The movie is called “The Dark Knight” and it cost $250 million to make. Is it worth the money?
The what is the most expensive movie ever made in the world is a question that has been asked before. The answer to this question is yes, it was even good.
Last week, I wrote about Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and although you may not realize it, On Stranger Tides is still the most costly film ever produced, even a decade after its release. On Stranger Tides is much less remembered and popular among fans than the previous three films in the series. In that article, I hypothesized on what might be the reason of such a large expenditure, and I reduced it down to three factors: 1. Johnny Depp is very expensive. 2. Filming on the water may increase the cost of production. 3. CGI was done by a number of different firms. And that, for the most part, seems to be it. Of course, we don’t know everything about the budget, but it seems to account for a good portion of the $410 million ($378.5 million net) spent.
When it comes to extremely costly movies, though, your thinking will ultimately shift from “How was this movie’s money spent?” to “Is this movie good?” Which gets me to the purpose of this post: determining whether or not Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is worth seeing. I have a lot to say about this one as a lifelong fan of the series who used to watch the previous three as comfort movies.
Is it up to par? Looking back at the critical consensus at the time of its release, the answer seems to be no, but I believe there are a lot of things to enjoy about this one – even if it isn’t without flaws. So, hopefully, I’ll be able to take a kind but fair look at this film to see what it has going for it, as well as what it lacks in comparison to its three predecessors.
Captain Barbossa is back!
I initially watched this picture in cinemas, and I don’t recall seeing many promotional ads or trailers leading up to it, but I knew I’d see it since I loved the previous three films so much. I wasn’t sure who was returning in this picture since I knew so little about it; yes, Jack and his sidekick Mister Gibbs (played by the great Kevin McNally) were returning, but I thought the rest of the ensemble would be new. They were in for a tough task, since it seemed safe to assume that neither Orlando Bloom nor Keira Knightley would be returning to the series. So I thought Depp and McNally would be the only ones returning.
As a lifelong admirer of the series, you can imagine my astonishment – and pleasure – when I learned that Geoffrey Rush would be reprising his role as Captain Barbosa. Barbosa, on the other hand, had changed. At the conclusion of the third film, he had The Black Pearl in his hands, but he had since lost it. Barbosa has lost a leg between the third and fourth films, which he had at the conclusion of the third and now lacks at the start of the fourth. He’s now a British privateer (essentially a pirate for rent). Both aesthetically and thematically, it’s a delightful makeover for the character.
In the first film, Barbosa’s arc is to break free from the curse of immortality, which forces him to perish. After viewing the dead Kraken in At World’s End in the third film, he and Jack have a touching discussion about death, rebirth, and the impermanence of life. Barbossa becoming a legally sanctioned privateer seems like him adjusting to a society that is less welcoming to pirates as part of a narrative that spans the first three films. So, in this film, we get to watch as he gives speeches about what it means to be “King’s men,” really hamming up this image of a loyal British subject, only to disclose in a discussion with Jack that it’s all a ruse, and that his sole aim is to get vengeance on Blackbeard. This is all set out in the middle of the film, when we witness Jack and Barbossa team together to take the two mystical chalices from the Spanish in what might be described as the greatest scene in the whole film.
The recurrent characters in all five films deteriorate in some manner, whether it’s in the way they’re written or the way they’re played. However, Geoffrey Rush’s performance as Barbossa remains constant throughout the films. He’s a fantastic and lively character who’s constantly having a good time. He’s the classic pirate, but he’s also a lot more.
Ian McShane as the role of Blackbeard
After seeing the 1950s film Horrors of Dracula, the one thing I kept thinking about Christopher Lee’s performance as the title character was the term “presence.” Christopher Lee commanded a scene in every character he played, but especially as Dracula. When he’s in a situation, he’s the center of attention; everything seems to swirl around him. A similar statement may be made regarding Ian McShane’s performance in this film.
You have to bring in Blackbeard at some point in every long-running pirate adventure worth its salt. There aren’t many performers that can pull off Blackbeard like Ian McShane. If you’ve seen him in Deadwood or American Gods, you’ll know he has a larger-than-life presence with a weird touch of charm; his Blackbeard is vicious but strangely appealing.
In terms of motives and conversation, I’m not sure what to think of the way Blackbeard is written. His sentences seem like a scriptwriter attempting to make a character sound old-fashioned by using large words, but his motives make him compellingly complicated. He’s a dark mirror of Jack, who is constantly chasing eternal life, but there’s an almost-vulnerable desire in the way he’ll do everything to prolong his life, even if it means sacrificing his own daughter’s life.
This isn’t McShane’s best performance, but it’s up to his standard. But, perhaps most significantly, Blackbeard embodies the popular notion of what a pirate should be. If you want a fun pirate adventure, you’d expect a fantastic pirate villain, and that’s exactly what McShane’s Blackbeard is.
Keeping a Franchise
It’s difficult to describe, but I like this film as part of a series and as an exploration of a larger universe. I enjoy that we get to see London, which we haven’t seen in the previous three films (side note: isn’t Richard Griffiths’ performance as George III fantastic?). I appreciate how Keith Richards reprises his role as Captain Teague to provide some background information. I enjoy that Jack Sparrow has a worldwide reputation and that someone is imitating him, which leads to a really entertaining sword battle between Jack and the imposter. (The continuity with the imposter becomes a bit hazy when Jack finds himself onboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, but I’m not interested in caring about something that the movie hardly mentions.) And, perhaps most importantly, I appreciate that this film stands alone more than any of the others in the series after the first.
What makes On Stranger Tides the first Pirates film to include mermaids? Or what about Blackbeard? Those seem to be self-evident.
On IMDb, producer Oren Aviv says of the film, “It’s essential to get the narrative right, and it’s important to me to scale it down, since we can’t go much larger.” The movies have grown larger and more complex since then, and although they were gratifying on many levels, I’d want to relaunch the entire thing and bring it back to its roots.” And this is a huge improvement over the worst section of At World’s End, which is much too lengthy and complicated. It has way too many double-crosses and narrative levels to be interested in or follow in a single watch. The scope of At World’s End became much too big, and the narrative became far too complex, while On Stranger Tides seemed much smaller, in a nice manner.
This romance subplot is terrible, to say the least.
Something was definitely lacking when Will and Elizabeth left the series. Even though Jack was always the popular favorite, Will and Elizabeth were ostensibly the two major characters. They were removed, and with them went some of the franchise’s most powerful characters.
A love subplot includes a missionary figure whom Blackbeard refuses to murder because Angelica claims it would bring him bad luck, and a siren Mermaid. Now, I enjoy both aspects individually; having a priest character in a series with a recurring theme of death and immortality, as well as having monster mermaids in a mystical maritime adventure, seems like a no-brainer. I can only presume that these things didn’t appear earlier (for the most part) because any of the prior films would have been overburdened with other events.
The problem is that none of these love protagonists are the primary characters, and neither of them is very fascinating in their execution. These performers were young, and I usually believe that older actors offer stronger performances – but Philip and Syrena aren’t the most remembered or well-liked characters in the Pirates series. A better effort was made in the sixth film, but replacing Will and Elizabeth is a big task.
Also, this film does a stupid bait-and-switch by making it seem as if Philip is dead, but the way it’s shot makes it obvious that it’s a set-up, and we’re not shocked when he reappears two scenes later. The best analogy is when Rise of Skywalker attempts to convince us that Chewbacca is dead, only for him to reappearance in no time. He’s brought back to make sure the team gets the macguffin mermaid tear they need, but then he’s ignored for the rest of the film.
No one is thinking about these two characters at the end of the movie – when Philip is stabbed in the middle of all the fighting, he runs back to Syrena, who then runs (or rather, swims) to help the people she has been calling evil for the entire movie in their time of need… for some reason that remains a mystery. She then drags the dying Philip (who is really dying this time) beneath water, in a perplexing scene for those of us who saw the mermaids drag hapless sailors to their deaths roughly an hour ago. This sequence is perplexing enough that someone on Quora wondered, “What happened to Philip in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (part 4)?”
What happened to the CGI?
One issue that came up in my article on the budget was the usage of CGI in this picture, which ate up the budget and made it less memorable than the others. Sure, animating the mermaids had to be expensive, but I couldn’t think of anything else that would have needed such a sum. I sometimes saw an establishing picture that seemed to be CGI, as well as creatures like a snake or a frog that appeared to be CGI but didn’t need to be. I guess they were shooting on site, and the usual Hollywood animal handlers wouldn’t have wanted to travel out to their filming location in Hawaii, but I’m sure there had to be a simpler, more realistic option. A movie doesn’t require CGI, but I get the impression that this film had a CGI budget but didn’t know what to do with it.
I must say, the film’s finale has one very remarkable CGI image, in which we see Blackbeard’s body degrade, rather brutally and viscerally, as a result of the Fountain’s curse. It’s aesthetically appealing, but it doesn’t fully explain everything. CGI doesn’t have the same effect on my view of this film as it did in Dead Man’s Chest or a film with poor CGI. Mostly, I mention it here because… well, there isn’t much to say about it.
A Negative Application of Prophecy
This may seem like a minor quibble, but Angelica informs Jack early on in the film that Blackbeard is acting on a prophesy that he would die at the hands of a one-legged man. This occurs shortly after Barbossa’s leg is amputated, so there’s no time to speculate about who it might be. I get that this prophesy is a direct consequence of his actions – Barbossa wants to murder Blackbeard since he assaulted him and stole both his limb and his ship – but it’s no fun when it’s so apparent. Imagine hearing that a one-legged man will kill Blackbeard, and then two-thirds of the way through the film, someone loses their leg, perhaps after Blackbeard chops it off – wouldn’t that be thrilling? Isn’t it an interesting twist?
Instead, we have to question, “How many one-legged guys are there in this movie?” when we hear “one-legged man.” Is Barbossa the only one? Then it has to be him!” Previously, the prophesies were just implied; for example, if you steal one of the medallions, you will become a skeleton pirate, or if you stab the Heart of Davy Jones, you will have to take his place.
But, in relation to that, I appreciate the disclaimers about the Fountain of Youth having a price. It would be terribly dull if the Fountain just gave life. But giving more years of life at the expense of someone else’s life is intriguing.
Remembering what isn’t there
And a lot of what’s lacking here is due to the fact that this film is the last installment of a trilogy. If George Lucas made a Star Wars sequel in 1989 focused only on Han Solo and Chewbacca, I’m sure it wouldn’t be nearly as good. Will and Elizabeth’s absence is excruciatingly felt. As a primary character, Jack isn’t very fascinating, and who else do we have? Philip and Syrena, who are they? Angelica? Barbossa is, without a doubt, the greatest character in the film. Things that worked well in earlier films – CGI, or hazy prophesy nonsense – don’t exactly work as well here. The size issue from At World’s End is addressed here, and Captains Barbossa and Blackbeard are both shining points in this film, but I’m not sure whether the good outweighs the negative. (However, it comes close, which is more than I can say about the sequel.)
But, on the other hand, I don’t believe this film is bad; it’s simply acceptable. In some ways, the idea that such a large sum of money was spent and all the studio received was a film that is just “decent” – and again, I’m coming from a compassionate standpoint as a fan of the series – is almost damning. There is obviously a lot of promise in this film, but it also has a lot of flaws. There isn’t a simple solution. I’ve always like this series, but given that there has been a poor episode and one that is downright awful since the original trilogy, I’m concerned that if the series returns for a sixth film, they will not learn from their mistakes.
The most expensive movie ever made adjusted for inflation is a movie that has been dubbed the most expensive film ever made. It was released on December 25, 2015 and has received mixed reviews.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top 5 most expensive movies ever made?
The top 5 most expensive movies ever made are Avatar, Titanic, Skyfall, Batman Begins, and Transformers 3.
What was the most expensive movie in 2021?
The most expensive movie in 2021 was The Last Jedi.
What was the cheapest movie ever made that made the most money?
The cheapest movie ever made that made the most money is Avatar.
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