Pirates of the Caribbean: A Shot Across the Bow
The accounts vary slightly, but in what would be his final battle, it took around 20 sword strikes and five musket shots to finally put down Edward Teach, the pirate better known as Blackbeard. Afterwards, his body was thrown into the sea near Ocracoke, an island just offshore of North Carolina, and his severed head was flown from the bowsprit of one of the attacking ships. Let us hope, then, that this fifth film is that fifth shot, so that this franchise may finally die.
Reviewers everywhere have already had a field day with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, each saying the same thing. This movie is bad. Not just bad, but shockingly bad. Dreadfully, confoundingly, insultingly bad. And really, what else is there to be said? The last one, 2011’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, was just as poorly received. We had gone a whole six years without one of these movies. Six years without anyone asking for one, or even wondering about the possibility of another. (Well, there’s Sergio, but Crossfader lives to contradict.) And yet, here we are. How many times can Jack Sparrow avoid certain death? How much dumber and drunker can he get? And just how ridiculous can his Keith Richards impersonation become? Moreover, how many mysterious, enchanted items are out there? How many kinds of ghost pirates can there really be?
And how did they get Javier Bardem to agree to this?
Too many, as it turns out. But we already knew this. We knew this six years ago. 10, even. The existence of the Trident of Poseidon and the questions it raises about an apparent greater mythology and the roles of gods in Jack Sparrow’s universe don’t matter. Even the Pandora’s Box conundrum of “all the myths of the sea are real” doesn’t matter. None of it matters. The real question is, “How did we get here?” Why do these movies keep getting made? Why are there so many sequels, prequels, and reboots these days? Why do there seem to be so few unique, interesting, thought-provoking films and filmmakers? The answer to these questions is a little complicated, but the short answer is that we allowed it to get to this point.
I’ll walk you through an example. Let’s say there is a McDonald’s and a small, one-off burger shop near your place of work. Day in, day out, you go to McDonald’s on your lunch break. You may get a Big Mac one day, and a Filet-O-Fish the next, but it’s all really the same, isn’t it? It all just kind of sucks. You know it sucks, everyone knows McDonald’s sucks, yet that’s where you choose to eat. You choose to eat there because you aren’t familiar with the other burger shop and you’re afraid it might suck more. You aren’t willing to gamble your time and money on that. It’s just not worth the risk. So, you don’t go.
Another day comes and, once again, you go to McDonald’s, which you know—as a matter of fact, from repeat, personal experience—sucks. But that’s okay! Because even if it isn’t anything new or exciting or even good in any sense of the word, it isn’t scary or challenging. It’s at least familiar. It’s a familiar suck. The same joy-killing, soul-crushing familiar suck of that job you hate. But it’s also the same fear that keeps you there, week after week, getting duller and lazier all the time. And this is why McDonald’s, despite being abjectly terrible, is worth $104 billion, while 60% of new restaurants fail in their first year.
When was the last time you saw a movie that actually made you think or feel? When was the last time you were truly moved by what was on-screen? Consider Charlie Chaplin’s final words in THE GREAT DICTATOR. Or the little girl in red in SCHINDLER’S LIST. I still remember the first time I saw the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I will never forget how Norris’s head detaches itself and spouts spider-like legs to escape MacReady’s flamethrower in THE THING. It’s easy—too easy—to believe that today’s movies just aren’t as good as they used to be, but the truth is they are. They’re really good. Really, really good. The problem is that, with rare exception (MAD MAX: FURY ROAD), people aren’t watching them. THE WITCH is one of the absolute greatest horror movies of all time, but no one saw it. UNDER THE SKIN is one of the most horrifying, most beautiful, and most profound sci-fi films of the last decade, if not ever, but no one has even heard of it. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is a heart-wrenching masterpiece and what I feel is the Coen Brothers’ greatest film, but, again . . . you get the idea.
But you heard about this abomination, didn’t you?
So who’s to blame? Well, again, it’s not that easy. There are hundreds of people who have a hand in bringing a movie to life. One could blame the screenwriters for the endless barrage of cornball jokes, just as one could blame the directors for making every action set piece as boring as possible, just as one could blame the VFX team for bringing that awful young Jack Sparrow into the world. It’s turtles all the way down. A good place to start, though, might be Jerry Bruckheimer. Yes, the man who brought us such cinematic wonders as ARMAGEDDON and PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME greenlit this wheezing, shambling corpse of a film. Why? Because he had good reason to believe that people would pay money to see it—and he knows a thing or two about what people will pay for. He is, after all, worth $850 million. And like the films preceding it have proved, people will still file into theaters to watch Johnny Depp’s caricature of a caricature dodder about as all manner of dumb, mystical hoopajoop crashes and burns around him.
If you’re looking for a refutation of capitalism, look no further. Bruckheimer’s production company single handedly defies its most basic tenets. As the theory goes, the companies that offer the best products at the lowest prices will rise above the rest, and by that system the market regulates itself. It doesn’t always work out that way (see my McDonald’s example above), and clearly it isn’t the case here, either. And then, at the most basic level, what do these movies say of supply and demand? Where is the demand? Who is asking for more ghost pirates? A lot of people, apparently. As of Sunday, May 28th, this movie has made $271 million over a $230 million budget. And even if PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES doesn’t pull in a cool billion like the three films before it did, it’s not a big deal. As the post-credits scene shows (Yup, there’s one of those. Thanks, Marvel.), Pirates probably still has a little wind left in its sails, anyway. It may be diminishing returns, but it’s still a return.
This sums up everything pretty well
We like to make fun of the Jerry Bruckheimers, Michael Bays, and Adam Sandlers (Editor’s Note: not at Crossfader, mind you) of the world, but the truth is, we are responsible for them. We hand them money, hand over fist, time and time again. We like to think—to pretend—that we are thoughtful, caring people. That we are curious about new experiences and points of view, and that art matters to us. But that’s simply not true. It’s hard to think and feel when maybe we don’t want to. We perpetuate this cycle of dull, lazy filmmaking because we ourselves are dull and lazy. Even me, on my snooty high horse of righteous indignation, am not free of guilt. I paid for this turd, on opening night. So, I, too, am to blame.
BUT. You don’t get to complain about sequels, and reboots, and Hollywood running out of ideas while ignoring, or outright choosing not to watch new and different films. You don’t get to pass on something you’ve never heard of without making the effort to find out what it’s about. You don’t get to torpedo a new take on something before it even comes out, as was the case of GHOST IN THE SHELL, when you never had any interest in it to begin with. You don’t get to blast PROMETHEUS for being confusing, or too lofty, or for not having any aliens in it, then complain that ALIEN: COVENANT is nothing new when it gives you what you said you wanted. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it, too. That is how we got here. That is why there are so few unique, interesting, thought-provoking movies out there.
You are the reason every Marvel film looks and feels the same. You are the reason each new comedy is interchangeable with every other one released in the last 10 years. You are the reason we have eight THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies and soon to be five TRANSFORMERS movies. You are the reason FRIENDS is still the second most watched show on Netflix 13 years after it went off the air. You are the reason there are 10 goddamn seasons of THE BIG BANG THEORY. You did this.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend