This was a big weekend for Hollywood. Two of the most successful film franchises in recent times – giving birth to two of the most wildly popular fictional characters not created by Ms. Rowling – have spawned sequels. Two “Part Threes” in fact. And I being a rabid fan of both characters – one a cool animated one and the other a cooler real one – saw them both over this weekend. And decided to pit them against each other. Who got the formula for a successful third film correct? Shrek 3 didn’t.
Now sequels typically have big shoes to fill. And if a part three is being made – it also typically means that the first two parts raked in a lot of moolah for the studios. Which means bigger shoes. Also there are two kinds of sequels – one which completes a story – one attempts to get easy money for the producers by riding on the back of a popular brand of franchise. Shrek 3 unfortunately falls in the latter category…and movies in this category have to be either radically different (not too many examples come to mind) or an intelligent congregation of the various elements that made the franchise popular in the first place (Die Hard 3, Terminator 3, Superman 3 – just kidding). Shrek 3 is neither.
It is not a bad movie by any standards – it is technically superb (just look at the detailing on the hair and skin of Prince Charming) and it keeps you consistently entertained for the period it lasts – but it is just not a GREAT movie, as it’s predecessors were. And the creators are solely to blame (being an animated movie you can’t really blame anyone else!). They had a great formula – which revolved around the dysfunctional & hilariously funny camaraderie between Shrek & his faithful Donkey. Shrek (Mike “Austin Powers” Myers) & Donkey (Eddie Murphy in his best form since Beverly Hills Cop 2) seemed to enjoy those verbal duels fueled by a mutual need of affirmation and friendship. Even Fiona (Cameron Diaz) had a touch of fiestiness in her…her romance with Shrek funny and poignant at the same time. This formula worked well in the first two parts – worked very well in fact – establishing Dreamworks Animation as a worthy rival to Disney-Pixar. And the best part – the movie was not made with pre-pubescents in mind. The writers of Shrek 3 decided to change all that… Donkey and Puss (Antonio Banderas was in screaming touch in Shrek 2) have been reduced to insignificant sidekicks of Shrek. Well Shrek just ain’t funny enough on his own. There is one saving grace – Rupert Everett is brilliant as ever as Prince Charming! The movie tries to hang on Artie’s (Justin Timberlake’s first big movie) introduction as the heir apparent for Far Far Away – and his relationship with Shrek. But this relationship was not developed with the gumption that the Shrek-Donkey one was…and failed to provide the laughs and emotional connect. In the end what we were left with was a Disney movie for children.
Now having said that – ironically the second third is from the house of Disney. OK…part of the brilliance has to be credited to the sheer production chutzpah of Mr. Bruckheimer. What he touches turns to commercial gold. And this one shouldn’t irk the critics too… Pirates of the Caribbean 3 is a humdinger of a cinematic experience. Picking up right where the previous sequel ended – the movie starts in medieval Singapore with Elizabeth Swann (can’t name her without drooling), Captain Barbarossa (the magnificent Geoffery Rush reprising his role from part 1) and William Turner (a very lucky Orlando Bloom landing two awesome character-roles back to back!) fighting the imperial forces of the East India Company along with fellow pirate Capt. Sao Feng (Legendary Chow Yun-Fat is deliciously sinister as the pirate lord of Singapore). There is action right from the start – but one can literally feel the impatience of the crowd. And the auteur Gore Verbinski (Pirates 1 & 2, The Ring) makes us wait for 40 minutes before Johnny Depp makes what has to be the funniest, craziest and unexpected entry in the history of modern cinema. And there is not one Sparrow but 10 Sparrows in a hallucinogenic scene that could be out of a future “Being Johnny Depp”. (Mr. Kaufmann, are you listening?) This is Capt. Jack Sparrow losing it in Davy Jones’ locker.
So the weirdest bunch of “comrades” – if back-stabbing pirates can be called comrades! – set out to gather together the forces and defeat Lord Buckett’s (Tom Hollander) army which is lead by the indestructable “The Flying Dutchman” helmed by Davy Jones himself. The movie is a tad too long – but that should not bother true fans. I only wanted more! The movie is technically right up there with anything there ever was (or will be for some time) – and the long action sequences are beautiful choreographed. But you know what the highlight was? The same as the last two movies – Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp has done the impossible and managed not only to continue the impossible-to-imitate drunken swagger, but has managed to keep it amazingly entertaining. Also in this movie for the first time you can see emotions in his eyes – esp. when his father (Keith “Rolling Stone” Richards in a brilliant casting coup) tells him that “Life is not about living forever – but living with yourself for as long as you live…”
Pirates of the Caribbean – At Worlds End is a fitting conclusion to one of the most imaginative and entertaining stories created in this century. Sure it glorifies vile pirates – who rape and pillage and kill their way through life! But, if you look beyond the obvious villany – it only glorifies freedom in an oppressed age. Pirates did bad things – but were good people. 🙂 And after these movies have attained a permanent place in our hearts…
(P.S.: The producers were clever enough to leave the plot open for a 4th… though it will be tough to match this one.)