CommonSpace film critic Scott Wilson takes a look at the big movies of the moment
A TRIO of watery outings this week, ranging from pirates to turtles via beautiful lifeguards.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – ★★☆☆☆
Nonsensical, overblown, and entirely unwarranted, Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re on) struggles to justify its own existence.
The Pirates of the Caribbean series has always been at its best when it puts aside the mythology and ludicrous legends and focuses on tangible adventure and escapades. Jack Sparrow’s emergence from inside a locked safe, hungover and characteristically blasé, followed by a bank heist through St Martin is a genuine good time.
So when Will Turner’s son, Henry, decides to search for the Trident of Poseidon to free his father from the Flying Dutchman, and Javier Bardem’s Salazar is doing the same to free himself and his crew from their undead state, it all gets a bit messy and forgettable. Kaya Scodelario’s Carina gets caught up in the madness in a case of wrong place, wrong time, and thankfully takes precedence over Brenton Thwaites’s Henry.
Thwaites completely lacks screen presence (making the father-son bond with Orlando Bloom all the more believable), but Scodelario does her best with what she’s given.
It will make far too much money, and fans of the original who loved a big-screen pirate film should feel cheated that everyone involved in the series has stopped trying.
The problem is it’s entirely unengaging and nonsensical, with all of the film’s fun contained in its opening third. As battles take a turn for the epic and get CGI-heavy it becomes difficult to know what’s happening. Modern action films should take a leaf out of John Wick’s book and realise less is more when less means real.
Johnny Depp’s stock has fallen and the iconic Sparrow isn’t as charming as he once was, bridging the gap into irritating on more than one occasion. Where before he could carry quieter moments, now it feels a little sad and mechanical, with savvy audiences well aware a fifth instalment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series is more a money-grabber than an entertaining thrill.
While some film franchises seem to improve with age (The Fast and the Furious in particular), Pirates of the Caribbean is symbolic of apathy towards audiences. It will make far too much money, and fans of the original who loved a big-screen pirate film should feel cheated that everyone involved in the series has stopped trying. Despite tiny glimmers of entertainment, it’s uninspiring, safe, and completely pointless.
Baywatch – ★★★☆☆
Low expectations certainly help, but having been pessimistically resigned to defeat, Baywatch was a pleasant surprise. It’s not mean spirited, it isn’t offensive, and it coasts by with enough smiles to warrant a sunny-day trip to the cinema.
Unfortunately it’s no Superbad or 21 Jump Street, films it wants to consider its peers (or, piers, if you will). Ram packed with jock humour and macho posturing, it’s the kind of R-rated juvenility that finds penises the funniest thing in the world. No joke here would go over Drax’s head.
It’s at its best when focusing on the day to day running of the Baywatch crew as they welcome new trainees. The likable cast and the predictable interpersonal drama is endearing enough to be memorable, while the crime plot involving drugs and real estate is absolutely not. Zac Efron hamming it up like an evil Kurt Angle against Dwayne Johnson’s, well, The Rock is more enjoyable than a plot that’s both narratively pointless and structurally so, too.
Baywatch contains more penises than the erotic drama Fifty Shades of Grey, so there is that.
For all the leering shots of bums and boobs, the camera’s equally interested in the pecks and biceps of Johnson and Efron. When the film promises nudity as the BBFC card flashes on screen, the bare bottom belongs to a man, as does the genitalia. Baywatch contains more penises than the erotic drama Fifty Shades of Grey, so there is that.
It isn’t high-art and it isn’t gonna change the world, but it’s also not that bad. If it feels familiar, it’s down to a frustration that Johnson and Efron have become typecast in these roles when they appear to have dynamic and untapped acting chops. Their typical shtick works fine here as reluctant buddies, but just because the setting is new doesn’t mean we haven’t seen this from them plenty of times before. Baywatch will raise a smile or two, but not a particularly exciting one.
The Red Turtle – ★★★☆☆
Using a studio-mate for an aquatic comparison, Ponyo is a fully-formed and literally-fantastical tale about a goldfish who has no goldfish features other than the ability to breathe underwater. She’s trapped, pursued, and freed, only to disrupt the whole fabric of nature. It’s established very early on we’re living somewhere defined by unrestricted imagination.
The Red Turtle doesn’t provide that contextual reassurance. The initial terror as a nameless man is stranded alone on an island after a storm, combined with the philosophical and quiet moments of introspective solitude, are primal and human.
The lack of narrative framing strips everything down to an innate fear – there is no help, and I am gonna die here. It doesn’t matter who he is or where he’s come from, all we need to know is he’s stuck.
Except then it all goes a bit fantastical in a way that left me feeling suspicious about the film’s grounding in reality. Having sunk into something raw, suddenly it’s otherworldly, disrupting the rules of the story it had previously established.
The lack of context becomes either its strongest asset or its biggest flaw, avoiding questions too big to be answered.
By tapping into those fight or flight fears that have kept us alive for thousands of years, and by eschewing dialogue for emotive soundscapes and universally understood vocal cues, it begins as real as any live-action film about a marooned man.
It puts everyone watching it on a level playing field, since something as aggressive as words opens the story up to bias and interpretation. Everyone knows what’s happening here.
But the fantasy. The lack of context becomes either its strongest asset or its biggest flaw, avoiding questions too big to be answered. Its hallucinatory mood is as much deceptive as it is effective once you remove a perceived reality.
It goes without saying that it’s visually stunning, sounds amazing, and that it aims to make you feel like all the best Studio Ghibli films do. Unlike a lot of them, the balance between what’s real and what isn’t is so disorientating that I felt more perplexed than elated or euphoric as some other critics have.
It’s daring and deserves a chance to wash over you, but too many illogical moves and muddled narrative rules meant I felt as much frustrated as I was charmed.
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