I’ve always had a soft spot for the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise. Not only is the ride my favorite Disney attraction, the films, along with Mean Girls and the Spider Man series starring Tobey Maguire, were the first PG-13 rated movies I ever saw. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Spider Man 3 were the first PG-13 rated films I saw in theaters. I own a necklace of the golden doubloon from Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (the chain broke years ago and I now have it on a silk ribbon) and I wore an Elizabeth Swann costume from Oriental Trading Company for Halloween when I was eleven. Even though I am a fan, I was part of the collective eye roll and “why?” when a fifth installment was announced and was not surprised to find that it was getting terrible reviews but a mixture of loyalty to the franchise and curiosity to see how bad it could be drove me to go see it.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or Salazar’s Revenge picks up the story a number of years after the first four installments. Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, is searching for a way to free his father, who is cursed to remain aboard the Flying Dutchman. This causes him to seek out Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), his father’s old friend/enemy, now a drunken wreck of his former glory. Jack Sparrow is being hunted by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ruthless Spanish pirate hunter who Sparrow sent to a watery grave years earlier and has returned from the dead to get revenge. Along the way they encounter Karina, a young woman whose interest in astronomy causes her to be seen as a witch and who is trying to decode an enigmatic astrological map left to her by her father and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who returns for some reason. The macguffin that will help everyone get what they want is Poseidon’s Trident, which can break all of the sea’s curses, and Karina’s map leads to.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was not as bad as I thought it might be (I got a few laughs of out Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem was creepy, the CGI looked cool), but it was by no means a good movie. The two young leads are a poor man’s substitute for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Karina was exactly the type of female character I despise: the girl who’s so much smarter than everyone else but is absolutely useless in a pinch; a prissy ninny trying to pass herself off as a bad-ass. The first chance she gets to put her muscle where her mouth is, she runs away, gets caught in traps, and needs to be rescued. If your heroine is going to be a helpless damsel, at least be honest about it.
The film’s ending scene involves Will Turner returning after he is released from his curse and being reunited with his wife and son. Jack Sparrow gets back the Black Pearl and sails off into the sunset. It’s a decent send-off to the franchise before it is, hopefully, put out to sea for good.
I also have something of a soft spot for superhero films ( I love the Spiderman, Batman, and Captain America movies) but I was not planning on seeing the new Wonder Woman movie. My mind was changed when I heard that it was getting great reviews. I was also intrigued by the fact that the film is set during World War I, one of my favorite time periods. The fact that this movie exists, let alone this successful , is something of a miracle. After the notorious flops that were Catwoman and Elektra, Hollywood has been reluctant, to say the least, to touch superhero films with a female lead.
Diana of Themyscira (Gal Gadot) has been dreaming all of her life of glory and heroism, but is sheltered from the outside world by her mother, Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, a race of warrior women created by Zeus to protect mankind from the corrupting influence of Ares, god of war. When an American fighter pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), crash lands on Themyscira, Diana learns that World War I is going on around her. Believing that Ares is behind this potentially all consuming war, Diana vows to kill him and save the world. Placing Diana in the setting of World War I highlights the change in attitudes during this period. World War I was first modern total war and had millions of casualties, many of them innocent civilians. The big super weapon in the film is a poison gas, a weapon which made its debut in World War I. Diana has always believed that war is glorious and that morality is black and white and is startled to find herself in the middle of a hopeless and all destroying conflict. The young men who fought in World War I, raised on greek epics and mythology, Diana’s world, must have been similarly traumatized. This shift is highlighted by the film’s cinematography which goes from the Homeric glory of Themyscira to the muddy, grey, grittiness of no man’s land.
Wonder Woman bares a number of similarities to Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger, my favorite of the Avengers films. Both are war based period pieces featuring an earnest and idealistic protagonists. I appreciated the film did not make Diana a cold, cynical femme fatale like her Marvel counterpart Black Widow. Part of the film’s strength comes from Gal Gadot’s superb performance. After two hours listening to the smug, pedantic prattle of Karina from Dead Men Tell No Tales, which would make Hermione Granger think she was insufferable, it was refreshing to see a heroine who actually is bad ass. The action scenes, especially the one where Diana struts across no man’s land deflecting machine gun bullets with her wristbands, made me want to shout “fuck ya!.”
Wonder Woman is refreshingly free of the cynicism which characterizes similar films made in the past few decades. Diana is presented as a naive fish out of water and though she becomes less naive about the outside world, but does not lose her idealism. She learns that humanity is flawed and capable of atrocities but is still worthy of her protection. Considering all of the political conflict, terrorist attacks, and destruction of the environment that we read about in the news today, perhaps Wonder Woman has arrived when we needed her most.