So Low: A Box Office Story

I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This

Let’s wind our clocks back to December 17th, 2015. This was the day that I, and fans everywhere, would finally see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which would soon become the highest grossing domestic film of all time (not adjusted for inflation). As of this piece being written, the top 10 in that list also includes Star Wars: The Last Jedi at #8, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at #10. All three of these films were distributed by Disney after their acquisition of Lucasfilm and its assets in 2012. It was safe to say that, at least in terms of revenue and popularity, all was well.

So what the hell could’ve possibly happened for it to end up like this?:

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If you haven’t heard by now, Solo: A Star Wars Story was a huge box-office bomb. Even if you want to say that the movie has barely been out for a month, Look at those opening weekend numbers! It performed so poorly that Disney and Lucasfilm have, allegedly, put all other anthology films on hold. This includes, most notably: the slated Boba Fett film (set to be directed by James Mangold who helmed Logan, a fantastic film which I’ve reviewed here), and the highly anticipated (depending on the involvement of Ewan McGregor) Kenobi film.

I will repeat the question: What the hell happened?

Many have tried to answer it with some of the lazy criticisms you would expect: about the actor playing Han, about the directors quitting, about how “they’re doing it like Marvel”, etc….but it can’t be that simple. You mean to tell me even with Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke doing TONS of press beforehand, after post-red carpet reviews seemed vaguely positive, and after the Tomato-meter never went rotten, that a STAR WARS MOVIE would open this badly on Memorial Day Weekend? Before continuing, I’d like to take this time to briefly summarize my thoughts on the movie.

It was very okay. I think it was fun, had cool elements, and nothing stood out as glaringly negative, but it held no importance. I KNOW this story because I’ve seen The Empire Strikes Back more times than I can count. We know Han was a smuggler, we know how Han meets Lando, we know he is the way he is because he was betrayed, we know he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando in a game of sabacc. Any of the extra stuff (i.e. how Han got his dice or his blaster)…I didn’t really need. If I DIDN’T use my moviepass and actually paid full price for a ticket, I would’ve had some buyer’s remorse. I think if this movie was instead released as animation or a book, it would’ve been more appropriate, had more room to expand, and maybe even more praised.

Regardless of how I feel, this is still a Star Wars movie and those numbers are preposterous. So, once again, what the hell happened? We can look at this from a few angles:

THE LACK OF A TARGET AUDIENCE

When discussing Star Wars in any capacity, I believe it is fundamental to acknowledge the generational aspect of the franchise. By that, I mean the idea of “what was YOUR Star Wars“, a concept often used in discussing the 007 franchise or various Batman actors. Presumably: The Original Trilogy (OT) was first enjoyed by younger Boomers and mostly Gen-Xers, The Prequel Trilogy (PT) was prominent when Millennials like myself were growing up, and the Sequel Trilogy (ST) has found their solid fan base in Gen-Z.  It also should be noted that everyone eventually becomes very familiar with the OT, as it objectively contains the quintessential installments of the franchise. Millennials went to Blockbuster (RIP) to rent the older films on VHS (also RIP). Gen-Zers have their Gen-X parents showing them the OT to catch them up, as the ST contains the 3 main characters from the OT anyway.

Rogue One had the appeal to all fans: it promised that we would see a major point in the Rebellion’s effort that wasn’t expanded on yet. We know the Rebellion got the Death Star plans, but we had so many questions. What was the war like before that? Where was most of the fighting taking place? Why was there such a convenient hole in the Empire’s space station? Who stole the plans? Rogue One answered all of these questions and more, and since the characters didn’t have as much depth as the ones in the saga films, we could focus more on the conflict at hand and connect it to the OT easily.

A Kenobi film with Ewan McGregor would bring out the Millennial audience in full force. It could also bring out the other crowds because whatever Obi-Wan was doing between the PT and OT isn’t common knowledge (it is briefly touched on in the Star Wars Rebels animated show).

Similarly, the OT crowd will live and die as Boba Fett fans. When you ask me, the dude had roughly five lines and fell into the Sarlacc pit like an idiot. He could’ve been replaced by a talking flying bantha for all I care. However, a Boba Fett film still appeals to various markets because the OT crowd will be nostalgic and the PT/ST crowd will see something new.

So who was Solo meant for? They alienated the OT crowd who wont accept anyone but Harrison Ford as the character, the PT crowd doesn’t feel much nostalgia towards Han, and the ST crowd knows Han as old, defeated, and more of a plot device than a main character. On top of all of that, they made a movie that all three crowds already know the main events of. It only adds irony to the fact that Han’s son is now famous for his “Let the past die” line.

MISLEADING MARKETING

This disappointed me like crazy, and I know it all too well (remember when we thought Joker was going to be the primary antagonist of Suicide Squad?). The public was meant to believe that this movie was going to center on Han, Qi’ra, and Lando, with a lot of screen time for Chewbacca. Instead, it was more about Han and Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), and the others just felt like part of the larger setting for Han to be himself and be “mentored” by Tobias.

Word eventually got out that Glover and Emilia weren’t that prominent in the film, most likely Because of The Internet. The problem with that is that they were the “aces” the project had. I myself went on opening weekend almost entirely out of support for Glover, and when Lando had one cool scene, about 7 other lines of dialogue, and ends up being the biggest loser in the end, it pissed me off.

Qi’ra was just reduced to “Han’s girl”, despite being a new character with more backstory than Lando, Chewbacca, or Tobias. However all of this resulted in a few moments where the audience is forced to connect extremely vague dots, and the last time we see her on screen just ends up more confusing than anything. I suppose they weren’t in it for your character development, Princess Khaleesi.

BACKLASH AND FATIGUE 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since December 2017, you probably know that The Last Jedi was an extremely divisive movie. I’m not going to get into it because it isn’t even fun to talk about anymore, and fans have gotten toxic to the point of negatively impacting those who worked on the film (a topic further discussed in this episode of the “Overrated” Podcast).

The point here to be noted is that the ST films were slated for the Decembers of 2015, 2017, and 2019, giving fans ample time to digest each one and properly anticipate another. While the MCU releases films only months apart, it changes its setting, characters, and conflicts with every movie and simply connects them to each other, Star Wars has always been more of a “previously in our story…” type of deal. Many fans were opposed to the idea of anthology films such as Rogue One in the first place.

Regardless, Rogue One came out in December 2016, a year after The Force Awakens and a year before The Last Jedi. Solo came out in May 2018, and the fans are STILL processing The Last Jedi. I don’t understand why anyone thought it was a good idea to release Solo at that time, especially with trouble behind the scenes, and the clash against both Infinity War and Deadpool 2. Delaying Solo until December 2018 would’ve made perfect sense to me.

A MISSING SENSE OF WONDER

For most people, Star Wars has always been about the characters, the idea of the Force, the larger conflict, and the vastness of the Galaxy. Han himself barely got any development throughout this film, I can’t even exactly point to what he learned or if there was a major change in personality. So when a Star Wars film ignores characterization, has no mention of the Force, doesn’t connect to a larger theme or conflict, and barely explores the planets it takes place on…well, you get the idea.

The point is: Maybe someone should’ve told them the odds on this one.

 

Guest Post: Movie Review – Incredibles 2

Jack-Jack vs Raccoon was the best fight scene of the year

GUEST ALERT! This piece was written and contributed by Nick Curl, who had the following to say:

“Soggz wants me to plug myself but I’m not sure what to plug. I do wedding and portrait photography, so you can check me out on The Knot at https://tinyurl.com/ybe4ltg4. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @nickcurl.”

Nick is an amazing person and I loved this review, be sure to check out his photography. Spoiler: He’s pretty incredible at that too!

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With a film title of Incredibles, you’ve already put a fair amount of pressure on yourself to live up to that word. And not only did writer/director Brad Bird do that with his 2004 groundbreaking Pixar Animation film The Incredibles, he has seemingly done the impossible fourteen years later: create a seamless transition to a part two, a film that is just as subversive, sharp, insightful, and gorgeous as the original.

I saw The Incredibles when I was eight-years-old with my dad, and I honestly don’t know who enjoyed the movie more. It was everything I could possibly want in a movie, and I proceeded to watch it about twenty more times when it was released on DVD. I patiently waited for a sequel for years, wanting to know if the Parr family successfully took down the Underminer, how Violet’s date with Tony Rydinger went, if Dash became a track and field superstar, and what was going to happen with Jack-Jack, the baby with multiple powers. Now, after fourteen years, I’ve gotten the answers (and so much more) that eight-year-old me was dying to know.

The film picks up immediately where we left off: the Parrs, having successfully defeated Syndrome, are beginning to live a “normal” life, watching Dash decide where to place in his 200 meter sprint, when the Underminer begins his rampage on Municiberg. Following their (somewhat) successful attempt at stopping the Underminer, the government decides that it’s time, once and for all, to retire the Supers. Defeated and living in a motel, the Parrs are approached by communications mogul, Winston Deavor (the fantastic Bob Odenkirk), and his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener; truly top-notch voice work across the board), who promise Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson, who steps into the role like he never left) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter, who steals every scene with just her voice) — and all supers – the opportunity to come out of hiding.

From there, the film takes off and exponentially gains momentum to a thrilling climax reminiscent of Speed 2 (but infinitely better, I promise). The film’s A-plot, centered around Helen/Elastigirl vs an enigmatic villain, the Screenslaver, is the movie’s only disappointing aspect due to its predictability and the sense that Bird was phoning-in this aspect of the film. Without spoiling anything, the Screenslaver starts out as a truly creepy, well-motivated villain (he has a speech in the second act which felt straight out of USA’s Mr. Robot), but quickly becomes a generic character who, most disappointingly, acts against the rules that Bird had so expertly established in the first film. In The Incredibles, Lucius/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson, thankfully with a much larger role this time around) and Bob/Mr. Incredible have a hilarious conversation which jabs at one of the superhero-genre’s most irritating tropes: villains monologuing when they, realistically, should just get on with their plan and/or kill the Superhero they have prisoner. It was a phenomenal moment of genre-subverting self-awareness which made the original so iconic. Now, in an identical situation as the one Frozone described in the first film, our villain “monologues” for no reason other than to explain to the audience exactly what their motivation is. It was a disappointing moment in an otherwise spectacular film which goes out of its way to treat the superhero-genre with a realism and relatability that is rarely, if ever, seen from Marvel or DC.

So, despite the film’s weak A-plot, literally every other moment had a smile glued on my face like I was eight-years-old again. With Helen off being the face of the Supers’ Return, Bob takes up the role of stay-at-home-dad. This is where the film truly shines. Watching Bob learn the ins-and-outs of parenting his three vastly different children with vastly different issues is both hilarious and rings true for just about everyone. Violet, with her teen angst over Tony Rydinger, Dash’s homework (which produces possibly the film’s greatest line, “I don’t know that way! Why would they change math?”), and Jack-Jack’s burgeoning superpowers. Each relationship is handled with such care and joy that it’s evident if Brad Bird could’ve made a three-hour film centered around the everyday lives of our Super-family, he would’ve. And, of course, everyone’s favorite designer returns to the fun as well. Tasked with babysitting Jack-Jack overnight, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) is initially reluctant (“I’m an artist”), but is soon more than willing to not only watch Jack-Jack, but take him on as an apprentice of sorts (which leads to the film’s second-best gag).

The animation on display is spectacular and visually arresting. We’re still in the same world we know and love, but with finer detail everywhere you look. The cinematography is some of the best Pixar has ever produced (I’m not sure anything will top 2015’s The Good Dinosaur), and it makes for an even more immersive experience than the first film. Standout scenes include the Underminer battle, the train sequence with Elastigirl (a fantastic parallel to the first film), and the first battle with the Screenslaver (if you’re epileptic, be ready to turn away for about a minute). Brad Bird’s skill as a visually storyteller has never been clearer, and neither has his love for the Parrs.

In a market over-saturated with superheroes, whether they’re Avengers, X-Men, or the Justice League, Brad Bird has proven, once again, that finding the truth in your characters and their relationships is more important than any superpowers on display. But the powers are fun too.

The Thing about Cinematic Universes..

Let’s ignore the fact that I disappeared for a few months because life is crazy and just go into a deep dive on Cinematic Universes. So I recently, like a few optimists out there, watched the movie known as “Justice League”. I also, like a majority of the population, saw “Thor Ragnarok”. Additionally, me and a few other nerds on r/marvelstudios spent weeks praying for a trailer for “Avengers: Infinity War” that was given to us last week and blew all of our minds…and just happened to break the record for most viewed movie trailer on Youtube.

I know that not writing reviews for either Thor or Justice League were very out of character for me (although not as out of character as Batman was…), so just to be really quick about it:

  • I loved “Thor: Ragnarok”. It was unexpected, the improv feel made me happy, I got to see more obscure comic book things I never thought I’d see on the big screen, sure it was pretty weightless on the universe when compared to the Ragnarok comic book but I’m fine if we goof off with Thor and Hulk before we get real for “Black Panther” and before the potential for a major shake-up in the next two Avengers movies. Lastly, Jeff Goldblum is a national treasure and I won’t accept anything less.
  • “Justice League”…I’m not mad, I’m just frustrated. There is a decent movie in here bogged down by unfortunate tragedy behind the scenes, bad production decisions separate from that, and absolutely horrible executive decisions. However, the more I think/talk about it, the more I actually do get mad because it finally became very obvious that whoever is making the decisions behind the DCCU doesn’t actually care about the characters and what they’ve done for people (there is an entire generation of us that grew up on the Justice League Animated Series). I’m sick of being an apologist about it, this thing was a mess and frankly I’d be okay if they cancelled the DCCU.

Between the overwhelming success of Marvel Studios (coming up on their 10th anniversary) juxtaposed with the potential $500k loss on “Justice League” for the DCCU, the laughably bad attempt at a “Dark Universe” by Universal, Sony literally making a deal with Disney so that Spider-Man can be better, and the upcoming X-Force from Fox that spawned from the success of “Deadpool”…It’s becoming obvious that studios are struggling and scrambling to achieve what Marvel Studios has. In this post I’ll attempt to limit being an MCU fanboy/gushing over my idol Kevin Feige to try and pinpoint why studios that are trying this “Universe” thing are failing.

(P.S: Vanity Fair published this article for the MCU’s 10 year celebration, I’ll be referring to it quite a bit.)

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Making a Franchise Before Making a Good Movie

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Take a good look at that picture. That was a promotional image released by Universal for their “Dark Universe”. Objectively it looks cool, especially the inclusion of A-list celebrities, so what’s the issue? This thing was circulating the internet BEFORE the first film in the franchise, “The Mummy”, was even released. Universal jumped the gun to announce and plan this multi-billion dollar list of movies…and the box office revenue/critical reception to the first film speaks for itself. Here we are now with rumors of the thing possibly being cancelled due to top members of the production teams wanting out.

It was pretty gutsy of them to go for the power move, but now it just looks silly. Its even more embarrassing than that scene in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” where Harry literally walks down the aisle of Sony’s slated “Sinister Six” movie that we now know never happened and never will.

It’s great that you want to be ambitious and bold, even Feige took a huge risk with the initial phases of the MCU. Still, we come back to the fact that that first Iron-Man movie was absolutely amazing and is still the gold-standard for superhero origin movies, not to mention that the Avenger initiative wasn’t brought up once in the movie until the credits rolled. In some of these other franchises…the first movie wasn’t exactly great (“Man of Steel”, “The Mummy”, “The Amazing Spider-Man”) and felt the need to rub their non-existent franchise in your face. It was a “start smaller and build” strategy for Marvel, versus a “We have a Franchise coming up, the first movie will be out in a year” strategy for the others, and that is a HUGE difference when it comes to building fans as well.

Overreacting and Overcorrecting

If you’ve been paying attention, you might remember that a very common theme in production for the DCCU movies included extensive re-shoots and even re-writes. Justice League had to go through so many changes that they had to use CGI to remove Superman’s mustache that actor Henry Cavill needed for another role. The “Suicide Squad” script was heavily revised after the accidental enormous success of Fox’s “Deadpool”, and a ton of movies were announced and had casting rumors after response to “Batman vs Superman” and “Suicide Squad”, notably an Affleck directed Batman movie and a possible Gotham City Sirens movie starring Margot Robbie. At some point, it felt like DC was making it up as they went along and that isn’t on accident.

By changing their scripts, movies, and production plans on a whim, Warner Bros. showed us that this giant narrative they’re trying to accomplish wasn’t being given much thought. Rather, they were being extremely reactionary to the criticism and little praise their movies got. Now obviously things change for studios and it is good to cut what isn’t working and what is, but it’s like they would open up Facebook the day after their movie showed, compile every stupid comment they could find, and make huge executive decisions off of those.

For example: Suicide Squad’s reception was bad > but people liked Margot as Harley Quinn > Let’s announce “Gotham City Sirens” > What about all the issues about this movie? > They wont care once we announce “Gotham City Sirens”, we’ll seem progressive and it’ll be fine.

Similarly, think about the X-Men movies and “Days of Future Past”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a damn good comic movie, but it arguably did seem like a response to the frustration behind “The Last Stand” and the success of “First Class”. If that doesn’t seem odd to anyone, think about “Apocalypse” (yikes) and the hinting of a very obvious intention to re-start the Phoenix Saga in a future movie…even though it would make more sense to do something new rather than to keep fixing Brett Ratner’s screw-up.

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Interfering with Creators

It’s such a shocker that the most successful movie DC had was the one where Warner Bros hired a good director and gave her a lot of creative freedom! That was sarcasm, that isn’t shocking it all. It also isn’t surprising that the less-than-successful MCU movies were the ones where Feige was least involved and Ike Perlmutter was still making huge decisions. I really don’t have to emphasize that the most successful comic-book movies had talented directors with creative freedom, that should be obvious. Yet somehow, bad decisions kept being made and in 2017 I got to see Batman suck in a movie for the first time since I watched “Batman Forever” (so many regrets).

Actually Caring

It warms my heart to read the Vanity Fair article and find out that Feige, like so many comic-fans/movie-nerds, is just an innocent fanboy with a desire to see his favorite characters represented properly on the big screen. That is the kind of person that should be in charge that rarely ever gets to be. What needs to be realized is that a lot of these characters that studios can “build a universe” around are all unique and can hold a lot of significance to a lot of people. Often times, people don’t even want to see a character in a live action movie because they’re scared it’ll be ridiculous (such is the case for me and Batman Beyond). So when executives view these characters as simple cash cows or good PR for their corporate image, it feels a little insulting to the fans. Again, this should be obvious, yet here we are.

Well that’s enough rambling about comic movies for now, see you soon for my review of *inhales*…THE LAST JEDI!!!!

Movie Review – Spider-Man: Homecoming

Stay until ALL the credits are over. You wont regret it!

[SPOILER FREE]

I’m just going to say it: Aunt May can babysit me any time.

Now that I got that out of the way, “Spider-Man: Homecoming”! Wow, I can’t believe we finally got here…the beloved web-slinger is finally in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with his own movie. You all know my thoughts on past Spider-Man movies and on Tom Holland already from my previous few posts, so we can dive straight in to this review.

This was a very fun, light hearted, character focused, coming-of-age story for the character of Spider-Man. It was the type of movie that could get you to smile solely off of its charm and vibe. Admittedly I had to sleep on this one to really figure out where I stand, and I hope that my audience understands that I’m extra critical when it comes to characters like Spider-Man and Batman because of how much they’ve done for me (hell, if we EVER got a Batman-Beyond movie, that would probably be my biggest challenge as an aspiring critic). While I will NOT say this is a better movie than Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2”, I will say this is the best Spider-Man movie we’ve gotten in the 13 years since Raimi’s second one came out.

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Peter is actually a sophomore in high school throughout this entire movie, and its fantastic. My favorite parts about this movie were all the grounded moments between the characters that impact Peter’s life: Ned, Aunt May, Liz, Flash, and Michelle…they were all great and it really felt like “high school” to me. Peter has high school problems while trying to balance being Spider-Man, and wants to do MORE as Spider-Man so he can be over high school already, and I felt like that was a very important trait/arc that they gave his character. I’ve already mentioned that I love Holland, but this casting for the supporting characters was also fantastic. Holland’s chemistry with Jacob Batalon (Ned) was absolutely perfect, Zendaya did what she had to do well with her character of Michelle, I loved Laura Harrier as Liz, and yes…I even liked Tony Revolori as Flash. While some might see these moments as a drag in the first two acts, I thoroughly enjoyed them, as they helped establish a young Spider-Man with a bright future.

Like I mentioned, this was just a very fun movie, and despite how cliche the “MCU snark” is getting, I actually laughed a lot during this movie. It wasn’t even because Spider-Man himself was a funny character (he was, don’t worry) but it was because of the right type and amount of jokes they threw in there that were out of the ordinary and matched the setting. For example, Hannibal Buress plays a gym teacher that shows a video of Captain America talking to the kids about a fitness challenge, and he makes a side-comment saying “I’m pretty sure this guy is a war criminal but whatever I have to show this” and I lost it. Even that stupid moment of “SPIDEY, DO A FLIP!” had so much charm to it, and I like that they catered the humor to the character’s situations rather than just having people throw quip after quip at each other.

Let’s talk about Michael Keaton and his character of the Vulture…Wow. The early reviews were right, Keaton gives us one of the best MCU villains we’ve seen (not that hard to do, but still). I was a little worried because Adrian Toomes is a tough character to make impactful throughout an entire movie, but they actually made it work by making him one of the people affected by the Avenger’s shenanigans. It was a good decision because while Toomes and his operation started because of unfair treatment by the Government and the Avengers, it related to the smaller scale of New York and made sense why Spidey would deal with this instead of SHIELD or something…because we forget that when he’s doing his own thing, Spider-Man IS a street-level hero. We get a relatable hero and villain with depth, and we get a lot of insight in to their motives and what makes them tick.

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Because this is Spidey’s “Homecoming” (haaaa) to the MCU, there are MCU references everywhere. Hell, there are even Spider-Man comic references everywhere. This movie takes place a few months after Civil War and we get to see a little bit of an “aftermath”. Robert Downey Jr. is, as most of you know, in this movie..but not as much as you would think, thankfully. He has a presence as a mentor and that is it, there’s no epic showdown with villains vs Ironman and Spider-Man despite what the PR might make you believe. Despite this, Marvel Studios comes swinging with this movie to say “Hey. Guess what. We have Spider-Man now.”…which actually brings me to my cons with this movie.

While the “MCU-building” aspect is cool…at times this movie can feel more like a “Marvel movie” rather than a “Spider-Man movie”. We’re all familiar with the MCU setup movies that don’t stand alone very well, and Homecoming has slight hints of this. Spider-Man IS the Marvel Comics poster-boy, so I kind of assumed that this story would be more grounded in his reality than it already was. While the light-heartedness was great, the movie lacked a sense of intensity and subtlety when it would’ve been appropriate, and most of the events didn’t feel as consequential. This is where I veer off from what others are saying in me saying that I wanted MORE. There was one scene between Toomes and Peter without their super suits that has so much tension..but that was the most that movie went in that direction where I feel like it had more potential. Spider-Man is a great character and I feel like at some point, the decision was made to play it safe with certain parts of the story. To be honest, I’m having trouble explaining why I was so bothered at some points…but I wanted to get this review out as quickly as possible so I hope I’m making sense (edits will be marked).

Also, this isn’t really a point about the movie…more about the marketing…but DAMN, trailers really messed this one up. I can honestly say that the less of the trailers/PR you ate up will mean a better time for you when watching Homecoming.

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“Spider-Man: Homecoming” has its moments where it very much feels like a product of a cinematic universe, but more than makes up for it with moments of charm and the understanding of a different kind of hero. I’m giving Homecoming an 8.5/10.

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Movie Review

Turns out Michael Bolton is a major cinephile?

[THERE WILL BE NO MAJOR-PLOT DETAILS SPOILED IN THIS REVIEW. ONLY WHAT WAS SHOWN IN TRAILERS]

So they FINALLY decided to name one of their movies after the line that’s been dropped in the theme park ride forever?

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the 5th (yes…5th…I know, I tried to forget about “Stranger Tides” too) installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series and once again stars Johnny Depp as the pirate heartthrob of the 2000’s, Captain Jack Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush also reprises his role of Hector Barbossa, and Javier Bardem joins the cast as the evil Captain Salazar.

As far as how much I care about the Pirates franchise: I, like many, saw the first one and to this day it stands as one of my favorite adventure movies. That first time we saw Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swann do their whole thing and we saw the Black Pearl, Port Royal, Tortuga, the curse of the Aztec gold, etc…that movie was nothing short of epic. I remember being pumped for the second one and even though that got super weird with tentacle/fish monsters, I was still really in to it and had hype for the 3rd one! That’s when it got TOO weird for me with all the sea magic, Calypso, the odd Pirate version of the UN they had, etc. Still, I felt like everything got resolved and maybe the 3rd one was just hard to stick the landing, so I was fine with it. Then they made a fourth…which I couldn’t even sit through without groaning. I wasn’t really going out of my mind to see this fifth one, but I figured “hey, Orlando Bloom is back as Will Turner, Javier Bardem as the villain, and Kaya Scodelario is gorgeous, so why not?”

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While I don’t think that anyone took a really hard “L” for making “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, at the same time I can’t say that this movie is…well…that good. Maybe I missed something, but lets get into details to explain myself.

First off, this is a really pretty movie. The effects are cool, the shots of the sea and sailing ships are pretty satisfying, and the animation for Javier Bardem’s character works pretty well. As much as I love Bardem’s acting, I will say that he becomes somewhat comical in this…like he’s about to drop a deuce every time he says “Jack Sparrow”. He has his moments where you see “classic Javier Bardem”, but this definitely isn’t a performance I would remember over “Skyfall”. The two newcomers that fill the trope of “we’re young and pretty and we’re not pirates but we need pirates for this thing” actually shine and their characters, Henry and Carina, get their own arcs that don’t deviate too far away from the main story…which brings me to my main point.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is an unwatchable movie, but there is nothing spectacular or unique about the story, writing, or directing. The storyline is really simple to follow, nothing seems consequential or urgent at all, and the direction is aggressively mediocre. I’m glad they’re not doing the typical pirates thing where every character has to double-cross everyone else a billion times, but regardless it just felt like nothing was fully fleshed out. Despite being on the shorter end for runtime nowadays, the movie felt long and really dragged until the last half of the 3rd act.

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There are two sequences I really liked in this. The one I can’t really talk about is the last 20 minutes, because that was where all the fun was and there’s a treat at the end for fans of this franchise. The ending we got in “Dead Men Tell No Tales” was the ending to the Pirates series that we deserved, and it was really oddly satisfying (probably because I felt nostalgic).

The other sequence I enjoyed was the flashback where a young (cgi) Jack Sparrow outsmarts and defeats Captain Salazar, because it reminded me of the kind of Pirates movie I would enjoy. It was a fun little battle between two ships, the pirates seemed ready to be conquered, Jack shows his famous wit, and there was no insane ocean-magic that took me out of it. But even with this enjoyable scene, they dug a massive plot-hole (which I’m surprised I actually remembered) and it made me a little disappointed.

In the flashback scene, Jack inherits his special compass from the previous captain (now killed by Salazar). We find out that should Jack ever part from this compass, Salazar’s crazy undead army will rise and rule the seas. That’s fine and all…but remember “Dead Man’s Chest” and Tia Dalma? In the first act of that particular movie, Tia Dalma asks Jack why the compass he bartered from her can’t lead him to the dead man’s chest. So Jack inheriting the compass from his old captain doesn’t match up with him trading for it, and it kinda poops on the Pirate lore we loved from the first three.

Speaking of Jack, he might be my biggest disappointment for this movie. Not only does he seem kind of unnecessary for the story in general, but Johnny Depp here is almost a parody of himself. This movie is Henry and Carina’s story, with Barbossa as a supporting character, and Jack as a drunk plot-device so that there could be a villain. They do mention that Jack is supposed to be washed-up…but dear lord this just didn’t even feel like him anymore. There is no charm or wit to go along with this Jack Sparrow, there is only stupidity and “ha ha, look at what Jack is doing now! Silly Jack, stop putting our lives in danger!”

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Again, I didn’t hate “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, because I do like the Pirates movies and I liked some choices that were made (which I couldn’t really disclose because of spoilers). However, I think this should be it. There were some good swan-songs, the crew fought the THIRD undead army of its series, people got some closure…and I think this is the best place to end it. Obviously the only way to guarantee that it will end is if people stop seeing it (currently projected to do just under its goal of an $80 million opening weekend), but as far as being a series of movies go..probably a good place to quit while you’re slightly ahead.

Edit: oh wait, they aren’t stopping…because there’s an after-credit scene setting something up.

I’m recommending “Dead Men Tell No Tales” to anyone who liked the first 3 Pirates movies and cares enough to see some cool callbacks to those. As for being a movie on its own, I’m giving the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean a 6/10.