Nicholas Goodchild

Historic and Pared Down

Pirates 4

21 May 2011 by Nicholas in Films

I saw Pirates 4 on Wednesday, and have very conflicting views on it: on the one hand I think it is a good film with a great set piece and some genuinely entertaining moments. On the other, I am disappointed as it doesn’t maintain the quality it sometimes attains. It’s an odd case of something being good and better than I could reasonably expect it to be yet still letting me down. I think this is a sign of the regard I hold the first 3 films in as much as any comment on the fourth film.

Once again the film stars Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, and this time they are accompanied by Ian MacShane and Penelope Cruz. On paper this is considerably better than Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but I am left with a nagging feeling that something of the first three films is missing. And I am not wholly sure what.

The film starts on dry land, with a sequence that counts among the best in the series and in adventure and action films in general. The pace is frenetic, the action well choreographed and imaginative and the overall set piece exciting and enjoyable. This turns out to be the high point of the film and, in retrospect, shows an underlying weakness in the structure of the film.

The remainder of the film looks lush, but there are points of odd anti-climax and of events occurring in a manner and sequence which diminishes their overall impact. When we are first introduced to mermaids we have our expectations toyed with and subverted, but the dramatic strength of the scene would have been better served by seeing the relative strengths and abilities of the mermaids which are demonstrated so ably in the next sequence shown prior to the scene in which they are actually introduced. It is an example of the problems inherent in the order of the set pieces within the film.

Much of the plot of the film revolves around Jack Sparrow meeting up with a woman from his past and their feelings for each other and the relationship she is now in. This gives Jack more motivation and shades his character a little, but seems to rob the character of a little lightness and unpredictably. The more interesting character arc is actually Barbosa’s: his actions initially seem out of character compared to his previous experiences, but as his motivations become clear they make sense and give the film its emotional and dramatic heart. The real climax, for me, of the film is the end of his character arc and logical culmination of his motivation. But it isn’t an exciting visual set piece: it’s emotional and dramatic resonance is not immediate or visceral.

I feel I sound unnecessarily critical and possibly overly analytical of the film: it’s enjoyable, well acted, largely well written and quite exciting. It’s just not as good as I hoped it would be and somehow different in tone to the films that preceded it.