PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)
Latest installment of this popular franchise has a bit of a complicated story, but that isn’t a new thing with this series. Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom) son Henry (Brenton Thwaites ) sets out to find Poseidon’s Trident to break the curse and free his father from the Flying Dutchman. He plans to enlist the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) himself, who currently is running from the ghost of the dread Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who wants revenge for Jack causing the demise of he and his crew. Throw in Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman accused of witchcraft, who is the only one who knows how to find the trident, not to mention the resurfacing of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and you have enough story for two movies…or maybe three.
Latest yarn is directed by the Kon-Tiki duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg from a busy script and story by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. It’s certainly better than the lackluster Stranger Tides, though still shows that this series is running out of gas, especially with a very underwritten part for Depp’s Captain Jack. There is a lot going on in it’s series short running time of 129 minutes and not all of it necessary to further the plot. There is some fun action and some spectacular visuals, but at the same time, it just doesn’t have that energetic spark of the first film. The cast, especially the newcomers, seem to be having a good time, though Depp appears to be just going through the motions and Rush’s Barbossa has little to do but be a possible link to one of the new characters. Bad guy Bardem disappears for periods of time, so the sense of urgency in the quest is neutered somewhat. The pursuit of the pirates and accused witch Carina by a British naval officer, also seems like excess and takes the focus away from Salazar at points. Overall, it was still a fun enough adventure, but the series seems to be getting mired in the shallows and needs a reboot or be decommissioned.
Anyone who has read my reviews for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug know that while I enjoyed them to a good degree, I definitely had some problems with all the obvious filler added to pad a moderately sized book into 3 lengthy films. Thankfully the third and final installment of this trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary prequel to his Lord Of The Rings trilogy, not only never feels padded but, is a powerful and spectacular conclusion that ranks as one of the best of his Middle Earth films.
The story picks up where the last chapter left off with Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) venting his rage on Lake Town, which leads to Thorin (Richard Armitage) reclaiming the Lonely Mountain. But, Thorin has acquired ‘The Dragon Sickness” and is becoming as greedy as it’s previous occupant and turns his back on his allies leaving the Lake Town survivors at his door begging for aid. The elves have come in force to also claim what is their’s and they join forces with Bard (Luke Evans) and his people to form an army to lay siege to the fortress with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the 12 dwarves inside. And this plays them all right into The Defiler Azog’s (Manu Bennett) hands as the orc has assembled a massive army and now can crush dwarf, elf and human together, all at once. But, sometimes common foes can make allies out of enemies and all may not be lost as Bilbo and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) try to convince the former allies to reunite against the hordes of evil that are knocking at their door.
I loved this movie. After being a little disappointed at how much the first two flicks were padded and drawn-out to create a trilogy out of a single book, this… the shortest of the 3 films at 144 minutes… gets right to it and gives us a conclusion that is as emotionally strong as it is action packed and visually spectacular. The film never drags it’s feet, as the others did in spots, and none of the action scenes feel like they have overstayed their welcome like the second film’s fun but, overlong barrel chase. Jackson returns to the intense emotions of his Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the film has some powerful moments both triumphant and heartbreaking, heralding some of the Rings trilogy’s finest moments. Yes, this entry is that good and makes the weaknesses of the previous films all the more apparent. It’s amazing what 20 less minutes can do to trim the fat while keeping the meat. As with all these films they are technical and artistic marvels of top-of-the-line SPFX and design. This film looks as spectacular as it’s action and we get treated to some new creations not seen in previous films and go deeper into some of the places previously visited. The score by Howard Shore is his best of this trilogy and the cinematography of Andrew Lesnie captures everything not computer generated, splendidly.
One problem I never had with this series is the cast. It is obviously a considerably large and talented cast and Jackson has gotten good work out of all of them. Martin Freeman shines as Bilbo, again, though it almost seemed like Richard Armitage’s Thorin took center stage this time. Armitage skillfully takes his nobel warrior into a state of selfish greed and then reawakens the proud dwarf within when the story calls for it. McKellen is masterful, as always, as Gandalf and Luke Evans is thankfully given lots more to do here and makes far more of an impact with his Bard. Evangeline Lilly once again steals hearts and slays orcs as elven warrior Tauriel and she gets some nice emotionally strong moments and handles them quite well. Orlando Bloom brings back beloved Legolas to action and it was great seeing him in battle once more as it was to see Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm and the legendary Christopher Lee one more time in Middle Earth. The rest of the cast all do good work bringing their fantasy characters to life whether under make-up or CGI and it enhances the film even more.
What can I say, I had a great time here! Jackson delivers an epic conclusion that makes up for the indulgent enhancing of a classic tale in the first two parts and delivers spectacle and drama on the level of his LOTR trilogy that seemed to be lacking in the first two chapters of this prequel trilogy… though, The Hobbit is a less intense book to begin with. It’s got massive battles, incredible visuals, stunning special FX and some dramatic intensity to back it up. And if all else had failed… and it sure doesn’t… we get to see Evangeline Lilly’s enchanting elf one last time.
I’ll start off by saying that J.R.R. Tolkien’s tales of Middle Earth are among my favorite books and, understandably, Peter Jackson’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy are among my favorite films. That being said, I still feel there is no reason to take a single book and stretch it out into three movies despite how much I love the story and characters. And with THAT being said, there is no reason then for each of those three movies to be almost three hours long. And it is exactly that reason that I feel something’s missing from Jackson’s Hobbit films… or should I say there’s something too much as there is a lot of filler added to turn one book into three movies… and it’s obvious. And this filler, as well as, middle film syndrome is exactly what keeps The Desolation Of Smaug from shining despite some sumptuous production design and some really fun action sequences. There is a lot of filler in this middle installment and sometimes it’s tediously obvious as once it’s over, you realize the story hasn’t really gone very far. The film picks up where the last left off with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the band of Dwarves on their way to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the vile dragon Smaug. They are still being hunted by a band of Orcs and not only clash with them continually but, battle giant spiders and suspicious Elves as well. Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) goes off to investigate his fears of a great evil returning… and we know exactly who, since we have already seen The Lord Of The Rings… and even the Dwarf party are split as they near their destination and their showdown with Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). Can they succeed or shall they fall before the onslaught of the Orcs and the mighty dragon? Even if you haven’t seen The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, this is a middle film in a trilogy so, it’s no spoiler to tell you to expect not only an open ending but, a cliffhanger as well. And it just leaves one a bit unsatisfied. The first Hobbit film at least ended at a satisfying point and while I felt it took way too long to get going (again, a lot of filler) it was really fun and moved very quickly once it did. Smaug feels like a 90 minute film stretched into almost 3 hours as there is just a lot of dialog sequences and scenes that really don’t advance the story… the sequences in Lake-town are especially tedious and accomplish little and even the sequences that do matter, seem drawn out. And the fact that the tone here is a lot more somber, also darkens the proceedings. But, there are some saving graces that elevate the film from being an outright disappointment. There are some really fun action sequences such as the battle against the giant spiders and a thrilling chase involving river barrels and pursuing Orcs and Elves, not to mention the climactic confrontation with Smaug himself. There is the return of Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and with him a new character who is an invention of Jackson’s named Tauriel who is played with equal parts fire and foxy by the beautiful Evangeline Lilly. Tauriel is one of the film’s real treats and Lilly creates a very endearing and strong character. She caught this fanboy’s attention instantly. I have never seen Lost but, I am impressed now. Sadly, I cannot say the same for Luke Evan’s Bard whose character really doesn’t make an impression and hopefully the talented Evan’s has a bigger impact in the next film as Bard didn’t have much to do here but look dour. The same goes for Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) who’s appearance is barely… or should I say bear-ly… more then a cameo. The SPFX are spectacular as are the visuals, thought the 48 fps can look a bit off at times especially with the barrel chase sequence. Smaug is very impressive and is greatly aided by the vocals of Cumberbatch who also voices The Necromancer. Jackson gets good work from all his cast with Freeman making Bilbo as endearing as Frodo and Sam in the previous trilogy and Mckellan is a delight as always. Richard Armitage is strong and noble as Thorin and the rest of the actors performing the dwarves all do nice work giving their characters personality despite performing as a group with little spotlight on them individually. Bloom is welcome back as Legolas though he is a bit more serious here and, as stated, Lilly gives nice life to a character created solely for the film. The score by Howard Shore obviously evokes his LOTR score but, to be honest, I don’t think it has the same resonance in the Hobbit films as it did there. So, in conclusion, Smaug is plagued not only by the added and unnecessary filler needed to make this one book tale a trilogy but, also suffers from middle trilogy syndrome in that it doesn’t have a satisfying ending and comes across as exactly that, the middle part of a bigger story. But, it’s saving graces are some really fun and exciting action sequences, some stunning visuals and the continued good work of the cast and director Jackson at making the characters endearing… not to mention a sassy and sexy she-Elf who will be an instant fanboy favorite. I did like it but, didn’t love it as I wanted to.