Dog’s Movie House: “Franchises Galore For The Early Summer!”
Howdy Folks! It’s The Kendog!
Franchises, franchises, and more franchises! It seems that Hollywood is all about the franchise. Between comic book movies, Star Wars, Star Trek, movie monsters both large and small, every single studio wants to create an interconnected universe that leads to huge paydays akin to the success of Marvel Studios. Nowadays even established properties are continuing to plumb the depths of creativity to find that cinematic golden goose. Three new films have come to theaters that do exactly that. Both Alien and Pirates of the Caribbean are trying to invigorate new life into their franchises, while Dwayne Johnson is trying to start one of his own with a cinematic adaptation of the old Baywatch television series.
Let’s start with “Baywatch” a muddled mess of a movie that should have been much better given the talent in front of the camera. Seth Gordon (“Identity Thief”) directs from a script credited to no fewer than six writers and the result is a tone-deaf mess. Dwayne Johnson plays Mitch Buchannon, the lead lifeguard at Baywatch, where his crew not only save swimmers but also involve themselves somewhat uselessly in police investigations (just like the television show). His crew includes Stephanie Holden (Ilfenesh Hadera), CJ Parker (Kelly Rohrbach), and trainees Summer Quinn (Alexandra Daddario), Ronnie Greenbaum (the very funny Jon Bass) and disgraced Olympic swimming champion Matt Brody (Zac Efron), the new team member who clashes with just about everybody.
The plot involves drug smuggling and land development involving a rich villain named Victoria Leeds (Priyanka Chopra) and of course the Baywatch crew gets involved. But what could have been a hilariously irreverent comedy turns into a hodge-podge mixture of comedy and action drama that never quite meshes. The film is tonally all over the place and even the charisma of the leads can’t overcome the mediocrity of the final product. The only interesting narrative in “Baywatch” involves a cute love story between CJ and Ronnie. Ronnie isn’t ugly by any means, but compared to Johnson and Efron, he looks like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. That the extremely hot and equally nice CJ sees the good qualities in Ronnie that leads to a relationships is rare in this sort of film and is the best narrative in the film. The rest of it is a mess, with few laughs and incoherent action. Avoid this one until video. 2 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!
Next is “Alien: Covenant” from series creator Ridley Scott who continues the story he began in 2012’s “Prometheus” The time now is ten years after the events of the previous film and we find the crew of the Covenant awakened from hypersleep by an accident. The captain (James Franco) is killed and it’s up to first officer Oram (Billy Crudup) to decide whether to go back into hypersleep and continue their journey to the assigned colonization world or take a chance on a transmission from a nearby, yet uncharted, planet that could support human life. Oram, along with the wife of the late captain, Daniels (Katherine Waterson), decide to take the chance and the crew sets out in an exploratory landing craft on this planet, which soon proves very, very hostile. You see, this planet belonged to the Engineers, the probable creators of both the human race and the mutable pathogen necessary to wipe them out (see “Prometheus” for details).Â Along with some nasty biological spoors that take out members of the crew, the explorers also come across the android David (Michael Fassbender), the surviving droid from the Prometheus. David is of particular interest to Walter (also Fassbender), the next model android with The Covenant. As David takes them in and shelters them from the nasty beasts that are stalking them, it quickly becomes clear that David has some interesting plans for the crew, which accelerate when David discovers there are two thousand colonists (along with a number of embryos) back on board the main ship still hovering in low orbit. Those plans include the now classic incarnation of the Alien we all know and love.
Covenant is a pretty strong entry into the Alien universe in that the story moves and it actually fills several of the holes left by the uneven “Prometheus.” Most of the cast serves as creature chow, but there are a few standouts, especially Fassbender in the dual roles of David and Walter. He is able to provide two completely different personalities while often acting opposite himself. David is more passionate and more independent while Walter, while more advanced, is completely loyal to the crew, especially Daniels. It is a tour-de-force performance that would have Fassbender in the early Oscar conversation were this not a horror film. Waterson is very good as Daniels, though she doesn’t quite get to the level of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley. Daniels does prove quite adaptable given the circumstances she’s been through, though. The only other standout is Danny McBride as Tennessee, the pilot of The Covenant. Known as a comedic actor, McBride gets in some nice dramatic work as he deals with personal tragedy throughout the course of the film.
The visuals are of course, off the hook good, and the gore, while quick, is well staged. It’s not terribly scary as the script by John Logan and Dante Harper is in a little too much of a hurry to get to the good stuff. Add about fifteen minutes to the runtime and you could have amped up the suspense considerably. The best thing I can say about Alien: Covenant is that I’m excited about where the story goes from here. 4 Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barkometer!
Finally we get to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment in the blockbuster franchise birthed from the classic ride at Disneyland It’s been six years since the last adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow and this film is serving as something of a soft reboot of the original films. Here we have the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), young Henry (Brandon Thwaites) who is intent on freeing his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman. To do so, he needs to find something called the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact that can break every curse. He also needs the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who has troubles of his own. An old enemy named Salazar (Javier Bardem) has escaped from his prison with his undead crew and are seeking revenge on the person who put him there: none other than Captain Jack. The two eventually team up and along with a student of science (thus being accused of being a witch during this time) named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) they round up a crew and engage in a race against time against the British Navy, Salazar, and Sparrow’s old nemesis Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to see who gets to the Trident in time.
If it sounds like more of the same from the other films, it’s probably because it is, with Henry and Carina stepping in for Will and Elizabeth. The family connections make it more bearable, but you can’t deny it’s someplace we’ve been before. The film is handsomely directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (the excellent Kon-Tiki) although there are a few spots where you can tell this is their first time aboard the good ship Hollywood Blockbuster. It shows up in some pacing issues that make the film seem longer than its two-hour run time. Other than that the two directors show they have a great deal of talent in executing set-pieces and seamlessly combining high-octane adventuring with state-of-the-art special effects. Salazar’s crew, in particular, along with his undead sharks, are a marvel to behold.
As for the performances, Scodelario and Thwaites have decent chemistry, but are hamstrung somewhat by a script (by Jeff Nathanson) that seems more interested in giving silly one-liners of Depp’s Sparrow. If they return for a future installment it will be interesting to see what a more fully developed script will do for them. As for Depp, his Jack Sparrow is a little too cartoony for my taste during this go-around. It’s not entirely his fault as the script has him quite down on his luck with very little swash in his buckle for most of the film, but I prefer the Jack Sparrow of old: the pirate who used his mannerisms to disguise a cunning intellect and a capacity for ruthless action. Again, maybe next time.
The standouts in this film are Rush’s Barbossa (no surprise there) and Bardem’s Salazar, who is potentially as scary a villain as you can have. The script shortchanges Salazar somewhat, but there is no doubt Bardem mesmerizes when he’s onscreen. Rush has been terrific as Barbossa ever since the first film, so it’s no surprise he kills it in this film The writers even give him an arc that has some emotional weight to it. Overall its a fine performance.
All in all, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a fine adventure film for the most part and is worth seeing on the big screen. It’s certainly better than its predecessor and takes the franchise in a possibly new direction. Perhaps the next film can give Sparrow his edge back? 3½ Out Of 5 On Kendog’s Barometer! So Sayeth The Kendog!