Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Stephen Graham, Gemma Ward, Judi Dench, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards

Director: Rob Marshall

Writer(s): Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski

Original Score: Hans Zimmer

Running Time: 137 Mins.

For those of you who had bid farewell to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise…more fool you, for as much of a critical dud the third film (and to a lesser extent the second) was it was still that years biggest money-maker and a producer wouldn’t let a little thing like a critical slating get in his way. So it transpires that here we have the fourth installment of said franchise, many presumed the chance was being taken to strip away the clogged up and mess of a narrative that plagued parts 2 and 3, meaning less characters, more of the interesting characters and a more streamlined stand-alone plot that allowed for some great action set pieces, enjoyable characters and some macabre humour. All this was expected especially in the face of the film sourcing it’s plot from a novel, On Stranger Tides, concerning the hunt for the fabled Fountain of Youth (mentioned at the close of part 3).

So the pieces were in place, fat was trimmed from the cast including Knightley and Bloom, while Depp himself promised a return to the heyday of Curse of the Black Pearl, mermaids and zombies were added to the mix and most excitingly Ian McShane was cast as Blackbeard, the pirate all pirates fear. Shame then that all of this is squandered in the face of a film that had promised so much and delivers very little. The main issue here is scripting, Elliott and Rossio return using Tim Powers novel as a starting point, however what could have been a thrilling race to the fountain of youth is given the flabbiest treatment possible, three parties race to the fountain, the spanish who could quite easily have been dropped altogether, the king’s men led by a turn-coat Barbossa and Blackbeard who, it has been prophesised will die in two weeks by a man with a peg-leg (also Barbossa). Add to this the fact that the fountain can’t simply be drunk from, the competitors must retrieve a mermaid’s tear (!!!) and two chalices.

If this sounds convoluted, it is, though that’s not the problem, the problem is the apparent need to have so many characters, so many scenarios, so many relationships that none are afforded the time to grow. Some ideas are great, others awful, I’ll start with the good (out of good-will for the franchise). Blackbeard, a great character, fantastic introduction, and a perfect coup of casting in McShane, thing is he is totally wasted after the introduction, there’s the idea he may be into voodoo and has zombie crew members but none of it rivals Davy Jones or the cursed crew of the Pearl, it is here that budget cuts become apparent. In trying to up the fantasy element stakes film by film the best we have here is a ship controlled by its captain’s sword, a neat trick and used well once but from then on it is never used again, dropped in favour of yet another plot strand and yet more half-baked ideas.

Another sub-plot (if you can even class it as such) is that of the missionary and the mermaid, again a strand that could have been spun out into many interesting directions but is once more squandered in a handful of scenes, we learn little of each character and the character development is nigh on non-existent, not because of the actors but once again with the script that rushes to jump into the next mim-scenario adding nothing but more muddied waters to the overall plot-thrust. Speaking of mermaids, they provide the one standout action scene, re-imagined as devilish creatures  they ambush Blackbeard’s crew at his behest and are truly menacing, something which makes a love story with one all the more improbable and complex…but this film isn’t concerned by that!

So the action scenes are plentiful as ever and romp along at a pace that helps ease the overlong running time (again), Barbossa is good fun and hams it up as well as ever while Depp steps out of the shadows as something of a hero, a nice little twist in the tail, I for one think he is in his stride with the character though many bemoan he is phoning it in I simply cannot see it, as for Cruz she wasn’t nearly as irritating as expected, though is also given little to do bar act as a love interest. While I’m talking about shadows it would seem an appropriate time to mention how the fact that 80% of the film happens at night or in a very dark place makes watching it in 3D incomprehensible, despite belong shot utilising 3D cameras there really is no call for it when all you’re going to do it poke a sword out of the screen every so often, new director Rob Marshall (of Chicago and Nine fame) brings little flair to proceedings and clearly hasn’t the panache to imagine a world in 3D as James Cameron et al. do.

So while it lacks Gore Verbinski more macabre leanings, this would seem to be the least of the franchises issues, a real jolt is needed if the audiences are expected to continue flocking in their droves. For the little goodwill I have for watching the same mess of events re-enacted while adding yet another fantastical and pointless element is running thinner by the film, yes there will likely be worse films this summer and no it’s not a total disaster (that would make it easy to write off), and at times it shows a great deal of promise but as was suggested last time they really do need to trim the fat!

VERDICT

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides had the potential to be a streamlined, fun adventure that recaptured the spirit of the franchise at its best. Sadly it flounders amidst a mess of plotting that bungles something that really should have been idiot proof, the magic is there but only in the briefest of flashes with anything good being frittered away as soon as it’s introduced in favour of the next half-baked idea.

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Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Timothy Spall

Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: David Seidler

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Original Score: Alexandre Desplat

Running Time: 118 mins.

Colin Firth’s stock has fast been on the rise, always a dependable actor who provided quality and class in both period fare (Pride and Prejudice) and romantic comedy (Bridget Jones Diary) but since his appearance in Tom Ford’s A Single Man last year there were depths revealed that had never before been seen, nuanced and hugely touching to add to those aforementioned qualities. The King’s Speech from another Tom (of the Hooper variety) allows Firth to once again mine those depths and supply us with another quite wonderful turn that should garner awards attention once again, though this is a performance, and indeed a film, worth so much more than just praise for its worth, it is a film that proves touching and emotional breaking away the barrier of clinical coldness that marked out A Single Man.

The King’s Speech is a film quite clearly steeped in history, and not just history in a general sense but history that is rooted very close t the heart’s of us Brits, King George VI being the great-grandfather of Prince William who is to wed this year and father of our current Queen. This does not mean you need to be a royalist to enjoy, or certainly empathise with, the film being as much about intimate relationships in general as it is about a class divide, yes both these issues are raised and dealt with but the relationship between George (bertie to family and eventually Lionel Logue) and Lionel Logue himself (Geoffrey Rush).

It is here, in the scenes between Logue and Bertie, that the film is won and marks itself out as something more than just a representation of a period of time and episode in the history of the monarchy. Of course the backdrop is of the utmost importance, Bertie must overcome his stammer as the liklihood he will become King owing to his brother’s impending abdication, with the job clearly comes a lot of public speaking especially as the use of the wireless grows to exponential levels. Add to this a potential second world war owing to some bloke called Hitler parading his way across Europe, the British people can’t avoid being involved for much longer and as Timothy Spall’s Winston Churchill looms prophesising what is to become of the nation should things carry on as they are we know that someone needs to step-up…as it were!

When Bertie is finally forced into rising to the challenge and become George VI all the legwork to craft characters you care for pays dividends in a big way, these are not the Royal’s as we see them, a faceless business or establishment for a country rather they are a family pulling together in the face of hardship, particularly Bertie’s wife (the late Queen mother) who as played by Helena Bonham Carter is a dignified and unassuming presence, odd given her usual repertoire! Add to this a rather sinister Archbishop (Jacobi) and Guy Pearce playing Bertie’s brother, David, to almost pantomime proportions that still managed to be grounded in reality and serve to highlight his surface arrogance/strength against Bertie’s more dignified and quiet nature.

Hooper, previously directed the rather surprisingly great The Damned United, that was a film about two man, a bromance if you will that just happened to happen against a backdrop of football, even those hating the supposed “beautiful game” could enjoy the treats served up by the actors (Spall and Sheen in that case) and some superb direction that framed scenes with expert precision and paced a story about the friendship between two men to perfection, never once dropping the ball leaving the audience  ether bored or unengaged. The same applies here, ten-fold as Firth and Rush are two of the worlds best actors performing at the top of their game, with warmth and truth that allows you to forget they are doing just that, acting.

VERDICT

The King’s Speech is the perfect “bromance”! This may seem to sound like I am under-selling the film but it carefully and perfectly presents a real and touching relationship between two men that just happens to be set against a significant event in our history, a film rarely achieves this kind of emotional depth in it’s characters.