It’s a pleasure to get to watch and review recent films with two of my favorite leading ladies: Penelope Cruz and Charlize Theron.
First up: 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Though I was a fan of the original Pirates film, I held off on seeing this one in the theater because the last two movies disappointed me so much. My complaints about those movies were similar to those everyone else seems to have: Too long, too confusing, too many characters and too much going on. Thankfully this installment, directed by Rob Marshall, addresses some of those issues. The central plotline involves Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) being brought into the involuntary service of the pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz)—who just happens to be Jack’s former lover. Blackbeard and Angelica are seeking the legendary fountain of youth, and along the way they are trailed by the Spanish armada, the English navy, and Jack’s old nemesis Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).
The movie is enjoyable for what it is, standard Disney escapism. It is quite historically inaccurate and full of plot holes, but it also has some great special effects, action sequences, and riveting performances by Depp and Cruz. Really, Cruz steals the spotlight a little and makes me feel for Angelica despite some glaring inconsistencies in the character’s behavior and background. The movie is still a little over-long, and a poorly conceived love story between Philip (a clergyman played by Sam Claflin) and Syrena (a mermaid played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey) was the weakest part in the film for me. It seems the filmmakers felt they needed some sappy romance to make up for the lack of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan, but the movie could have been much stronger without it—especially since these two characters were not well-drawn enough to make me care. I hear a fifth Pirates film is in the works, and hopefully Cruz will be back. The story of Jack and Angelica is, to say the least, left unresolved here.
My second movie treat of the week is Snow White and the Huntsman. In this new take on the classic story, Snow White (Kristen Stewart) is the princess displaced and long imprisoned by the evil queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron), who married her father only to usurp the throne. When Snow White escapes her prison in the castle, it sets off a chase through the magical—but at times frightening—kingdom. Snow White wants to avenge her father and reclaim her throne. Ravenna wants Snow White’s heart, which she believes will give her immortality. The Hunstman (Chris Hemsworth) wants to stick it to the queen after she double-crosses him, and Snow White’s childhood friend William (Sam Claflin, in a more well-developed role) wants to redeem himself for abandoning her years earlier. Ian McShane also appears here again as one of the seven dwarfs.
I really enjoyed this movie, to the extent that I’d call it one of my favorites of the year. Charlize Theron runs away with the show as Ravenna, a role in which she is not only gorgeous but is also thoroughly convincing as an embittered, devastatingly evil ruler. Stewart as Snow White didn’t do quite the same job of winning me over. Though she turns in a good performance as a warrior princess, I only saw flashes of the innocence and tenderness that are meant to be a part of Snow White’s character. Hemsworth is mostly doing what he does best in a reluctant hero/eye candy kind of role.
The romance between Snow White and The Huntsman is subtle, which I liked. The film also leaves some issues intentionally unresolved and is sure to create some after-film discussion with anyone you see it with. What really makes the film, though, are the little touches. In an era where we’re bashed over the head with 3D films, this movie uses great special effects, quality sound mixing, and impressive set and costume design to create a special experience. Snow White’s travels across the kingdom are epic on a Lord of the Rings scale, even though they did make the film seem a tad long in the middle. This movie should get Oscar nods for sound and costume design, if nothing else. It was also cool to see historical battle techniques employed here and I wasn’t surprised to see a lengthy list of historical consultants in the credits. (Not that I’m a nerd about this stuff, but I recently read about a certain tactic in a historical novel and it was cool to see it depicted on the screen here.) Hopefully, the recently breaking cheating scandal involving Stewart and director Rupert Sanders will not take away from the movie’s success. Regardless of whether the rumors are true, Snow White is an achievement worth seeing with a brilliant and enjoyably wicked performance from Theron.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is available on DVD. Snow White and the Huntsman is still in select theaters.