack Sparrow just as excellently as he has done in the past films, perfectly capturing his eccentric and humorous nature whilst still managing to show his serious side when things get intense. The character's wow factor has died off slightly, which is a shame, but I still found him to be the most enjoyable person in the film. Ian McShane portrays Blackbeard with a sadistic and passive nature, which works to great effect in establishing his villainy. The character feels like a weaker villain when compared to Barbossa (when he was bad in the first film) and Davy Jones, but credit goes to McShane for that excellent portrayal. Penélope Cruz's bre...I mean she does a nice job with Angelica, who isn't the most interesting character in the film but still nicely portrayed. Barbossa is at his weakest here in my eyes. Whilst Geoffrey Rush still shows the quirky yet cruel nature of the character, he's not as interesting as before because he's not a pirate. He just feels so out of place amongst the King's men and it would've been better if that concept wasn't included. Regardless of this, he's still endearing and towards the end he becomes more of the character he was in the previous films.

My main grudges aside, I still enjoyed this film. I'm a huge fan of the franchise so naturally this was to be the case, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the series. It's inferior to the first and second in my eyes, yet on a similar level to the third. What, you hate the third? Oh, well then it's a lot better than the third. I like the third see, so I thought I'd say it's on the same level in terms of my own opinion which, of course, isn't identical to yours. What? You hate the second too? Jeez, well then it's better than that one. What, you hate the first as well? Ha, now you're just being silly.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Movie Review - Thor

Since the early 21st century, many Marvel comic heroes have been given their own film adaptations, including Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and Iron Man. The superhero genre itself has become very commonplace amongst the film industry, with at least one superhero blockbuster released each year. This time, Thor, Marvel's almighty god of thunder, is given the live action film treatment, in this new summer hit directed by Kenneth Branagh.

The plot revolves around Thor, the god of thunder (Chris Hemsworth), banished from his realm due to his war hungry, arrogant nature. Losing all his powers in the process, he finds that he must discover the errors of his ways to reclaim them to face Loki (Tom Hiddleston), his twisted, jealous brother.

I'll start off by mentioning the visuals, which is one of the key aspects for a film like this. The world of Asgard is truly stunning, with a creative and well thought out design. Nicely executed establishing shots give us a pleasant overhead view of this lush environment, and it's obvious a lot of effort was put into crafting it. Special effects remain consistently good throughout, really helping to provide not only a creative spectacle for the film but also allowing for some high-octane action sequences. The film is viewable in 3D, which is of course nothing but a gimmick. In this film, however, I was even less impressed with it that I have ever been before. It was barely noticeable, never used to enhance the experience and was just pointless. If you can find the film in 2D, then that's the better option.

The story plays out nicely, with the character Thor experiencing notable changes in his personality as everything progresses. His love interest, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is a rather underdeveloped character, doing almost nothing useful for the majority of the film and having no fascinating chemistry with Thor himself. At first they just seem to like each other, yet out of nowhere love seems to spark and it all feels rather rushed. It's also one of those plot elements that takes a back seat, with the main focus being Thor's rivalry with his jealous brother. Whilst this is a concept that won't really tug on any heartstrings, it makes for an interesting and unique villain role. There's also a band of warriors who play small roles in the movie, and it's often hard to tell if they exist for comic relief or to serve a true purpose. They're very underdeveloped, and when you think they're going to be serious, they aren't. 

The acting was relatively superb throughout, with Chris Hemsworth playing a fantastic Thor. Whilst it sometimes seems that his accent is fluctuating slightly, he still manages to balance the humour and emotion as Thor navigates the unfamiliar territories of Earth and eventually steers away from his former spiteful self. Tom Hiddleston plays the role of Loki very well too, delivering a somewhat sophisticated villain persona and truly emphasizing the troubles and jealousy of the character. One of my favourite performances in the film was Anthony Hopkins as Odin, the King of Asgard. Whilst he isn't given as much screen time as I would've liked, Hopkins still manages to deliver a fine performance, even when given some rather iffy lines.

The underdeveloped stuff aside, my other annoyances include some really noisy action sequences. The Destroyer is a giant robotic monster under the control of Asgard's king, and whenever it shoots enemies, the noise it makes is stupidly loud and irritating. This is a problem seen in a lot of the films action scenes, and whilst it's nothing that truly downgrades the film as a whole, it's rather exasperating. Not to mention there's some moments in the action sequences (which are actually quite scarce, if I may add) where the filming is rather shaky, leading to a struggle to identify what is happening, which is always an annoyance.

Now it's time to wrap things up. Overall, my unfamiliarity with the comics didn't take away from the film itself, and I still found it very enjoyable. Despite some truly underdeveloped characters and concepts, as well as some stupidly noisy and shaky action sequences, it's still a pleasing start to the 2011 summer movie season and worth a look for anyone who's interested. Stay behind for the credits too, for another interesting teaser.