I am – Hercules!!
Alexandra DuPont has unexpectedly un-retired - again - to share her thoughts on the new adventures of Capt. Jack Sparrow, et al. As you read, it might help to keep in mind the high adventure that categorizes Lexy's own life. I’ve spoken of her many times in the past.
I guess I should admit at this point I’m kind of crazy in love with Alexandra. The first time I met her she was a skinny punk pixie in a black miniskirt with maybe nine ounces of mascara under her giant Winona Ryder eyeballs. We were at a sprawling videogame expo in downtown Los Angeles, and she introduced herself by literally pushing me out the revolving doors to the valet area so she could talk about movies and smoke cigarettes. Her parents, she said, moved around a lot and she grew up without a TV and was just starting to devour Keaton and Kurosawa and Kubrick. She was in the middle of asking the last of three dozen questions about "Killer's Kiss" when she looked at her watch and changed the subject to passports and luggage restrictions and how her travel schedule was getting in the way of her completing her master’s thesis.
Even in those days, the vixenish Lexy had already acquired a near-maddening mystique. Only weeks earlier she had dumped her longtime boyfriend, a high-school baseball star turned part-time West Hollywood bartender who at that time had just landed on a short list for the male lead in an (ultimately failed) WB pilot. The bad news was she herself was about to hop a plane to Antwerp with her mom (who herself looked like a movie star and spoke maybe nine languages and had just quit the U.S. diplomatic corps to join the board of a very famous pharmaceutical manufacturer). A few minutes after Lexy's cab sped away, I was politely informed that young Alexandra DuPont was still months shy of her 15th birthday. "Ah," I replied, not at all wistfully.
The second time I saw Lexy she was drunk and half-naked beside her beautiful, drunk, half-naked lesbian friend and maybe six other drunk, beautiful half-naked lesbian girlfriends at a party in Malibu, capably and repeatedly hammering away at "Gimme Shelter" on (somebody else's) vintage electric piano. It was almost three years later, she had grown something like nine inches taller and her face was weeks from finding its way onto the cover of Teen Vogue for the third time. When she finally got around to handing me her business card in the parking lot, it read "Dr. Alexandra DuPont," thanks, I've since been told, to some extraordinarily helpful coherent light experiments she'd helped brainstorm in La Jolla for the Human Genome Project.
Lexy turns 26 in two months, which means she’s already gained access to the bulk of the planet's 17th-largest trust fund. Her divorce, from a freshman U.S. congressman she claims she's spoken to exactly once since his term began, became final more than a year ago. Just before she claimed her massive inheritance, she rocketed down to last year’s San Diego Comic Con. She claimed her objective was to slip into a Princess Leia slave-girl outfit, "and meet me some really nerdy nerds." One hears she found a few.
She says she saw “Pirates III” at Disneyland, so I guess she might be back here in Southern California.
You've been warned. Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Alexandra DuPont:
Pirates of the Caribbean:
At World's End FAQ
Q. So you saw "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End."
A. I did.
Q. Describe the movie in a single word!
Q. What's the story?
A. A direct continuation of the last film. Our heroes rescue Jack from Hell. Everyone sells everyone out in the service of their own agendas. There's a big summit on Shipwreck Island featuring every pirate ever. There's a throw-down with the East India Trading Co. and "Pirates 2" supervillain Davy Jones. A couple of people get radical new job descriptions.
Q. Is it better or worse than "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"?
A. Well, I'd argue it's "better" than "Pirates 2" -- which I'm on record as hating for all its confusing, retina-molesting excess.
Specifically: "At World's End" is "better" in the sense that someone convinced Gore Verbinski to lock down his camera and stop filling every. Single. Frame of the picture with drama-smothering noise and overkill. I can actually distinguish drama from action this time out, which is nice.
It's also a little "better" in the sense that Jack Sparrow is actually slightly funny again. And it's "better" in the sense that it actually puts its best (well, only) action set piece at the end of the movie. I can honestly say I was mildly diverted.
Unfortunately, "World's End" is also saddled with carrying on a horrible, horrible two-film story. Taken together, the two sequels are one big bloated "Three's Company" episode with pirates -- with something like two dozen betrayals and pointless shifts in allegiance and too many new characters and mythologies that feel half-developed and half-assed.
Again, I more or less enjoyed myself while I was watching it, due to lowered expectations. But it's fallen in my estimation since then, and a small portion of the audience seemed kind of deflated at the end. This is partly, I think, because the check's finally coming due for all the sublimated disappointment audiences had for "Dead Man's Chest," but maybe that's just me.
But they also seemed deflated because
(a) the movie's nearly three bloody hours long, and there's only one or two real-live full-blown action scenes bracketing an endless series of negotiation meetings in offices and captain's quarters;
and (b) for all the money that was clearly hurled at the screen, the "Chest"/"World's End" story has this uncanny knack for setting up big payoffs it never delivers, or delivers lamely.
Ted Elliott? Terry Rossio? You tried, and Gore Verbinski tried harder, but your two-film megascript is sprawling and undisciplined. I can't really fathom the sort of pressure you guys were under. But I also can't believe your script(s) were filmed in this kind of shape.
Q. "Undisciplined"? "Big payoffs it never delivers"? I need examples!
A. Oh, I could go on and on. Spoilers ahoy:
(1) Let’s say you go to a lot of trouble to set up an epic final showdown between the free-thinking pirates and the monolithic capitalists of the East India Trading Company. Let's say you line up something like 80 ships -- brimming with thoroughly art-directed pirate captains -- for that final battle. And let's say you have characters promising other characters that they'll get to blast their enemies to smithereens during that final battle.
This confrontation is set up as, quite literally, the ultimate payoff for these two sequels.
Now. Is it REALLY the best idea to then leave all those ships sitting on the sidelines, lined up like unused Stratego pieces, while the whole thing gets settled by two vessels that sail out and have a skirmish around a whirlpool? I understand how too many ships in the water might be confusing for the audience (and expensive for the studio), but still: weaksauce.
(2) Also: Let's say you set up a tragic love story between Davy Jones and the angry sea goddess Calypso. Let's say you set this up to the degree that the pirates are constantly fretting and arguing about Calypso and what happens if she's un-bound from human form and released into the world without any guarantee she'll take your side in the final battle.
And then let's say you include one bathetic scene shortly before that final battle, where Davy talks to Calypso through prison bars, and they declare their ill-fated love for one another.
Shouldn't you maybe pay all that off at the appropriate moment?
Not if you're Elliott and Rossio, you don't. No, if you're Elliott and Rossio, your big payoff is that you turn Calypso into a giantess straight out of a drive-in movie for like 30 seconds; have her yell a bunch of incoherent nonsense; and then send her scurrying into the sea, never to be seen again. Which totally shafts Davy Jones' "tragic" character arc in the process. (When this all went down, my audience seemed to let out a collective "Uh, that's it?" It was weird and palpable, like a big angry shrug.)
(3) Oh, and you may recall Elizabeth Swann yearning for the pirate life here and there during the last two films. "Girl power" and dressing like a boy and all that. Well, I'm not really spoiling anything when I report that Miss Swann does, in fact, become a real live pirate at some point "At World's End."
But the way she becomes a pirate? Totally lame.
She basically lucks into the gig. Repeatedly. Someone more or less tries to rape her, feels bad about it, and gives her a command. Elizabeth then catches Jack Sparrow in a rare moment of self-interested loyalty, and she lucks (again) into a sort of union presidency that's really just an excuse to let her give a single big speech of which I can remember not a single word.
And then -- in the ultimate insult to two films' worth of "girl power" -- we never actually get to see her use any of this ill-gotten pirate street cred. In fact, if you stay all the way to the post-credits "stinger," you'll wonder if Elizabeth even sets foot on a sailing vessel again. It's kind of stunning.
(4) And now then there's the matter of Jack Sparrow. You may recall that he died in the last film. This time around, a very big, Gilliamesque, time-consuming deal is made of getting Jack out of the purgatory of Davy Jones' Locker. And when he's rescued, nothing about him changes. Hell, he doesn't even change his clothes. (That production still of Jack in Chinese pirate garb? Not in the movie.) He tends to talk to himself a little more, and he thinks taking Davy Jones' job might be fun, and he talks a little more about living forever, but he's still basically double-crossing everyone and slurring a lot. Only his lines aren’t as funny as they were in "Curse of the Black Pearl."
There are a few other examples I could name, but you get the idea. The Kraken is killed offscreen, between films. And don’t even get me started on a certain incident involving Elizabeth's ex-boyfriend Norrington and Will's father "Bootstrap Bill"; all I'll say is that it guarantees some very awkward future dinner conversations with the in-laws.
I'd also like to point out that these aren't nit-picky fangirl comments like, "They didn't explain the dice game." This is some serious, Merovingian-level rug-pulling. These are careless fuckings-about with major character arcs.
Q. So -- what? -- is the Internet is going to go all "Matrix: Revolutions" on this thing?
A. It's hard to say. Probably not. I thought "Dead Man's Chest" was noisy junk, and it made a billion dollars. A friend of mine put it perfectly the other day in an e-mail: "I personally think Gore Verbinski bought himself an entire movie's worth of goodwill introducing Jack the way he did -- entering the harbor on a sinking ship. After that, we were willing to forgive him all the other stuff." Whether that goodwill extends for two less-funny sequels will soon be a matter of public record.
I will say this: Kids loved the ADD stylings of "Dead Man's Chest" -- it was audio-visual crack, like a more expensive "Mummy Returns" where they actually got to finish the special effects. But "At World's End" forces you to focus on its story during its first two conversation-packed hours -- and the fundamental emptiness of that story means those ADD-loving kids are probably going to be glancing at their Mickey Mouse watches by roughly an hour-ten. Because despite the obvious hard work (which by all accounts damn near killed the talented Mr. Vebinski), this is ultimately an empty, confusing exercise in endless betrayals. It generates a lot of mayhem, but burns no calories. And it leaves things almost exactly as they were at the start of "Curse of the Black Pearl" -- only now we're supposed to think the pirates are cool instead of scary.
(I've personally a little shocked at how blithely Rossio and Elliott asked us to forget that killing redcoats was sort of a bad thing in the first film -- much like they asked us to forget that supernatural monsters were once considered more exotic than hired help.)
Anyway. I'm no box-office guru, but I wouldn't be shocked if this dips as hard as "Spider-Man 3" did after its opening weekend. To quote that review by "Jolly Roger": "I'm almost glad the hype is over and I can move onto Transformers." I can relate.
•• Q. Oh, relax -- this is supposed to be a fun ride!••
A. See, I find that statement kind of appalling. For one thing, "Curse of the Black Pearl" was both a ride and a movie. For another, anyone who's been reading AICN's excellent series on the blockbusters of 1982 will be reminded that the best of them stick the fundamentals. Spectacle can always be outdone. Well-written characters can't.
Q. But you did say you were "mildly diverted." What diverted you?
1. The special effects are just smokin'. Especially when they involve Davy Jones. He's seamless, even if the actual physical solidity of his character is remarkably inconsistent on the page. (Can he pass through walls, or can Jack chop off bits of him?)
2. As Moriarty wrote, the opening scene where our heroes steal the map to Hell kind of echoes the Jabba's Palace sequence from "Return of the Jedi." It also contains a bit where the bald-dwarf pirate shoots a gun so large, it blows him backwards down the hole he just climbed out of. Hilarious.
3. Chow Yun-Fat makes a great sleazy pirate. I wish he was in the movie more. And maybe a little less rape-y there at the end.
4. The undead monkey is cute, and like 18 times funnier than the woeful "comedy team" of Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook. (Yes, they're every bit as muggy and lame as that Competing Captains" clip " suggests.) At one point the undead monkey gets shot out of a cannon. That's kind of funny.
5. There's a new Davy Jones crew member with a Moray-eel head.
6. It turns out that any "Pirates" sequel is immediately energized by the addition of Geoffrey Rush. Barbossa's return to the series is more than welcome; Jack Sparrow needs an opponent he can't bulldoze.
7. There's also one insane minute in the overlong Davy Jones' Locker sequence where Jack Sparrow, lost in his madness, finds himself commanding a crew consisting entirely of other Jack Sparrows.
8. Keith Richards is just terrific as Jack's father. He looks cool, he doesn’t try too hard, and he's so commanding, it's kind of confusing when the pirates talk about needing to elect a "king," because Keith has already been introduced like he has the job.
9. Despite my earlier bitching -- and despite the fact that it's peppered with inappropriate romantic interludes and a bit where Jack and Elizabeth fly around on a parachute like they're in Peter Jackson's "King Kong" -- that final whirlpool battle is pretty damn stimulating. Kids will go insane for it.
10. And finally, for whatever fool reason, the filmmakers devote one of the best special-effects shots in the entire series to Lord Cutler Beckett, head of the East India Trading Co. (a.k.a "Diet Tom Hulce"). There's this bit where he's walking across the deck of an exploding ship, striding through a maelstrom of splinters, and it's awesomely, ridiculously iconic. Why they gave this moment to one of blandest villains in the history of blockbuster cinema is beyond me.
Again, I could go on and on, but I hope the distinction is clear: I mostly liked moments and effects and decorations, and I mostly disliked the betrayals of characters and dramatic arcs. Decide for yourselves.Warmest, Alexandra DuPont.
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