Thursday, February 14, 2013

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A Good Time to Cry Hard



A Good Day to Die Hard [zero]

Ever since the announcement that John Moore would be the director of A Good Day to Die Hard (and in the subsequent interviews he gave about the film and the tweaks to the template that would follow) I wondered how much Moore actually knew about the franchise as a whole, and if he thought the problems of one film-- to my mind, the fourth-- belonged to the series as a whole (he seems to speak as if the entire franchise is problematic and he has the cure). The film’s full length trailer made me hopeful that despite Moore’s interviews (and apparent lack of understanding the series) he might have it in him to make something worthy of bearing the Die Hard name. What’s not to love about two generations of dueling McClane’s bickering because they are so attitudinally alike? It seemed like, and I know this is a big thing to lay at a film’s feet based on the trailer, if they could get the junior/senior dynamic just right then this would be the Die Hard film we needed, if not the one we deserved. Turns out, we didn’t need this shit. Because we’re too old for this shit.

John Moore promised us a Die Hard film that would be devoid of mirth and good cheer. Moore, a British filmmaker, stated in an interview that the climate of America seemed to necessitate a different kind of franchise entry. That America wasn’t in the mood for jokes and all the usual Die Hard rigamorole so he created something tonally different and finally made John McClane a fish out of water in a bigger more radioactive pond (i.e. Russia). All of that is a very loose paraphrasing of Moore’s words, but it underscores a couple of things: 1) As a Brit he’s in no position to pass judgment on America’s tenor or most beloved franchise; 2) he’s an idiot if he thinks that laughter and escapism isn’t good for the soul of a nation that feels as out of sorts as he believes us to be; and 3) if you want entertainment to be relevant and resonant in a post 9/11/economic recession world then leave that shit to the actual filmmakers, not the yous of the world; 4) while we’re on the subject of relevance-- try not dusting off a hoary old plot point like Chernobyl. If you’re going to do that you might as well shove a literal and proverbial hammer and sickle up the audience’s ass.

All of those misgivings aside, A Good Day to Die Hard fails on some more fundamental levels. The film’s biggest misstep is in its refusal to clearly designate a villain for the film. We spend half of the film thinking that the true villain is a government official who betrayed a business partner, Komarov (Sebastian Koch), who finds himself in need of the McClane’s help when he suddenly grows a conscience and wants to turn state’s evidence. It’s one thing to have an additional villain (or a secret one), but it’s another altogether to insist that one of your villains is not the film's bad guy, and then attempt to humanize him and bond him with McClane. It can be done, but it’ll take more than what’s on offer in the screenwriting department to pull of that feat. This kind of writing would be displayed in a weaker episode of 24 in which precious moments of Jack Bauer’s power hour would be lost to padding for length and wasting time on developing a character only to have him serve the most obvious ‘shocking’ function imaginable.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS
At this point, we may as well continue with the spoilers:  As it turns out Komarov is the film's real villain, after all, but his old partner, Chagarin, is also a screwhead red herring whose ambitions are more political than apocalyptic (Chagarin wants the secrets he believes Komarov is hiding away, secrets that Komarov locks in a vault and presumably would keep a hard copy of if they were real. Which begs the question: why not e-mail them to yourself or keep them on a USB drive? Why hard copies? You can at least shove a key or a flash drive up your ass, the paper's just gonna be a mess. Also, what Komarov is really hiding is weapons grade plutonium and he's got an elaborate plan to get it back-- it's a super obvious one involving pretend kidnapping, BTW) And young Jack (Jai Courtney) was trying to effect a rescue that was poorly planned, and had a solid cover story about being a screw-up that causes his dad to come barreling into the country demanding answers and butting into a situation that luckily involves his son and his mad heretofore secret CIA agenting skills.

It's a shame that Koch is so thoroughly wasted. He has the look of a born franchise villain, but is stuck with ferocious genericism that makes Timothy Olyphant's villain look like Hans Gruber himself.
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The film also evokes 24 in the manufacture of a magical spray that neutralizes the nuclear threat of Chernobyl. This device exists because the McClane’s, impervious to everything else so why the fuck not, must saunter into a building (unHAZMATsuited) to save the day and not die of extra arms or some such nonsense in the years between adventures. The audience should probably count itself lucky that the McClane’s weren’t the ones with this magical item because, well, that would just be fucking silly (and I don’t mean regular silly, I mean, ‘Christopher Henderson gave me a hypothermic compound and I survived biological weapons poisoning’ silly). All I’m saying and I’m certainly not saying it as concisely as possible, is if all the films subsequently strain credibility to the breaking point this one ties it down, fucks it, makes it carry it to term and names it A Good Day to Die Hard.

If this film is a warm up to the final act, where Jai Courtney’s Jack McClane will take the reins of the franchise from his father, it should be noted that the film doesn’t see Jack as prepared to inherit the throne. The villains are faceless and less competent, this group of bad guys might be smaller than Gruber and company, and Jack is clearly an idiot lacking in good instincts even if his muscles are impressive. If you’re paying close enough attention (and you’re not because you’re bored) this movie says that Jack McClane makes John McClane suck. And honestly, not all of those assertions are the fault of super terrible screenwriter Skip Woods. He just happens to have written a product bad enough to make all of these things true. What he has written is, in fact, so bad that director John Moore’s hideously ugly visual style could be seen as a cheeky commentary on the script’s thoroughly shitty murkiness but since Moore did interviews we know that he genuinely lacks an eye or understanding for anything worth putting on film, least of all action. There’s nothing in here worth engaging in for a minute, so how the editors of the trailer were able to find as many workable seconds that hinted at a genuinely developed relationship between the two McClane’s is a question best left for the ceremony wherein the editors are given a medal and then summarily executed.

There’s nothing good about today, we bore witness to the international tragedy of what happened to a once great franchise. If the box office receipts are plenty it will live again (and may even redeem itself) but here and now it sure died hard.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Stormare is coming.

The Last Stand [***] / Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters [**1/2]
While there is very little doubt that Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is as anachronistic as movies can get, it's tougher to say whether the same can be said of The Last Stand. Stand is a film rife with the excesses of an 80s action picture and I think the desire to label it as anachronistic stems from the fact that it actually works as a relic from that time and not as a vague notion of what makes those kinds of movies appealing [cough]The Expendables[cough]. It boasts a star who understands his appeal both inside and outside of iconic characters and a director who respects the art of action and the clarity needed to make action art. So again, there is a second hash mark for why The Last Stand feels so out of time and place. And it also flopped...bad. I guess no one knows what to do with an action film when you do it right and it doesn't have superheroes.

The plot is simple stuff: Arnold is the Sheriff of a sleepy Arizona border town who along with his deputies and a couple of local ne'er do wells must defend the town from villains led by Peter Stormare, who are paving the way for their boss' daring escape into Mexico. A couple of things about this scenario are cool: 1) the boss is driving himself from Vegas to Arizona, 2) the FBI agent played by Forrest Whitaker is kind of a big shot, but he's not a prick. He just thinks that with more resources at his command, he knows better of what he speaks. But when Arnold dares to disagree with him he doesn't really go pulling rank. He just happens to be at an advantage as it regards resources and technology. He's also grateful and non-dickheaded at the end.

The action scenes are clearly and crisply shot by director Kim Ji Woon, an Asian action specialist, the man never shies away from headshots or violence in general. A shootout in a stairwell is one of the film's action highlights. It's a tightly enclosed space but there's just enough room from the vantage point of all the participants that any one of them could come out the victor. It's the best usage of such tight space since Iko Uwais hid in the crawl space in The Raid: Redemption. My only wish is that The Last Stand had one more hand-to-hand tussle. Perhaps Schwarzenegger is limited by his age, but it was a nice display of submission holds, punches, stabbings and power bombs. I suppose this is exactly the mentality that one develops when they're finally seeing a new player in action cinema emerge and then an icon decides to saddle up with the right people and do it right.
If there is one arena in which The Last Stand could have taken a cue from Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters it would be in trimming the fat off of an already lean premise. The Last Stand feels about ten minutes too long while H and G remains blissfully unfettered in that regard and many others. As you may have guessed, after killing a witch as children Hansel and Gretel find that they have a natural affinity for it and continue doing so in their adult years. What you may not have known is that they have at their disposal crossbows, machine guns and muskets to augment their pursuit of justice. They also have a surprising command of modern day profanities and exclamations. In particular, their usage of fuck, which serves as a middle man to cut exposition and/or save the audience the trouble of having to be audibly exasperated. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to say this disparagingly, but it'll sound that way. I appreciate that the film knows what the audience will say or is thinking and decides to meet you there while ultimately giving zero fucks how serious you are or aren't taking it.

Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton make no attempt at sounding German (this is a brothers Grimm story after all) or even vaguely European. In fact, they both sound like non-descript Americans. But they aren't being lazy, they're just having fun killing witches and Arterton in particular gets to break Peter Stormare's nose and hang out with an awesome/adorable/murderous CGI troll named Edward. I can only hope that in the sequel that Edward and their young charge/ reporter Ben (Thomas Mann) are able to turn their affections for her into a love triangle. It won't make sense but it will be awesome. Renner isn't given quite as much fun stuff to do as Hansel, but it is always interesting to see him be incredibly chaste and modest in front of beautiful women. Until he murders someone in front of them, then he tends to get a raging boner. For both Arterton and Renner the film seems like a working vacation, they have fun without straining themselves to do so and the results are pleasant.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters shares yet a few more similarities with The Last Stand because they both employ Peter Stormare, who, unsurprisingly, hams it up like a boss, does a lot with a little and dies awesomely. It also serves as an example of a premise done right. This film's director Tommy Wirkola previously missed the mark with the Nazi skeleton zombie comedy Dead Snow, yet here he nails absurdity of tone and premise. Both films ultimately live as examples of getting more right than wrong and making movies in January a bigger blast than you might have rightly expected.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If these dogs are barking don't bother coming in



Straw Dogs [*1/2]

In the forty years that separate Sam Peckinpah and Rod Lurie’s versions of Straw Dogs I wondered if the same views and values would stand the test of time, much less cultures, and as it turns out they feel equally primitive in both contexts. The film(s) are a whole sticky wicket of problems and provocations, and if the films don’t need to be remade at least there is a legitimate conversation piece. Those things don‘t happen often enough.

Before I delve into everything, I would like to state that the movie is reasonably well made, this isn’t a project you embark on if you feel dispassionate in any way about the material. From a technical standpoint it is competent and need not be discussed any further in that regard. The movie, however, lives or dies on how one reacts to it and the film can, and will, evoke a lot of uncomfortable thoughts and may even provide some much needed gravity and perspective to the casual misogyny most of us will be extremely guilty of going in.

An official plot synopsis and other information is required before diving into the muckety muck of the film proper: David and Amy Sumner (James Marsden and Kate Bosworth) are a successful Hollywood couple, she’s an actress he’s a screenwriter, who have returned to her hometown of Blackwater, Mississippi to get the family home in order. First welcomed with open arms, tensions gradually begin to mount between the Sumners and the locals (more specifically a few of her old friends/gawkers: Alexander Skarsgard, Rhys Coiro, Billy Lush, Drew Powell) before one unspeakable crime begets another. This all culminates in a stand-off in which David must protect his house and family from Skarsgard and co while also harboring the town’s local idiot/ potential pedophile, Jeremy Niles.

A few major events that are discussed in the essay include: the rape of Amy, behaviors of the coach’s daughter and her relationship to the mentally challenged Jeremy Niles (Dominic Purcell), the arrival of Skarsgard and company looking to claim Niles after the coach’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing and the Sumners decision to protect him, and the general milquetoast-ness of David.

To put it mildly, both versions of the film hate women. At least women, for sure, but probably all females. In fact, the one thing that both version of “Straw Dogs” manage to successfully convey is a disdain for women that I’m not sure most cavemen would endorse.* The movie hates women so much that it bends over backwards to let us know that girls are not women (although biologically speaking a fifteen-year-old girl would have matured to the point of womanhood), but that all women regardless of age are provocateurs (which is something we will come back to); a troubling and contradictory stance that is worth trying to wrap your head around. However, the important thing to remember at the moment is that girls are not women especially if they have a daddy to remind everybody of that fact (a crazy, terrifying nutter of a dad played by James Woods, no less). The daddy also has four twenty-something year-old yes men (Skarsgard and co.) who, by the by, don’t have a problem raping one female (Bosworth) while they rush to the defense of another (coach’s little girl). This “girl” also happens to be their old coach’s daughter, so maybe they don’t rape her out of respect or fear for her father. They don’t respect or fear the husband (James Marsden) of the woman they do rape so maybe it is that simple. Someone has to assert dominance for the animals to learn their place. With all of that said, one could make the simple argument that the reason the men don’t rape the girl is because they are not pedophiles. It is a fact, these men are not pedophiles, but the girl is, biologically speaking, a woman. And the movie will go on to make a very arbitrary distinction between girl and woman since the movie has a very specific idea of how it wants you to feel about females. In addition to the men not fearing or respecting the husband they also have a desire to destroy the woman. Not just because it is in their nature to do and because she is a woman and they hate them, but because she has chosen an outsider as her lover. The coach’s daughter whom these men so “valiantly defend” in the film’s climax has also chosen an outsider, a mentally challenged man (Dominic Purcell), whom she is friendly with and who, much to the chagrin of the locals, calls her his girlfriend (and may himself be a pervert, though this is never shown). This girl, coach’s daughter, may be being friendly because she sees him as a relatively harmless fellow, but the movie never affords us that knowledge, so because of the film’s disdain for women and the view that they are provocateurs, we have no choice but to assume that the movie’s goal is for us to hate women. Writing this I can’t help but equate the mentally challenged man to an outsider, which means that the young girl has effectively chosen an outsider (he was born mentally handicapped), but he’s not an outsider by choice so the onus of the mistake lies with him and not with her. Or that’s what we the audience is left to assume. There are moments when things get all Frankensteinian up in this bitch (moreso when the angry mob goes hunting after the big dumb lug with a gun in lieu of torches) when the retarded guy accidentally kills coach’s daughter as he tries to quiet her. This happens so that her Coach wouldn’t be drawn into a room in which he saw a mentally challenged older man with his daughter. She dies, perhaps, by accident but also because the movie needs her to, to prove on some level that a woman cannot go unpunished for choosing the outsider. The girl cannot suffer the same fate as the wife because she’s a girl but she must suffer because she is a female. It bears noting that what happens to the daughter is probably meant to show another distinction between deserving what you get and not deserving it. I have only had conversations with four people about the film and two have compared the film’s treatment of women to Muslims and two more have said that Bosworth’s character brought her rape on herself when she flashes the men who have been ogling her body. Sure, it might be a provocative thing to do (flashing men you know are looking at you and making you uncomfortable), but it doesn’t justify rape. The whole argument that she brought it on herself would mean that the two men who said this would literally have to be ok with someone saying “I’m going to go rape this woman” (and since I know them to be decent people who wouldn’t partake in such an activity) and they would have to say: “take your time. I brought a book to read, I’ll be out in the truck waiting.” It’s a terrible thing to say that someone asked to be raped and to say she brought it on herself is a pretty lousy justification or defense of any action. Although, I suppose the idea of he/she brought it upon his/herself works strictly as a series of actions and reactions and only in certain contexts: she was looking and smelling good so it’s her fault I went and introduced myself/ we talked and danced/ now we’re married. Her fault for being sexy. At the end of the day it’s just mean to say that someone deserves something bad and it undercuts one’s basic humanity to say as much.

Another problem that the film suffers is that Amy Sumner is raped, but her husband David’s final stand against the men who performed the crime has nothing to do with the fact that they raped her. The men violated the sanctity of his home, sure, but the sanctity of his wife seems to be important only because she is in his home, but not because she is his wife. In fact, were it not for a slight deviation from the original film, Amy’s rape would go unmentioned to her husband in the film proper. And I don’t believe there are any looks telling enough between the two of them that suggest that she has communicated her rape to him in code or with a glance. While she was being raped, David was out hunting, and being abandoned by the men he will later fight, and he comes home stewing that the men left him in the woods and remains completely oblivious to the distraught looks of his wife. This moment in the woods, occurring alongside his wife’s rape, is also the one in which the milquetoast learns how to shoot straight and become a man. Giving the movie a direct correlation to empowerment through rape, not that it wasn’t obvious already, but it appears to send a mixed message when one considers that David’s wife’s rape gives him a heretofore unknown strength (that he later uses against the same men) and allows him to secretly avenge a rape he didn‘t know about; when it‘s really kind of obvious that the reason she never tells David is because he honestly can‘t be bothered to defend his wife in any previous context in the movie. When this Amy (who unlike the original film’s Amy, is no longer still turned on by bad boy aggression) reports to her husband concerns that the men have killed the family cat and that they were ogling her body as she worked up a sweat while running, David’s solution is to pussyfoot around the former issue and to take the men’s side in the latter. And while I initially couldn’t blame him for his reaction to the men ogling her it just seemed to underscore how much of a shit he doesn’t give about her concerns. This movie validates David’s flippancy when Amy goes to take a shower and exposes herself to the men who are going to look anyway by painting her as, you guessed it, a provocateur. I suppose that by ultimately allowing Amy to be the avenger of her own rape the filmmakers have at least elevated her person somewhat. Amy and David have a marriage that paints her as a not terribly bright, but not idiotic girl, who engages in some good humored and kind of flirty passive aggression with a too serious minded husband. In the original, Amy was world’s more attractive and world’s dumber than her husband, but in making the ‘11 Sumners a more plausible and attractive couple Amy gets elevated to a step above a come dumpster (the fact that she doesn‘t enjoy being forcibly taken by her ex-boyfriend in this incarnation also helps to elevate her status). However, it negates one of the chief reasons I thought casting Skarsgard for the role was a novel idea**). Let’s hear it for progress. But again, this development paints David in a worse light because he’s not avenging his wife, he’s protecting his home and he’s been spurred on this path because he is protecting another outsider (the mentally challenged man). If there is a logic to be found in Sumner’s actions it is the idea that protecting our own only applies to houses that transfer ownership, people that are outcasts like oneself and things that can’t get tainted (read: raped) by the other. One could argue that David fighting back against the home invaders is him stopping a raping and pillaging that he could not prevent before, but the gesture is meaningless when the damage has been done already and when your own wife won‘t tell you that she has been attacked. He’s not really a hero for any reason that matters, he’s like the men who come to his house looking for blood-- so full of moral outrage that the only thing that is really getting accomplished is that their anger is making hypocrites out of all of them.

At the end of the day, one cannot help but feel about Straw Dogs the way Straw Dogs wants them to feel about women-- it is a provocateur, it probably wants us to hate it, but it’ll settle for any reaction as long as it gets one.

* In my section of the Bible Belt, saying that a caveman wouldn’t endorse the films views on women got this reaction from a married couple: kind of like Muslims. Muslims being cavemen in this scenario. Also, since the rednecks in the film are churchgoing types it allows them an easy platform for unjustifiable indignation, but the audience seems pretty unwilling to acknowledge the hypocrisy of their observations. As it regards Muslims v Christianity. I’m sure the film will lend itself to a religious interpretation, but lacking the ability to analyze in that way, the people remain, on a level of basic human decency, irredeemable assholes. Being Muslims or anything like it doesn’t matter for me.

** Casting Skarsgard as the rapist ex-boyfriend seemed to make a lot of sense if you got the impression that the movie was being “True Blood”ed (a show which features Skarsgard as an oft-shirtless vampire that ladies swoon over) up and that they were really playing up the hot, sweaty, sexy angle. I am also under a completely unsubstantiated belief that any “True Blood” loving female with a rape fantasy has one that stars Skarsgard, whose Southern accent is great, by the way.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Days, Nights and Years of Fright

Fright Night [****] and The Devil's Double [***1/2]



This “Fright Night” is not interested in replacing the 1985 version in your memories, but it is as dedicated to being a movie that deserves to be called “Fright Night” as one could rightly hope any movie bearing the title would be. It has a sense of escalation to replace the slow burning atmosphere of the original but it remains largely the story of a kid obsessed with a neighbor who is no good for the people he loves. And he needs the help of an expert to prove it. Enter reason number one why both “Fright Night”s will remain alongside one another rather than one supplanting the other: some of you may prefer the more traditionally garbed/portrayed Peter Vincent (portrayed by Roddy McDowell) to the new Criss Angel style potty mouthed version. I get someone preferring the old version, but Vincent’s newer, crushing backstory invests the character with a level of depth that is both blindsiding and stupefying. David Tennant makes the character vulgar, hilarious and tragic. In fact, every character from “Fright Night” 2011 seems to locate the one thing that makes them tick and has at least one devastating moment that brings it to the foreground. Three viewings later a moment in which a central character meets his demise becomes exponentially more poignant. The death, a fiery and bloody one that results in ashes and forgiveness, is capped off with the proclamation: “it’s okay Charlie.” A couple of my friends insist the line is really “f--k you Charlie!” They are wrong, but the fact that the moment holds equal power either way, speaks to the movie’s utter insistence that humans are ultimately forged by the way that they hold on to traumas and the impossible grace with which they cast them off in the final moments.



If finding the humanity of a character is at the crux of what makes “Fright Night” work so well then consider that as a link to director Lee Tamahori’s “The Devil’s Double” in which Dominic Cooper plays both Uday Hussein and his double Latif Yahia. There are moments in the film in which Uday tries to make Yahia execute someone for paltry reasons. Yahia might not object to having to do this were it not for the fact that, in doing so, he wants what every human needs: motivation. Hussein never obliges Yahia, he just does it himself in vivid sprays of crimson and power. And again we find another link to “Fright Night” as we have a creature so unburdened by conscience and driven entirely by bloodlust, yet, like Jerry in the “Fright Night” remake, he is capable of a fa├žade of extreme friendliness that is so unsettling precisely because we know the monster that lurks underneath. Cooper, like Farrell, gets to play two extremes but unlike Farrell he gets to play it with a little self parody, adopting a high pitch whine and knocking things around as Hussein while as Yahia he combs his hair to the side and remains calmer, more collected. Farrell has the same sort of sultriness no matter if he is being creepy or friendly. At least until he goes into full-on vampire mode. It might be worth noting that Farrell and Cooper hail from Ireland and Britain respectively and I can’t help but wonder if their being neither American or Iraqi performers (as the roles call for) allows them to more easily highlight the inherent monstrousness of these particular cultures that they play monsters of. It might not be a relevant question for Colin Farrell's character, who could literally be anyone but is ultimately an American monster, but once I raise the question I can't ignore it (even when I can't answer it).

Dominic Cooper who plays Uday Hussein portrayed Howard Stark in “Captain America” a genius inventor and father to Tony Stark, another genius who is arrogant and also Iron Man. Does that level of arrogance and power that Cooper is cinematically responsible for make him a more appropriate choice to play Hussein? I think it does. While we're at it, the film practices American excess by being evocative of "Scarface" in addition to being a biopic and an espionage picture.

At the end of the day, both films despite large mostly non-American casts feel utterly truthful because they can happen in our streets and in our countries. The monsters are heightened to a fever pitch, but the need to rule by fear and the desire to simply survive are utterly relatable feelings. Such mad displays of power and struggles against it are also rarely this entertaining.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Roommate: with choice blurbs



The Roommate [zero]

I thought it would be easier to make a fake poster with insulting pull quotes rather than be self consciously asshole-y and, consequently, unamusing in a review. I don't know exactly how one deed cancels out the other, but my photo shop skills are as shitty as the movie so we're in pretty good company with one another.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Plundered Booty

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [**]

It seems, given the box office receipts, that not nearly as many people are/were clamoring for a fourth installment as was expected. $90 million is nothing to sneeze at, but perhaps it foreshadows the diminishing returns that a sequel laden summer should eventually suggest. However, money making acumen aside, the fourth film has taken a refreshingly simplistic approach in its storytelling: now we have three disparate groups (Spaniards, Barbossa leading the Navy, and pirates) looking to reach the same goal (the Fountain of Youth) for their own ends. A mermaid's tear is also needed to enact the life expanding properties of the fountain and a golden chalice. It's no more complicated than that despite a couple of betrayals which are necessitated less by plot demands than the weaselly nature of being a pirate.

Johnny Depp as per usual goes big as Captain Jack Sparrow, but he plays the role with such ease and old hat non-chalance it's hard to tell if he's still being game or just sleepwalking through the role. All of that said, no one seems particularly committed. No one is bad, but the revenge that Barbossa seeks has lost all weight while the threat that Ian McShane's Blackbeard should imply is diminished to about five minutes worth of CGI trickery and a couple of lightly evil deeds. It's a peculiar waste of McShane's charisma, but also a waste of a lot of other opportunities: a zombified crew and a ship that does Blackbeard's bidding when he touches his magical scabbard are curiously under-utilized. Blackbeard also has a daughter who seems to ground and humanize him in a way that voids him of any menace. Her entrance which obscures her face in shadow is a reliable cliche meant to mask that she is a woman, but also underscores how woefully ordinary the whole affair is. It's a fourth adventure, but it isn't big, game changing or anything like that. It is designed simply to be one of the forgettable adventures in a pirate's life. When reflecting upon this year's later Jack Sparrow might say: "Did I ever tell you about the killer mermaids and the Fountain of Youth? Well, it happened once and then life went on."

It's a fine two hour diversion and considering how little of our time and money the franchise deserves after parts two and three it's nice to see them cut the clutter and try to get back to the basics of telling a story that doesn't rely on exposition. However, they accidentally diminish the fun of the spectacle by not giving us enough and ignoring some of the more intriguing elements they've left in play. I can't help but wonder if this is a way of testing the waters to see if there is life left in the franchise. Are there are plans to truly blow us out of the water with a fifth installment? I can see them trying to figure out what audiences really want and cutting the fat, I doubt they'll succeed but as far as part fours go they've totally succeeded at making a quick buck while improving on the efficiency of a franchise in the slightest of ways. I didn't hate the movie so maybe it doesn't secretly hate me and want my money. Maybe it wants to please me and is just too exhausted with its own part fourness to care? I guess I'll just have to wait until the next wholly unnecessary sequel to figure out if complacency is the deliberate modus operandi of every number four.