Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011): A Time of Battle, Piracy, and Three Dimensions

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Today we continue sailing the high seas and venturing forth on our quest to complete the Scene Before exclusive review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” Just want to remind you, if you have not already, check out my reviews for the “Pirates” films I have covered so far including “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Dead Man’s Chest,” and “At World’s End.” Just a reminder for the “At World’s End” review, it does contain spoilers. This week, we will be discussing “On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment in the franchise and the first one without Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, or Gore Verbinski, otherwise known as the director of the past three films. Can director Rob Marshall craft a fine “Pirates” adventure? Find out in my review!

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is directed by Rob Marshall (Nine, Chicago) and stars Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, Alice in Wonderland), Penélope Cruz (Volver, Vanilla Sky), Ian McShane (Kung Fu Panda, Deadwood), Kevin R. McNally (The Phantom of the Opera, Conspiracy), and Geoffrey Rush (Ned Kelly, Finding Nemo). This film is the fourth installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and follows Jack Sparrow and Barbossa as they go on a quest to find the fountain of youth. Meanwhile, franchise newcomers Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz) are after the fountain too. The film was also interestingly enough inspired by the book, “On Stranger Tides.”

After watching three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films that are not only done by one man with a singular vision, but crafted almost as if there was a whole story that could have arguably been told in three movies of buildup. Now as we get into this fourth film, it feels like we are in a clean slate. We’re starting fresh with a new director and a ton of money. No, seriously. This film is the most expensive ever made at a grand total of $379 million (before gross). Part of it has to do with Johnny Depp, but still, if you watch the film, you’ll know that it ain’t cheap. In fact, this is also the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film released in 3D in addition to IMAX 3D. We’ll get into that aspect of the film for sure.

One of the reasons why I was somewhat nervous going into “On Stranger Tides” is that Gore Verbinski’s name was not attached. After all, his touch was complete, at least from what I would expect. However, the writers of the original films, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio returned to do this project. To know that these two returned pleased me to say the least. In a world of unneeded sequels, was “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” worth watching?

I’d say it was.

While I won’t say this film is as rewatchable as “The Curse of the Black Pearl” or “At World’s End,” the film is nevertheless a fun addition to a franchise that has become perhaps the definition of a modern pirate movie. Seriously, what else comes to mind nowadays? It was fun to see the franchise utilize one of the most famous pirates in history, Blackbeard, played wonderfully by Ian McShane. One of the things that I often note that “Pirates” does spectacularly is a balance between seriousness and goofiness. There are multiple scenes where we see Sparrow and Blackbeard together and I often note that Sparrow has the goofier traits at hand and Blackbeard is more grounded. I like that this franchise is keeping the balance together and not letting this see-saw collapse.

The best parts of this movie are not necessarily the story or anything of extended concept. The reality is that this film’s best parts come from concepts that resemble obstacles. There’s a scene where we some pirates on a boat facing a ton of mermaids, which was spooky and somewhat action-packed. There was a clip of the film where Jack and Barbossa are on a boat and they could barely move a muscle and the boat would nearly fall in such a dramatic fashion. The film also started off with a really entertaining sequence in Britain. We see Jack trying to rescue Joshamee Gibbs, he’s interacting with King George II while still maintaining his goofy stride. There’s a chaotic yet decently choreographed action sequence towards the end, it’s a fun welcoming back to the “Pirates” franchise. Meanwhile, not long afterwards, we are introduced Penélope Cruz as Angelica. I think she brought the same swift, swashbuckling swagger that say Orlando Bloom did in the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. This also brings me to my next compliment. I am pleased to know that this film manages to craft an interesting story despite not having Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, who play two of my favorite characters in the franchise. Do I prefer those two over Penélope Cruz? Absolutely. They are incredible actors who play characters who I have grown to appreciate. But to know that this film, not to mention franchise, can work without them, goes to show that maybe even the most unnecessary movies can work. Did we need a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film? Not really. Then again, what movie is necessary to begin with? But the point is, this movie managed to entertain me without relying on everything that made “Pirates” great to begin with. It goes to show that the franchise is capable of evolving.

Once again, I cannot go on without noting Johnny Depp, that expensive son of a gun. For the record, Depp was paid $55 million. Was his performance truly worth $55 million? As far as big fantasy style movies go, it is arguable. I am not going to address anything regarding the current controversy regarding him and Amber Heard, but I will address that Depp has practically aced his Jack Sparrow character every single time. While I think his performance in “At World’s End” may honestly be my favorite from him, his dive into the character “On Stranger Tides” does not disappoint. I’d also say that this may be, and it feels weird to say this, the most relatable that Jack Sparrow has been in the franchise. Yes, he continues revealing unusual quirks that only he could possess, but still.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” Blackbeard (Ian McShane) Photo: Peter Mountain ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Although I do want to address something. I missed this movie in the theater, and part of me regrets not going. Because this film came out during a time where 3D basically dominated the big screen. Every other movie that came out at this point in time was either shot in 3D like “Avatar” or converted to 3D like “Clash of the Titans.” In the case of “Pirates 4,” this film was shot with the Fusion Camera System, so it was filmed in 3D off the bat and did not need any conversion in post-production. First off, I wish in a world where 3D still has slight relevancy that we get more films that are actually shot for the 3D experience instead of being post-converted. Second, I feel like the 3D in “On Stranger Tides,” while somewhat pleasing to the eye, occasionally felt forced. There are a few scenes in the film where there’s swords pointing at the lens and it’s basically an invitation for viewers to take their hand out and touch it. Once again, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is the most expensive film of all time. If they spent all this money on making the film 3D for nothing more than a cheap gimmick, then what’s the point? I want to watch the film in 3D at some point. I do have the 3D Blu-ray disc, but I do not have a 3D TV. Part of me is curious as to how much the 3D could enhance the movie for me. However, the gimmick does not take much away from the fun I had watching the movie, and believe when I say that the film itself is a lot of fun. The action’s great, it’s clever, Johnny Depp is really good in it, and the cinematography is eye-popping. In fact, Dariusz Wolski, who did the cinematography for all the other “Pirates” films returned to do this one, so to say that this film looks nice is not a surprise.

In the end, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is a fun, expensive thrill ride. Some of the original cast has returned and gave it their best. Penélope Cruz is a welcome addition to the franchise. Rob Marshall did an okay job helming the film between balancing the light and dark vibes together, crafting magnificent sequences, and delivering another great performance out of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. Is it as memorable as some of the other films? I would not say so, but in its own way, it is a fun time, and I personally think it is better than “Dead Man’s Chest.” Was the 3D necessary? I don’t think so. But it did not take away from the enjoyment I had watching this film. I will also add, unsurprisingly, Hans Zimmer delivered a great score and I love his theme for Blackbeard. I think it is one of the best tunes in this entire franchise. I am going to give “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” a 7/10.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is now available wherever you buy movies including DVD, Blu-ray, and 3D Blu-ray. The film is also available on Disney+ and as of writing this, it is also available on Starz.

Thanks for reading this review! This concludes week 4 of 5 in the “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews” series. Next Thursday, July 29th, I will be reviewing “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the most recent installment in the franchise. This is the last “Pirates” movie I will be discussing in preparation for another film inspired by a Disney theme park ride, “Jungle Cruise,” which will be in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30th. Expect a review for that movie soon. I might plan on seeing it opening Thursday depending on how my schedule unfolds. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a movie that you thought was made better by seeing it in 3D? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021): The Most 2021 Movie Ever

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is directed by Malcom D. Lee (Girls Trip, Night School) and stars LeBron James (The Wall, Smallfoot), Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2, Crash), Khris Davis (The Blacklist, Judas and the Black Messiah), Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek: Discovery, The Walking Dead), Jeff Bergman (The Looney Tunes Show, Teen Titans Go!), Eric Bauza (DuckTales, Ben 10: Omniverse), and Zendaya (Spider-Man: Homecoming, The Greatest Showman). This film is the sequel to the 1996… Cult classic? I don’t know what else to call it. I really didn’t like the film. Just gonna say it. Either this film is the sequel to the 1996 film “Space Jam,” a movie where Michael Jordan joins forces with the Looney Tunes to fulfill both their destinies through a game of basketball. In this 2021 sequel, LeBron James’s son is trapped in the Warner 3000 server and to save his son, James must compete in a basketball game with the Looney Tunes against Al-G Rhythm and the Goon Squad. If LeBron and his team win, he gets his son back. If Al-G and his team win, LeBron will lose his son and the Looney Tunes will be erased.

I did not grow up in the 1990s. In fact I was born a few years after “Space Jam” came out. So it was never a part of my childhood in a way that it may have been for some people. I would hear the name come up every now and then and part of me wanted to know what I was missing. The whole idea behind it sounded like something from another universe. I for one do not usually put two and two together, but as peculiar as it sounded, it also came off as intriguing. I for one wanted to keep my eyes peeled as to how such a crazy idea that sounds like it could have been designed by an eight year old would rise to fruition. Well… it definitely sounded like something an eight year old would come up with, that’s for sure. Between Michael Jordan’s below par acting, the usually unfunny and campy writing, and occasionally lackluster camerawork, the film just didn’t click with me. And much like “Uncle Drew” in 2018, which I ended up claiming that it “didn’t do much of anything except chop my head off,” “Space Jam” is not even an original idea! They took the idea from an ad campaign!

As much as I would love to one day see the GEICO cinematic universe, where 90 minutes at the AMC won’t exactly save you 15% or more on concessions, “Space Jam” to me, was not quite a commercial failure, but it had a ton of flaws. Although I will say that it truly is a product of its time and embraces the 1990s cheese.

Now we have this part live-action, part animation, part heavy modern CGI animation “Space Jam” sequel. Is it better than the original?

Kinda? I don’t know. Let’s just put it this way, the original “Space Jam” was a product of its time and does not really hold up as much today as it did when it came out. I feel like “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is going to suffer the same fate overtime. Between the pricy yet somewhat unrealistic visuals, the cinematic universe element, and a heavy reliance on computers and sci-fi, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is probably the most 2021 movie to ever 2021.

Going back to the recently mentioned “Uncle Drew,” one of the things I hated about that movie is how much they seemed to shoehorn Pepsi product placement into every other scene. The plot of “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a bit more in your face with product placement because it relies on LeBron James teaming up with the Looney Tunes to find a bunch of a different characters from the Warner Brothers library. The whole movie is basically a promotion for Warner Brothers. This begs the question… Is “Space Jam: A New Legacy” even a movie in the first place? In fact, one of the big things people have been talking about at the end of the movie is that a majority of the audience in the big game happen to be Warner Bros. characters or characters from a variety of properties. People even brought up characters from “A Clockwork Orange” and asked why they’re in a family-friendly movie. I don’t really have that complaint because “The LEGO Batman Movie” had characters from “The Matrix” which is also rated R. So that’s just me. Either way, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” feels like it is trying harder to get people to attach themselves to other Warner Brothers properties more than they are to Looney Tunes or LeBron James. I understand that the Looney Tunes has had a history of pop culture references. Heck, one of the moments I recall often from the original “Space Jam” is a reference to “Pulp Fiction.” But this movie barely feels like it has a clear identity at times and uses alternate properties in your face to move the story along.

Let’s talk about LeBron James. I know he’s had a few acting credits. Frankly I have not seen any of them. I still have not seen “Trainwreck,” “Smallfoot,” or any other movie or show he’s been in. I’ve seen some of the TV shows he produces including “The Wall,” but I cannot recall ever seeing him act. And I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that “Space Jam: A New Legacy” showcases more of a semblance of acting talent from LeBron James than the original “Space Jam” did from Michael Jordan. The difference at times feels night and day. The bad news is that the good news does not really say much because LeBron is not that great of an actor. In fact, at times he’s very flat, especially at the beginning of the movie. I’ll defend James in one area. I think he could have a reputable career in voiceovers if he chooses to go down that path. But he is nevertheless not the greatest actor. Nor is he the greatest character in this movie. In fact at times, LeBron James is kind of an asshole. Now, I know that movies are supposed to get you to like assholes as they progressively change into better people. But the way that LeBron treats his son in the movie kind of left a bad taste in my mouth as far as my first impression goes and sort of made James himself lack dimension.

Also, I know that this is a kids movie, and I’m trying my best to judge with the notion in mind that someone younger could end up watching this film and calling it the best thing ever. I think that scenario is entirely plausible. If you have kids, I think they will end up really liking the film. It’s got the Looney Tunes in it, it’s got a bunch of other Warner Brothers properties in it. But at the end of the day, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” feels like it could end up brainwashing kids to buy more Warner Brothers stuff just because they saw it in this movie. If anything, this reminded me of “The Emoji Movie” where the characters jump from one world to another and every other plot thread is utilized through existing properties or companies from Candy Crush Saga to YouTube! Thankfully, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is nowhere near as annoying. But if I left the movie saying to myself… Hmm, I wanna go watch “Wonder Woman.” I think it is ultimately a slight detractor on “Space Jam: A New Legacy” because well, unlike “Wonder Woman,” I do not want to go back and watch “Space Jam: A New Legacy” again.

I also want to address the Lola Bunny controversy… I’m not talking about the way she looks. I don’t care if they desexualized her. Although weirdly enough, the Granny character feels borderline sexualized at times. Take that as you want. What I do want to talk about is Zendaya playing the character. I get it, Zendaya is becoming an increasingly iconic actor. In fact, she recently won a Primetime Emmy. So that proves that she has talent. As far as her being in this movie, her voice kinda fits the character, but I want to talk about a trend that is somewhat becoming a growing concern. Taking film actors who are not primarily voiceover artists, and giving them voiceover roles just for the sake of having big names. That would be fine if they could find anyone else, but between Zendaya not feeling like she has the spark I would have expected from a character like this (although I liked her in the beginning) and the fact that this takes a role away from a voiceover professional, it is kind of a turnoff. I’m not against big actors getting voiceover roles. I’ve seen a lot of big actors have voiceover talent and it pays off. But the more I see roles like this given to actors of Zendaya’s caliber with diminishing room for actual VO artists, the more it worries me.

I will also say that Don Cheadle is surprisingly okay in the film. He’s not great. I think part of it is due to the somewhat on the nose writing, but I think Cheadle did an okay job playing a cartoony villain that really is not a cartoon. I didn’t like the voice deepening they gave him, I think that at times was a bit of a turnoff, but he was decently cast and Cheadle brought some swagger to the role.

In the end, as far as Warner Brothers commercials go, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is inferior to any of the “LEGO” films and “Ready Player One.” At least in “Ready Player One,” they utilize all the Warner characters in a way that has them fascinatingly contributing to the story and they have some outside characters from other properties coming together to affect the way things go. In the end, that film felt like a pop culture celebration while also being a ridiculously fun movie, hence why it became one of my favorites of 2018. “Space Jam: A New Legacy” comes off as a bunch of studio executives trying to sound cool and connected with audiences but failing in the process. LeBron James as a character gets better in the movie despite leaving me with a poor taste at first. Although I found it somewhat funny how there’s a scene where he claims he does not have time to work with Warner Brothers because he’s hyper-focused on basketball, but at the same time, he’s had a history of production on the side. “The Wall” would not have had four seasons on NBC if were not for you! You literally were involved in the production and marketing of “Million Dollar Mile!” Heck, you had time to do this movie! Either way, I’m going to give “Space Jam: A New Legacy” a 4/10.

Will kids like this movie? Yes, they would. But as an adult, I can never watch this movie again, and part of me fears that this movie could have the same effect on children that maybe “The Emoji Movie” may or may not have been shooting for.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is now playing in theaters everywhere and now you can stream it exclusively on the ad-free version of HBO Max until 31 days after its theatrical release.

Thanks for reading this review! Stay tuned for Thursday, July 22nd because I will be spilling my thoughts on Jack Sparrow’s most expensive adventure yet, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” in my ongoing “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews” review series! Stay tuned for that and more on Scene Before, and you can do so by following the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, be sure to like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Space Jam: A New Legacy?” What did you think about it? Or, which movie is better? “Space Jam” or “Space Jam: A New Legacy?” Frankly, I’m torn. But leave your thoughts down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007): Gore Verbinski’s Swashbuckling Trilogy Comes to a Crazy End *SPOILERS*

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the third installment of the Scene Before exclusive review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” Before we begin, I want to remind everyone that if you want to read my reviews for the previous “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, you can click the highlighted links to read my thoughts on “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Dead Man’s Chest.” Also speaking of my reviews, click the following highlighted link to check out my review for “Black Widow.” But enough about the past. Let’s focus on the present! Well, by going back to 2007. It is time to talk about Gore Verbinski’s third, and depending on what his future career choices may be, final “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, “At World’s End!”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also directed the first two “Pirates of the Caribbean” films and stars Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow), Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Ned Kelly), Keira Knightley (Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Bend it Like Beckham), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, King Arthur), Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) Chow Yun-fat (The Killer, Hard Boiled), Geoffrey Rush (Ned Kelly, Finding Nemo), Jack Davenport (This Life, Coupling) Kevin McNally (Doctor Who, Conspiracy), and Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Glengarry Glen Ross). This film is the third installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and follows Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann as they search for Jack Sparrow. After a long, hard search, Sparrow and others must unite and form alliances to save piracy in one last battle.

If you read my reviews for the previous two “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, you’d know that I enjoyed both of them. I think the first is far better than the second, but it does not take away from some of the fun that the second does provide, especially in the second half with the kraken. One of the best parts of the second movie is the way it ended, because it left us on a cliffhanger that teased the third movie and managed to do so in an exciting way. Evidently, this was supposed to be the end of a planned trilogy given how Gore Verbinski helmed the first two films and came back to do this one. You may notice that he has not directed “On Stranger Tides” or “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” but we’ll probably talk about that more once we get to those films depending on whether or not it is truly worth addressing.

As for this third movie, a lot is riding on this between a couple films of build up, a popular IP, and a $300 million budget. Just for context, that budget is higher than all three “Lord of the Rings” films combined. This budget is higher than every “Star Wars” movie ever made. At the time this film came out, it was the most expensive movie ever made. The only movies that have ever had a higher budget are the three most recent “Avengers” movies and weirdly enough, this film’s sequel, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” Granted, this big gamble paid off, partially because it became the highest-grossing film of 2007 with a worldwide total of $960.9 million at the box office. But also because unlike another $300 million film, “Justice League,” which at times looked rather fabricated and artificial, this film maximizes the use of its bloated budget into crafting an insane finale and one dazzling sequence after another.

Of the few films that we have seen so far in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, this perhaps has my favorite opening of all of them. This is because we get a sense of the dark times ahead and a reminder that in the case of this film’s story, there is a solid chance that no pirate is safe. The film did a really good job at establishing a potential threat and made me curious to see where things could potentially go from scene one.

Although one thing that has been consistent in all three films so far is that even though there are varying dark themes and moments, they have all been balanced in this weird, but also delightful vibe where the movie is nearly unashamedly goofy. I said this has worked in the first film, it’s worked less in the second film, but in this third film, Gore Verbinski and crew did a good job at making me believe that what I was seeing could actually happen in this universe. While Jack Sparrow as a character has obviously changed from one film to the next, there are glimmers of his personality that feel permanent and signature to his character. The film has this thing where we see multiple Jacks, where in reality this is an effect of Sparrow being consumed by Davy Jones, and it is almost the most “Jack Sparrow” thing to happen in this franchise yet.

Speaking of which, I may be beating a dead horse, but when it comes to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow, there is no denying his abilities to encapsulate a character like this. Despite being a live-action movie, Depp’s performances in this franchise have always had some feel of hyperactive animation within them. This is not a bad thing, nor is it too surprising considering how this comes from the Disney brand, where goofiness and lightheartedness has been known as one of their strengths, but I find it fascinating how we have this dark, intense, PG-13 film and one of the first things that comes to mind is a character as goofy as Jack Sparrow, and I mean that as a positive. If “The Princess Bride” were made today and turned into a trilogy, Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies would be quite the comparative.

But oh my gawd. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT THE CLIMAX. HOLY F*CKEROO ON A S*ITFACE CRACKER IS IT EVER EXCITING! As mentioned before, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” has a production budget of $300 million, making it one of the most expensive films ever made, and it freaking delivered! The final hour of this movie, while not part of one of the best movies I have ever seen, has to be one of the most exciting things I can remember seeing in cinema. This is a big budget battle for the ages. So much is happening at once between people swinging in the air, Sparrow and Jones duking it out on a ledge with swords, character arcs coming full circle in satisfying ways, Calypso going crazy and intensifying things even further, and perhaps the craziest marriage proposal I have seen EVER.

SPOILER ALERT, although this movie is over a decade old, so who cares? Will Turner proposes to Elizabeth Swann. The two have been love interests since the first movie and there is a point where these two are fighting for their lives and could potentially die any second. Will Turner just pops the question and it is followed by Elizabeth Swann reasonably asking, “Do you think now is the best time?!” Guess what, in just a split second, Barbossa is right in front of them OFFICIATING A WEDDING! It may just be the most wonderfully insane, romantic, and flat out fantastical thing I have seen in cinematic history. I know some weddings can be crazy. Tell me the last time two people were wed like this! For the record, swords are flying in these two people’s faces, another ship is attacking the ship they’re on, and if that’s not enough, they’re in a freaking whirlpool! BEST. WEDDING. EVER.

If there is ever a film that I think my mind will positively dart to as wonderfully expensive, and not just going balls to the wall with the budget just because it can, this would probably be the one. Well, maybe this and “Avengers: Endgame.” Granted, it is not perfect. Like the other two films, it is long, but I also will say that the pacing for this film is arguably the best in the franchise given how little boredom I’ve had in a near 3 hour runtime. This film is everything a movie like this should be on the surface. Dark, silly, and fun! And by the end of it, the whole thing becomes a rollercoaster. Both literally and emotionally.

I also want to note this scene, which may just be this franchise’s greatest exchange yet.

This is accurate! This is spectacular!

In the end, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is an extended but thrilling conclusion to Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy. If anything, the big question on my mind is which film am I more likely to watch again? “The Curse of the Black Pearl” or “At World’s End?” Because I really like both movies for different reasons. I feel like as a story I will go back to watch “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” It is finely tuned from start to finish with great characters. “At World’s End” has an okay story too, but by the end of it, it is more focused on spectacle than anything else, which is not a bad thing because the spectacle is bloody fantastic. I mean seriously! The budget for “At World’s End” is more than double what it cost to make “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and somehow it does not feel like a gimmick. Granted, I’m sure the actors like Johnny Depp had something to do with it, but still. The movie earns its budget, and by the end, it therefore earns my respect. Technically speaking, this film is wonderful from the effects to the framing to Hans Zimmer’s score, it is all worth my three hours. For that, I’m going to give “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” a 7/10.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” is now available wherever you buy movies including DVD and Blu-ray and you can also watch it on Disney+.

Thanks for reading this review! Now that we’ve finished talking about Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, it is time to move onto a new director, Rob Marshall, as he takes on “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which stands today as the most expensive film ever produced. Is it truly worth the money? Find out in my fourth installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews,” coming Thursday, July 22nd.

Also, I want to remind everyone that next week I will have a review up for “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” starring LeBron James, the long-awaited sequel to the 1996 original starring Michael Jordan. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End?” What did you think about it? Or, of the three Gore Verbinski “Pirates” films, which is your favorite? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Black Widow (2021): Natasha Romanoff’s Solo Marvel Movie Finally Arrives

“Black Widow” is directed Cate Shortland (Somersault, Lore) and stars Scarlett Johansson as the title character in her first solo movie after appearing in various MCU films since 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” Also joining Johansson is Florence Pugh (Midsommar, Fighting with My Family), David Harbour (Suicide Squad, Hellboy) O-T Fagbenie (Maxxx, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), William Hurt (Into the Wild, A History of Violence), Ray Winstone (Point Break, Beowulf), and Rachel Weisz (Denial, The Favourite). This film follows the Avenger Black Widow as she confronts a conspiracy tied to her past. The film follows her on the run not only for her life, but she’s also fleeing from her mistakes, and is set between the events of “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Sorry to use the cliché phrase, but it’s finally arrived! I’ve wanted to see a “Black Widow” solo film ever since the early 2010s. Not only is she one of the standout characters of the MCU, but of all the characters that started in this universe as part of the supporting cast, I think Black Widow is arguably the one who I wanted to see more of compared to any other. Hawkeye? Who cares? Granted, I thought he was a shining star in “Avengers: Endgame,” but early on in the MCU, I thought he was the least compelling of all the hero characters. There are times in “Iron Man 2” where I honestly think Scarlett Johansson shines more as an action star than even Robert Downey Jr., the film’s lead. Naturally, when they first announced that a “Black Widow” movie was happening, I was incredibly giddy. I thought it was a solid way to get to know more about a character who has displayed some spotlight over the years, but never took all of it for herself.

I will admit, the first trailer, while good, left me a tad uneasy by the end because those who saw it may remember the big action sequence in the end where the laws of physics are those of Middle Earth times five. In fact, I will say, that sequence was fun and worth the ticket price for the big screen experience, but it is also something that comes off like a video game. Now, video games over the past number of years have become experiential to the tenth degree, and so have our movies, but this movie by the end of it throws a middle finger to reality just for the sake of looking cool. Granted, it’s the MCU, which has a lot of fantastical elements. But this is something I would expect more out of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie as opposed to a movie like “Black Widow” where in comparison, it is a bit more grounded. However, this brings me to my next notion.

First off, I liked “Black Widow.” It was a fun time and I do recommend it to fans of the character, Marvel, and even general moviegoers who have not dipped their toes into the MCU all that much. If you cannot leave your house for whatever reason, by all means check the movie out on Disney+. It is worth $29.99 on top of your subscription fee, but I am sure if you watch it, you’ll have a decent time. If you want an experience, check this thing out in theaters! One of the big trends that has been going on in Hollywood and movie fandom is the desire or building up of anticipation for people to get back to the cinema. We’ve seen films like “A Quiet Place Part II,” which was good, alongside “F9: The Fast Saga,” which was bad, do that already. Both films have performed decently at the box office and evidence suggests that “Black Widow” has come out of the gate stronger than both of these films. Cinematically, “Black Widow” reminded me of the “Mission: Impossible” movies. Spies gone wild with crazy action sequences that for the most part are well choreographed.

The best part of the “Black Widow” movie is not even the action itself, which is one of the first things I think of when it comes to Marvel. Many of the universe’s films including “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Ant-Man,” and “Avengers: Infinity War” come packed with some of most memorable action scenes of the past decade. In the case of “Black Widow,” the best part is arguably the family dynamic between Romanoff and the people from whom she has distanced since her younger years. Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh have near perfect chemistry and they felt interlinked like little cogs in a clock in every other scene. I think Rachel Weisz was an interesting choice to play Natasha’s mother, and the execution pleased me. Although the best part of Natasha’s family has to be David Harbour as Alexei, also known as Red Guardian. Every other utterance from Harbour in this film is candy to the ears. Harbour is perfectly cast and as of right now, I do not think I can imagine anyone else taking this role from him.

I think we are at the point in the MCU where characters who have had less spotlight are getting their chance to put themselves in the driver’s seat. We’re obviously talking about Black Widow in her solo movie, but the Disney+ shows have revealed what happens when you let characters like Wanda Maximoff and Bucky Barnes take the wheel. I have no idea if there will be an end date for the MCU, but I would love to see a Red Guardian solo film at some point. Make it happen, Disney. He is probably my favorite supporting character of the film, and I love David Harbour’s portrayal of said character.

But let’s not take anything away from the star of the show, Scarlett Johansson. I have loved her iteration of Black Widow since I had a first glance in “Iron Man 2.” While we do get elements of Johansson’s past performances as the iconic character, this movie did a really good job at taking a character who I liked, but I also acknowledge has barely been humanized. Part of the reason why I liked Black Widow as a character is that there was a balance between badassery and sensuality provided within what was written for her. But in actuality, I barely knew anything about her. The movies didn’t really need to explain much at the time, but we’ve gotten to a certain point where we know so much about everyone else who had the lens enhanced on them so much, that it was time for Black Widow to take a turn. This movie is a perfect evolution for this character with a backstory that falls in line with her identity and it still has that MCU craziness that people tend to seek nowadays. I contend to this day that Natasha Romanoff as a character is someone who I would want to date. I mean, it’s Scarlett Johansson. Come on. But the point is, the character for a long while is someone who I did not know everything about, but I’ve seen enough of her that would make me ask her questions about… Well, her. Having learned about her now, I might think her family is a little crazy, but nevertheless. I’m glad we got this movie. This gave me the chance to learn more about Natasha herself, and thankfully, even though this movie could have arguably been nothing more than a cash grab, the story feels neither flimsy or slapped together. Everything from start to finish makes sense and has a purpose in the movie. Well, everything except physics.

The MCU over the years has become known for its humor. In a lot of cases it works, but I will also say that movies like “Thor: The Dark World” tries hard to be funnier than it actually is. When it comes to humor, “Black Widow” lands somewhere in the middle, which works for the character at hand because when it comes to the MCU and humor, I have more or less put those two ideas together and linked people like Tony Stark or Peter Parker or Nick Fury. Natasha Romanoff usually came off as stern or serious, and this has honestly been one of her more defining traits as a character. In fact I’d say most of the humor in this movie, as possibly implied, comes from David Harbour in addition to say Florence Pugh. There’s also this fun segment of the film dedicated to Natasha’s signature pose, which I liked partially because it mocks the traditional idea that superheroes don’t just kick-ass, but they have a tendency to show off while doing so. That and maybe it is something for the action figures to show off. Think of the “Deadpool” “superhero landing” scene but it is described for more than just ten seconds of screen time.

Unfortunately however, one of the biggest deterrents of “Black Widow” is a common complaint people have had over the years through a number of MCU films, the antagonistic side in this film is underwhelming. Taskmaster was beyond disappointing! Taskmaster is very much a character with all style and quite frankly, nearly no substance whatsoever. The film seemingly tries to give substance to the character, I could see where they may have been going with it. But I could not even come close to caring about the character to begin with so when the time arrives that the movie tries to persuade me to care, I just shake my head. Taskmaster kind of reminds me of Darth Maul if you sucked all the coolness out of him. Because remember how in the “The Phantom Menace,” Darth Maul had very little dialogue? He barely did anything except wield a kick-ass double lightsaber and some cool tricks? Taskmaster is basically Maul if you went out of your way to make me snooze while I laid my eyes upon the character. Sure, Taskmaster has the Red Room, which sounded like it could have been interesting, but I guess this is why we can’t have nice things. I will say, Maul is not the worst MCU villain. That honor likely goes to Malekith from “Thor: The Dark World,” but wow! Taskmaster was one of the highlights of the film’s marketing and they bricked it!

At the same time though, one of the strengths of the MCU, even when the villain is not exactly menacing or compelling, is that the script takes as much time as it can to make you effectively care about the hero. When it comes to Natasha Romanoff, that is no exception. Part of this is established in the first ten to fifteen minutes where we see Black Widow as a kid. I feel like Black Widow as an adult has had this way about her where she always hid what she was thinking and some of, but not all, of her emotions. Seeing her as a kid not only provided a thrilling start to the film, but made me care about the character when we got to see her as an adult.

Although I want to address something that has been bothering me. I love the MCU, but I’ve had a number of concerns regarding it over the past number of years. I feel like one of my biggest concerns culminated with the recent release of all the Disney+ shows. Without going into spoilers, “Black Widow” seems to be starting a trend that I did not exactly expect to see as early as we did, where we apparently have setup in one of the Marvel movies for one of the TV shows. At least that’s the impression I got. I know in the TV shows there also seems to be setup for the movies, but keeping this in mind, it kind of concerns me because it takes me, a Marvel Cinematic Universe fan, and feel more like I am watching all of these films and TV shows as homework as opposed to reasons involving enjoyment. While I have no proof, my biggest concern for Marvel and Disney is that they will force me to watch the movies to understand the TV shows and watch the TV shows to understand the movies. “Black Widow” did not exactly support my concern 100%, but there is a scene in the film that enhanced it. I remember years ago I was talking about how Marvel would crank out two, three movies a year. I thought we would see a breaking point from that, but apparently the majority of them are at least good. Now I’m concerned between all the movies and TV shows we’re getting that we will see some sort of clog entering the MCU in terms of quality. Again, I could be underestimating Kevin Feige. I could be underestimating Marvel. I could be underestimating Disney. I could be underestimating all the directors. I could be underestimating all the writers. But at the same time, I believe I have a reason to be concerned. I will also state that this may be a “me problem.” I just like having one particular medium to follow in order to weave every story and moment together. This is why I like the fact that the DCEU movies have rarely crossed ties with any of DC’s TV shows. They’re two separate things with special identities that only they could associate with. Again, this may be a me problem, but if I were in charge of the MCU, part of me would want to come up with a “me solution.”

On that note, there is an end credit scene in “Black Widow.” This should not come as a surprise to MCU diehards. But nevertheless, if you’re watching this movie, stay for the credits.

In the end, “Black Widow” is a fine welcoming back to the realm of the MCU movies, but it comes with its flaws. Scarlett Johansson once again proves that she is a great pick to portray the Natasha Romanoff character. And speaking of which, I would say that her younger counterpart, Ever Anderson, may have a nice future of talent ahead of her. At the same time though, it feels like it covers many of the MCU’s basics but doesn’t do much of anything special with them. As much as I liked phase 2 in the MCU, it had quite a few villains that I did not fall in love with. Taskmaster feels like they are a villain that belongs in the phase 2 crowd. And again, I love the MCU, but part of me feels that it is becoming increasingly overwhelming and now that there seems to be an emphasis on tying the MCU movies and TV shows together, it is a cause for me to be concerned. Again, this is something that I cannot say is fully concerning me, it is something I’d have to wait and see as we move along. But nevertheless, I’m wondering if the MCU could potentially be hitting an unbreakable ceiling. I’m going to give “Black Widow” a 7/10.

“Black Widow” is now playing in theaters everywhere including IMAX and you can also catch the film on Disney+ with Premier Access for a $29.99 fee on top of your subscription.

Thanks for reading this review! Tomorrow, we venture to the weird waters of world’s end to fetch back witty Jack! Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” the third installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and the conclusion to Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy. I just watched the film on Sunday and I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you in my latest installment of the Scene Before exclusive review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.”

As for new releases, this Sunday I will be going to watch “Space Jam: A New Legacy” so I will have a review up for the highly anticipated film next week as it releases in theaters and on HBO Max. I will admit, I was not a massive fan of the original “Space Jam.” I did not grow up with it, in fact I just watched it for the first time recently. Here’s hoping this sequel will be better. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow either with an email or WordPress account! Also, be sure to like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Black Widow?” What did you think about it? Or, what movie are you looking forward to most in the MCU’s phase 4? For me, it’s gotta be “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” The way things are looking, some serious s*it is probably about to go down. Let me know your pick down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006): Jack Sparrow Goes Bigger, and the Rules Get Dumber

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the second entry of the Scene Before exclusive review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews!” Today, we will be diving into the second film in the franchise, “Dead Man’s Chest.” If you read my review for “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” you’d know that I had a lot of fun with that film. It’s a solid mix of old fashioned Disney vibes mixed in with some darker and more mature elements to create something special. Can this sequel capture the same feeling that I got from the original? Here’s my review!

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is directed by Gore Verbinski, who also directed the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. This sequel once again stars Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood) as Jack Sparrow alongside Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Ned Kelly), Keira Knightley (Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Bend it Like Beckham), Stellan Skarsgård (Good Will Hunting, King Arthur), Bill Nighy (Shaun of the Dead, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Jack Davenport (This Life, Coupling), Kevin McNally (Doctor Who, Conspiracy), and Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Glengarry Glen Ross). This film once again follows Jack Sparrow as he embarks on a quest to find the heart of Davy Jones to avoid enslaving himself to his service. Meanwhile, others are after the heart as well, but for their own reasons.

I really enjoyed the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. It’s pretty to look at, it’s fun to watch, it is overall simply crafted with a sense of sheer magnificence. Gore Verbinski did a good job at not just making a great film that I will likely watch again in the future, but also finding a fine line between genius and stupid. In my review for “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” I pointed out that if anything, the film is essentially a modern day version of “The Princess Bride” because it is a great watch for both kids and adults, it’s got terrific sword fights, and both films seem to place themselves in a position where they can be goofy while also realizing it can be smart. When it comes to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, I will stand by him being perfectly cast, and his presence in this sequel certainly proves my point. Jack Sparrow feels like a role that only someone like Johnny Depp can play. I cannot imagine anyone else taking on this role after watching these two films.

Unfortunately, this sequel is not as good as the original, as the old saying goes. However, it is not a bad movie. The second half is what kept my attention. This is not to say that the first half was bad, but compared to the second, it is kind of forgettable. On top of that, the one specific part that I remember most from the first half is perhaps the film’s biggest deterrent. In the current post-modern era, there is a tendency from studios, distributors, and producers to constantly create content that lacks originality. Sometimes it’s a good thing, sometimes it’s a bad thing. In case of these first two “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, I’d say it’s a good thing, but it does not mean it is perfect.

As you may or may not know, this property started out as a theme park ride. A lot of movies these days tend to have a theme park-like experience. The Marvel movies are varying visual feasts for the eyes and ears. The “Fast & Furious” movies are ridiculous in concept and crazy in execution because of their messing with physics and what could be done with supercharged cars. In fact, “F9” honestly took that theme park-esque experience a little too far for me to continually suspend my disbelief. Honestly, I do not know where the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies are going to go, but part of me worries that they’re going to go down the same path that “Fast & Furious” followed since the fourth movie. Now to be clear, I am not saying that every “Fast & Furious” has sucked since the fourth one. The only installment I hated since the fourth one is “F9.” But the reason why I hated “F9” is because each film manages to surpass the last in some degree of absurdity that it is too much for my brain to handle. There’s one or two scenes in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” where Jack Sparrow arguably should have been seriously injured or dead, but he isn’t! He walks off every other incident as if nothing happened! I am keeping an open mind at this point given how this is a fantasy film, but this is nevertheless something that does irk me internally. The first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, even though it was a bit ridiculous, it still felt like there were rules. In “Dead Man’s Chest,” there is less verisimilitude and a greater sense of absurdity.

This complaint does not take anything away from the fun that I had.

Throughout, the film has a lot of the strengths that the first one has. Some great lead characters. No seriously, I love Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom when they’re put together. I think they would make a great pair for a buddy cop movie one day. The visuals are breathtaking and hold up fifteen years later. In fact, I am not totally surprised considering how this film happened to win the Best Visual Effects Oscar for the year it came out. The entire encounter with the kraken is worth the watch alone. Keira Knightley is back as Elizabeth Swann and I really liked seeing her here too. There’s this funny scene towards the end of the film where Sparrow is supposedly flirting with her and her reactions to this are one of the better parts of the movie.

As for new characters, this movie adds Naomie Harris as Tia Dalma, and I think she was a perfect addition to this movie. She has this fantastical presence to her that could only work in a movie like this. I’m not gonna lie, by the end of the movie, I almost had a crush on the character. Naomie Harris shines as this mysterious being who used to be a sea goddess, Calypso specifically, and her voice is perfect for someone who helps someone else who happens to be trying to fulfill their destiny. I like this character and of the many supporting characters this franchise has introduced so far, this one was perfectly cast.

Without spoiling anything, I also really like the way they end the film. It is exciting, thrilling, and gets me stoked to see the third movie the more I think about it. I feel like Gore Verbinski is really passionate about everything that he has put to screen in these first two films and he has a serious idea on the direction to take the third film. They got a couple of the writers who worked on the first film to come back as well. Something tells me they all work very well together and love what they do. I am very excited to see where they go from here.

In the end, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is worth a watch, but compared to “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” it is not exactly as Shakespearean. “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” despite being in the fantasy genre like “Dead Man’s Chest,” seemed to acknowledge that there were some rules that had to be followed. Maybe if I were a young kid watching this I’d let the absurdity of the film fly over my head, but at this point, it didn’t, and it is a reason why the movie lost some points. Nevertheless this is a serviceable sequel with a kick-ass second half. I cannot wait for the third movie, part of me thinks that it will be better than this one. I’m going to give “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” a 6/10.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” is available wherever you buy movies including DVD and Blu-ray, and you can also watch the film on Disney+.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week we dive into the deep waters of world’s end! My review for “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” will be available on Thursday, July 15th! Stay tuned!

This weekend I have a couple new posts coming your way including a brand new installment to the CINEOLOGY podcast, where I am once again joined by my good friend Millie as we talk movies. Also, I will have a review up for one of the biggest movies of the summer, “Black Widow!” The film drops in theaters and on Disney+ this weekend, I’ve already got my tickets, and I cannot wait to share my thoughts on this movie that we REALLY should have gotten three or four years ago! I cannot wait to see this! I love Marvel! I love Scarlett Johansson! I love the fact that we are getting big movies again! The experience will hopefully be worth the wait! If you want to see this and more on Scene Before follow either with an email or WordPress account or check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Johnny Depp film? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Zola (2020): You Wanna Hear A Story About a Negative Film Review?

“Zola” is directed by Janicza Bravo (Lemon, Gregory Go Boom) and stars Taylour Paige (Boogie, Hit the Floor), Riley Keough (The Lodge, The Devil All the Time), Nicholas Braun (Prom, How to Be Single), Ari’el Stachel (Blue Bloods, The Band’s Visit), and Colman Domingo (Fear the Walking Dead, Euphoria). This film is based on a story summed up in 148 tweets on a single account. These tweets were the foundation for where they ended up taking this film, which is about a girl who goes down to Florida with a stripper named Stefani only to find herself in a prostitution scheme with Stefani’s pimp, X.

I have a soft spot for A24. It is a studio that has made some of my favorite films of the 2010s including “Room,” “The Disaster Artist,” and “Lady Bird.” In a world of big, gigantic blockbusters, many of which I enjoy like those of the “Star Wars” and “Mission: Impossible” franchises, sometimes I need something simpler, something lower in budget and scale. Something more intimate. A24 usually hits the spot because they have a tendency to align themselves with talent that can tell a great story with a limited budget. Portions of “Zola” seem to reflect this lower budget. Certain shots go on for such a long time, there are shots that look like they fit more in a YouTube vlog compared to a typical movie. That previous statement by the way, is also one of my big critiques because despite this movie having some good framing here and there, the shot selection occasionally feels repetitive or, as I said, vlog-like. Looking like a vlog is not always a bad thing, but it sort of almost pulled me out of the movie. It lacked a slight sense of immersion if you will.

At the same time though, the movie has a number of shots that are beautifully lit. This movie gave me a fine first impression with the opening five minutes for providing one of the most vibrant scenes of the year. Technically speaking, this movie is a mixed bag. Unfortunately, it may be the best part of the movie because I progressed through “Zola” rolling my eyes, placing my hands over my head, and the desire to put a gun in my mouth. “Zola” is probably my least favorite movie of 2021. Yes, I know some would argue it is a 2020 film, but it just had a big release this year, so I’m counting it as a 2021 film. Either way, this movie has an intriguing first five minutes, but as for the rest of the hour and a half, the wheels fall off the wagon and it comes tumbling toward a cliff.

This film starts off with some catchy and magical music then tops off its candylicious intro off with some of the best lighting I have seen this year. Like many other A24 films, this one definitely has its quirks. These were some solid quirks, but examples of quirks I could give later in the runtime just get worse. Admittedly, there is this quirk that annoyed me, I don’t know if the rest of humanity would feel the same way, every time I would hear a notification noise during the movie, part of my brain wanted to check out. I know this is based off tweets, but come on!

One thing that kind of, and I repeat, KIND OF, holds this movie together is the acting. The chemistry between Zola and Stefani is not my favorite of the year, but the respective actors that play these characters, Taylour Paige and Riley Keough, are decently put together. Certain scenes made them feel like a natural pair for the story that was being told. I do want to give a shoutout to the supporting cast too. At the same time however, they honestly felt like they were occasionally overacting. This film is based on a tweetstorm and I feel like it occasionally gets overhyped for the sake of having a “big screen experience,” which is weird to say about something that is a small, independent picture. Actors like Nicholas Braun were sometimes a delight to watch and made me feel like I was not actually wasting my time. Seeing him and others made the movie feel like it was jacked up on caffeine, but it did not make for an excellent product in the end because I left feeling unsatisfied and having placed my hand on my head way too many times.

Also, I don’t know the actual story, and for all I know, some of the tweetstorm from Zola may have been fabricated, but I want to bring up Stefani’s voice. Throughout the movie, Stefani talks in this weirdly southern accent, and I don’t know why, but by the end of the movie, it felt like that voice transported me through a cheese grater. It was so annoying! I watched an interview of Riley Keough on “The Tonight Show,” so I know that her voice in “Zola” is not her actual voice. But her voice in the movie t feels over the top and similar to something out of a C-grade “Power Rangers” villain.

Honestly, what makes this movie even worse is that it has not even been a full week since I have seen “Zola” and I feel as if I have forgotten a majority of it. Thankfully, I remember some things about the movie. Both good and bad as evidenced by this review. But if I go through this review nearly blanking what to talk about and I have not even gone through a full week without seeing the movie, that’s a problem. I went through THREE weeks trying to get a review out for “Tom & Jerry” and that film was awful! I knew what to talk about in that review! “Zola” is one heck of a story, but as a movie, I just wish it stayed in my brain for just a bit longer. Is it funny? Occasionally. Is it sexy? Kinda. Is it quirky? DID YOU SEE THE A24 LOGO?! But if anything, this did not add up to ride that was compelling. It added up to something that feels sliced and diced and nearly discombobulated despite looking somewhat polished.

In the end, “Zola” is not only my worst movie of the year so far, but as of right now, it is probably also my least favorite film from A24. “Midsommar,” you’re saved. To say a film is bad is hard enough. To say a film from A24 is bad, that’s another level. Because A24 is one of my favorite studios working today. I’ve already gone on about how amazing some of their films have been over the past few years. “Zola” on the other hand, not only felt like a waste of time, but oddly forgettable too. At least I still remember why I was absolutely turned off by “Midsommar.” I still recall its ugliness to this day. Plus with “Midsommar,” you could make the argument that the film was supposed to give me the reaction that I ultimately gave it. I was supposed to be turned off by that film. With “Zola,” I was supposed to be thrilled, turned on, and maybe jumping out of my seat from time to time. The movie did not do its job and I wasted 90 minutes of my life. I’m going to give “Zola” a 2/10.

“Zola” is now playing in theaters wherever they are open. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! This week is a big one for movies because we are continuing summer blockbuster season with arguably the strongest competitor of the bunch, Marvel Studios’s first film in two years, “Black Widow!” I’ve already got my tickets for Thursday and I cannot wait to share my thoughts on the movie with you.

Also coming this Thursday, stay tuned for my review of “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” in the ongoing review series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account and like the Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Zola?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your favorite AND least favorite films from A24? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003): Jack Drees Reviews Jack Sparrow

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! It is time for a brand new review series that will extend all the way to the end of July, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CHEST OF REVIEWS! Today we will be focusing on the first movie in the franchise, “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” Unlike the previous series of old movie reviews done on Scene Before, otherwise known as the 7 DAYS OF STAR WARS series, I have much less familiarity with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. So for a few of these movies, I will be getting a fresh take. Without further ado, let’s dive into my review for “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is directed by Gore Verbinski (The Mexican, The Ring) and stars Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood), Geoffrey Rush (The Devil’s Rejects, Double Impact), Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Ned Kelly), Keira Knightley (Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Bend it Like Beckham), and Jonathan Pryce (Brazil, Glengarry Glen Ross). This film is based on a Disney theme park ride and follows Jack Sparrow, an eccentric captain who joins forces with blacksmith Will Turner to save Elizabeth Turner, otherwise known as the governor’s daughter, and fend off some undead pirate allies.

My first time watching “The Curse of the Black Pearl” occurred when I was eight years old. I just came back from a trip to Disney World, and one of the more fun memories I had on that trip was getting to experience the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Naturally, it would only make sense that days later I would make the trip to my local Blockbuster and rent “The Curse of the Black Pearl” on DVD. I watched it once, and of course, since I had no concept of what a good or bad movie really was, I just took it as it went. Prior to this review, I have not watched “The Curse of the Black Pearl” since that Blockbuster rental period. Not even for fun. I have pretty much avoided the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise altogether. I had nothing against it. But it was just something I never dedicated my time towards. To me it is like “Game of Thrones.” I have not seen one episode, but I am trying to find a single time I can get myself in the mood to watch it. But, having owned the Blu-ray for a number of years, I figured now would be a good opportunity to utilize it. After all, I figured this would be one of the few review series I would tackle in honor of Scene Before’s fifth anniversary. So was my dive into Caribbean piracy worth it?

I’d say it was. I can see why people love this movie. It is fun, it’s nearly campy even though it does have a sense where it kind of takes itself seriously, and the actors are great in it from Johnny Depp to Orlando Bloom to Keira Knightley. This is also the first Disney feature to be rated PG-13, and I’d say that this was a solid introduction to slight maturity. The action in the film is pristine, seeing the chemistry between Jack Sparrow and Will Turner was a treat, and having seen this film in the 2020s, I do want to point out that looking back, I can see why Johnny Depp seemed like a good Willy Wonka on paper. Say what you want about the end result of that role. But Jack Sparrow was written with great balance of goofiness and seriousness that combine for a recipe of greatness.

To me, Jack Sparrow sort of reminded me of the very objective that Disney seems to pull off with its younger viewers. You know how kids often pretend to be their favorite characters or they’ll buy merch related to them or costumes overtime to play as them? You’ll see young girls as Cinderella or young boys playing with their Buzz Lightyear action figure? I felt like, even though we get that slice of seriousness within Jack Sparrow’s character, he’s almost like a young kid who really wants to be a pirate, but he does not understand the full gig so he just improvises in almost every other step. If anything, I think this is a good way to get younger viewers attached while balancing that PG-13 rating for the more mature viewers.

One of my favorite scenes in the film is between Depp and Bloom as they’re engaging in a duel. I’m watching this scene and it sort of takes me back to why I love “Star Wars” so much because it is a film that manages to find that fine line where almost anyone could end up watching it and enjoying it. This duel from the first half hour or so is a perfect combination of establishing your characters, what they want, what they need, and showing off their personalities. Jack Sparrow has this weirdly suave outlook to him because in actuality, he’s a flawed character, but he does the best he can to hide said flaws. It kind of reminds me of that show on HBO, “Avenue 5,” where we see main character, Ryan Clark, who is the captain of a ship, but he gets by as the captain more because of his personality rather than actually knowing any of the technical details that go into running a ship. Sparrow, from what I can suggest, is smarter than Ryan Clark on “Avenue 5,” but they share a tendency to establish themselves with their personality before anything else.

One more thing I want to point out, and I cannot go on without mentioning this, because I think anyone who has ever heard of “Pirates of the Caribbean” will get one thought in their head aside from Jack Sparrow and swashbuckling adventures, the theme music.

The music in “Pirates of the Caribbean” is too good for words. It is one of the best movie themes ever created. It is up there with “Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” and “Inception” in terms of how epic and iconic the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme truly is. I can imagine myself driving my car into the ocean and listening to this until I inevitably realize that I am a terrible driver and need to reconsider whatever the heck it is that I’m doing. Klaus Badelt, you’re a mastermind.

If I had any major flaws with “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” it would probably be that some of the supporting characters are somewhat forgettable. It’s like in “The Hobbit” where you have so many of them that it is difficult to keep track of them all. Plus Sparrow outshines them all significantly. Granted, he’s the lead, but it is still something to bring up. Other than that, this movie is a great first attempt for Disney making a PG-13 feature. If anything, I’d say that “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is a modern day “The Princess Bride.” Say what you want about the film’s timelessness, that is up for debate. But the film is great for both kids and adults, it’s got hypnotizing sword fights, and it does not always take itself seriously, which is not a bad thing. “Pirates” is a bit more serious than “Bride,” but it is worth noting that there is almost a tonal consistency from one film to the other despite being set in different universes.

In the end, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is in a word… Fun. It’s good ol’ fashioned Disney fun for a slightly more mature audience. I often make fun of Disney because nowadays it almost feels as if they don’t have a single original idea in their tank. In fact, this whole review series is being done because Disney is coming out with “Jungle Cruise” in just a few weeks, which like this movie, is based on a theme park ride. But as much as I make fun of Disney for never going after original ideas with the exception of maybe Pixar, I will give them credit for movies like this where they take a concept that already exists and end up going balls to the wall with it. In short, I really enjoyed “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” I think Johnny Depp was perfectly cast as Jack Sparrow, and I am looking forward to talking about the sequels, even though I hear that they are not as good as this movie. I’m going to give “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” an 8/10.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” is available wherever you buy movies including DVD and Blu-ray, and you can also watch it on Disney+.

Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will be reviewing “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” That review will be up on Thursday, July 8th, and stay tuned for more in the ongoing Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews series! Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite PG-13 film from Disney? Yes, I’ll even count Lucasfilm, Marvel, or even any of the Fox stuff they own now. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

F9: The Fast Saga (2021): Go F9 Yourself

“F9: The Fast Saga,” otherwise known as the egotistical title of the ninth installment of the “Fast & Furious” franchise, is directed by Justin Lin, a veteran director of this ongoing franchise, and stars Vin Diesel (xXx, The Last Witch Hunter), Michelle Rodriguez (Smurfs: The Lost Village, Widows), Jordana Brewster (Dallas, Lethal Weapon), Tyrese Gibson (Transformers, Ride Along 2), Ludacris (Show Dogs, Crash), John Cena (Wipeout, Bumblebee), Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials), Sung Kang (Better Luck Tomorrow, Motel), Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither), Helen Mirren (RED, Hitchcock), Kurt Russell (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, The Thing), and Charlize Theron (Bombshell, Atomic Blonde). This film, as recently suggested, is the latest installment to the “Fast & Furious” franchise. The film follows Dom Toretto and his car-obsessed “family” as they take on their latest mission of high-speed hijinks. This time, Dominic must face off against his younger brother Jakob (John Cena) as they reunite after years of separation.

Wow. We’re actually here. The Hollywood machine continues. It is time I update you with my status regarding the “Fast & Furious” franchise. I like all these movies except for maybe 2 and especially not “Tokyo Drift.” The first film is kind of like “Point Break” with cars, but I like it because I enjoy media where we see a ton of customized vehicles and people gathering to street race every now and then. I spent much of my childhood playing racing games so to see a movie like “The Fast and the Furious” out for public viewing is quite fascinating. I will also say, having seen every “Fast & Furious” installment, including “Hobbs & Shaw,” I’ve noticed every movie since the fourth one seems to obviously embrace shark-jumping to some degree. And usually it works. “Fast Five” and “Furious 7” are neck and neck to be my favorite films in this franchise. “The Fate of the Furious,” the eighth movie, was kind of on the brim of top tier crazy where the main characters have to outrun a submarine in ice, but it was still enjoyable, and I was nevertheless attached to the characters. I liked the story where Dom turned his back on his family and the consequences he had to face along the way. I also liked the end of the movie where they paid homage to Paul Walker’s character because the actor passed away before “Furious 7” came out and Dom decided to name his kid Brian. “Hobbs & Shaw” also had some absurd stuff going between Idris Elba being “black Superman” and the skyscraper freefall. But that movie showed great chemistry between the two leads and had some hilarious writing.

Now let’s move onto “F9.” If you know me, you’d know that I have been anxious to see this movie. I’m not saying it was my most anticipated of the year or anything. But when ticket sales were announced, I jumped the gun. I bought my tickets three months in advance to secure my seats (and possibly win a chance to go to the world premiere of the film in Los Angeles).

That was in 2020. But of course, the inevitable happened. The film was delayed, movie theaters shut down, and most big movies had to be put on hold. So even though I did not have “F9” as my top movie to see this year, I did recognize my pent-up desire to see it as the release date got closer. If “Godzilla vs. Kong,” a film with mostly action and little story, taught me anything, I could definitely use a big dumb movie every now and then.

But instead of a big dumb movie, I think I got a braindead one. There are things to like about “F9.” There are some occasional funny lines, although not as many as some previous films, the chemistry between Tyrese Gibson and Ludacris is not bad, and the same can be said for the chemistry between Dom and Letty. These characters have been with us for so many years that returning to a world like this can feel occasionally palatable. But this franchise has become so massively associated with absurdity that I left this movie talking with my dad and I told him, “This movie gave Sharknado ideas.”

There are no stakes in “F9,” at least none that stand out. Yes, there are things that go on in “F9” that could potentially mean life or death. The fast family is on a mission in Central America where they have to investigate a plane and avoid a ton of land mines. Dom reunites with his younger brother, and the two are now rivals. There are some occasional spur of the moment things that come up, but overall, I had no reason to think that any of these characters would not get out of any situation alive. I can think of particular situations where the movie tries to convince me otherwise, but I am watching the movie realizing, these characters are basically superheroes without costumes or actual powers. Are they lucky? Are they aided by gods? I don’t even know! These movies are becoming so ridiculous that they are boggling my mind!

I like Vin Diesel as much the next guy, but I am concerned that this franchise is really going from “Fast & Furious” to “Watch Vin Diesel Grow His Ego.” Dom Toretto is insanely overpowered in this film. There is a scene where he’s fighting at least twenty dudes at once and he beats them all without assistance from another human being. Why? Because he’s Dom Toretto. No other reason. If Vin Diesel has a production credit, you gotta let him have all the spotlight! That’s how things work, right?!

I also find it hilarious that “Fast & Furious” has always been, perhaps beyond a memeable degree, about family, and now apparently we find out Dom has a brother named Jakob. By the way, Jakob is played by John Cena, who quite frankly served his purpose within his role. John Cena has played a number of roles over the years. He is improving his craft, but I still think he’s got a ways to go before he is pristine. Although I do think he’s an okay comedy actor, so if you want my recommendation, dump “F9” in a fire and go watch “Blockers” starring John Cena! Please, it’s a much better movie.

Harkening back to why I found this movie so unwatchably absurd, I was watching a particular moment from the first twenty minutes of the film, where Dom needs to get from one piece of land to another, but he does so in a way that reeks of convenience. Watching certain portions of this movie reminds me of why I make fun of certain commercials. You ever see a car commercial for something like a Nissan and the driver is trying to escape an impending doom where debris is continuously falling behind them? They’re not screaming, they’re not happy, they literally have no emotion whatsoever. While there is definitely more on-screen emotion displayed in “F9,” I feel like I can read the inside of Dom’s mind, and as Dom drives in danger, his mind is almost likely stoic.

I’m not gonna spill every detail about this movie, but if you watched the trailers, you’d notice that “F9” takes some leaps that the franchise almost to my surprise has not taken before. Han, a fan favorite character, is back. The way they address it is like the rest of the movie, it left me confused. I know the “Fast & Furious” franchise is not always meant to be taken seriously, but at least in the past number of movies, they’ve left in some semblance of reality. Remember that scene in “Furious 7” where Dom and Brian are in a car near the top of a skyscraper in Abu Dhabi? They drive that car out of one tall building to another without getting anywhere towards the ground? And because there is apparently no better solution, the duo has to stay in the car driving out of that building and landing into another one? Then they escape the car, letting it fall out of that building to its inevitable crash? Remember that scene? That was the perfect mix of escapism, humor, absurdity, and stakes! Those last two things are important. Because the characters in “F9” have become so invincible that I can no longer take them seriously or root for them to get out of a sticky situation because I already have a preconceived thought that they will make it out even if it means breaking every law of physics in existence ten times in a minute! These movies are beyond reality at this point. They feel like they come from another planet! I don’t mean that in a good way!

Heck, there’s even a scene where we see Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson together and they’re even making fun of how in the past, they’ve been on all these crazy missions and they wondered how they are still alive today. They’ve brought up the same ideas I’ve been talking about. Are they just lucky or invincible? Who knows? Having seen their main sequences in the movie, part of me wants to go with the latter!

I will admit, one thing I kind of sort of liked was seeing the magnet scenes play down. That was one cool idea they had for this movie, where everything in sight just flies around on the street, including cars, onto a moving vehicle. I kind of like the concept and it made for some okay action. I want to say, I have seen other movies where maybe I would throw out the critique, “this movie sounds like it was written by a nine-year old!” That phrase is often used as a negative because I think we as audiences can mostly agree that we want most of our movies to have a semblance of maturity and logic. Turns out, this idea of the film came from the Justin Lin’s son, Oqwe, who happened to be nine-years old. See? Some nine-year olds do have okay ideas! With that being said, I don’t think there’s a better opportunity to say this, “F9” literally sounds like it was written by a nine-year old!

“F9” in a way kind of reminds me of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” because if I have to address a single observation from that movie, it feels like that movie tries extra hard to cater to the fans based on things they address through the Internet. In that movie, we see Luke diss his past self for “disgracing” his own lightsaber, and at the end, we see Rey and Kylo kiss… for… what reason exactly? Here in “F9,” Han is back, and the whole meme about “Fast & Furious” going to space becomes a reality here. The two big wishes I have seen on the Internet regarding “Fast & Furious” have been brought to life in “F9” and it makes me ask, where do they go from here? This movie really put the “Fast” in “Fast & Furious” and ended up blowing its load way too quickly. The only way I can imagine this franchise becoming any dumber is if it crossed over with “Jurassic Park” or “Sharknado.” That’s about it. I do not know at this point if I will be excited for the inevitable “Fast & Furious 10.” This movie has a mid-credits scene that seems to promise something interesting, but until I actually see some material, I am just going to assume at this point that the next movie will be unwatchable. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be more grounded. Maybe the characters will get into some serious trouble. Maybe there will actually be stakes. But until I get a greater glimpse, I cannot do anything at this point but assume that the worst has yet to come.

In the end, unlike the characters who have shown themselves off on screens for years, “F9: The Fast Saga” is nowhere near invincible. “F9: The Fast Saga” is honestly the worst “Fast & Furious” movie since “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.” That film bored me, felt somewhat out of place in the franchise, and I have not watched it since my first viewing. Much like “Tokyo Drift,” I cannot see myself watching “F9” again anytime soon. Just a reminder, this franchise started out as a “Point Break” wannabe with street racing and people stealing electronics. Now apparently Dominic Toretto is the world’s most badass spy. Just… Because. No other reason. I absolutely hated this movie. I think it is a massive disappointment and it goes way too far in terms of how campy and unrealistic it wants to be. As Hogarth says in “The Iron Giant,” “You are who you choose to be.” Looks like this entire cast chose “Superman.” And frankly, I’m furious. I’m going to give “F9: The Fast Saga” a 3/10.

“F9: The Fast Saga” is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is also available in large formats including Dolby Cinema and IMAX.

Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that this week I will be beginning my brand new review series in honor of “Jungle Cruise,” the upcoming film based on the Disney theme park ride, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” In this series, I will be talking about all five “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, beginning in chronological order with “The Curse of the Black Pearl” on July 1st and ending with “Dead Men Tell No Tales” on July 29th. Stay tuned, mateys! If you want to see this and more, follow Scene Before either with an email or a WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “F9: The Fast Saga?” What did you think about it? Or, what are some movies you personally enjoy despite acknowledging their stupidity? For me, I’d say “The Meg” and the “Bill & Ted” films come to mind. Let me know your dumb picks down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Luca (2021): Pixar’s Latest Direct to Streaming Film Barely Scratches the Surface of Quality

“Luca” is directed by Enrico Casarosa (Up, Coco) and stars Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder), Jack Dylan Grazer (Shazam!, It), Emma Berman, Saverio Raimondo, Maya Rudolph (Life of the Party, Brides Maids), Marco Barricelli (The Book of Daniel, Holy Silence), Jim Gaffigan (The Jim Gaffigan Show, Bob’s Burgers), Peter Sohn (Ratatouille, Monsters University), Lorenzo Crinski, Marina Massironi (Bread and Tulips, Letters to Juliet), and Sandy Martin (Ray Donovan, Dumbo). This film is about a young sea monster named Luca disguised as a human who exits the water and enters land. In other words, he has reached “the surface,” much to the dismay of his overprotective parents. While he is there, he meets a new human friend, Alberto, who lives near the Italian Riveria. Together, they form an unlikely bond and attempt to experience “the best summer ever.”

I almost did not review this film. And I say this as someone who loves Pixar. But I think when it comes to Pixar, it’s almost like watching a sibling you love take a few punches. As you may have learned over the years on Scene Before, my primary goal is to tackle mostly theatrically released content. Unfortunately, “Luca” was often marketed as a Disney+ exclusive. The film was originally going to come out in theaters, but a few months ago, it was decided that the film would go straight to Disney+. This made me think a few things. Either Disney is treating Pixar movies like they are afterthoughts, because even though I particularly was not as enthused by “Soul” as much as other people, that movie did very well review-wise and maybe “Luca” would receive the same treatment. Or Disney does not have much faith in “Luca.” We’ve seen movies that were supposed to come out in theaters over the years get streaming releases and people would often speculate the reason why the movie went to streaming in the first place is because it was not good. In fact, Disney+ is part of this trend with “Artemis Fowl,” which was BAD. But, knowing Disney, money talks, so maybe they thought “Luca” could underperform at the box office so maybe this was a way to boost Disney+ subscriptions. The COVID-19 pandemic changes each and every day, right now it is changing for the better depending on where you live, but people still question if it is going to stick around longer so for all I know, Disney took a safe route with “Luca.” The bright side is, unlike “Black Widow,” which will release theatrically and on Disney+ for a $29.99 fee, “Luca” is free for all subscribers.

I have decided to review this film and count it towards my end of year events like The Jackoff Awards because “Luca” did end up coming out in one theater in the United States. Specifically the El Capitan in Los Angeles, a cinema dedicated to Disney productions. So what do I think of “Luca?”

It’s the worst Pixar movie yet. And I cannot believe I am saying this because “Soul” came out last December and I said the exact same thing about that.

Now to be clear, I have not seen every single Pixar film. I still have not watched “Brave,” “Monsters University,” and “The Good Dinosaur” from start to finish. Maybe one day I will catch up on those, but for now, they’re still on my to do list. For all I know, those movies may be worse than “Luca.” But I want to bring up something that I have gathered over the years. Pixar has one of the best batting averages of all the studios working today. Thus far, I do not think they have given us one bad feature film. They’ve all been at the very least, likable. This even includes “Soul,” which again, prior to “Luca” I thought was the worst Pixar movie. Speaking of lesser Pixar movies, I took a screenwriting class in my sophomore year of college. My professor said he saw the movie “Onward,” which as of the conversation he had with the class, I happened to see as well. He thought that when it comes to Pixar, it is lower tier. But he also stated that bad Pixar is better than most movies. In a way he’s right. Because when it comes to Pixar, I think they do a better job at not specifically catering to a younger demographic and going after mature themes that can resonate with both kids and adults. “Luca” is no exception to this, because the story to “Luca” involves our main character being told that he must avoid a portion beyond the world they know, that portion being “the surface.” The way this plays out kind of reminded me of my relationship I have with my parents when they go into a “helicopter” mode essentially. Because Luca is the one kid who is brave enough to do something even though it is often discouraged by his parents, and he defends himself by referring to his carefulness. When it comes to certain aspects, Pixar not only excels at topping a lot of animations, but many other movies in general. It’s like Stephen King. Even some of his inferior work is supposedly better than a lot of books.

With that being said, “Luca” does not really feel like a Pixar movie. It feels like an okay movie with a somewhat intimate story that occasionally has some nicely animated shots and sequences, but it feels cliché and very low in terms of stakes. I mean, yes, there are some occasionally high stakes, but compared to other Pixar movies, they are low. Plus it repeats the same motifs that you see in Pixar films like “Ratatoullie” and “Monsters Inc.,” specifically the idea that humans are dangerous. The depth to Luca’s character is also admittedly somewhat surface level, pun intended. Luca is by no means the worst character in the world, but we barely know anything about him other than the fact that he is a sea monster-human hybrid and his parents do not want him near the surface. Yes, we see him doing sea crap in the beginning of the film, but my question is, what does he do for fun? Is there… Anything? Maybe that’s the point, because maybe that’s a way to establish how much more interesting the human world is. Because it is a world where people actually do s*it. In the sea, we don’t see any of that. That could be intentional, but it also slices out a sense of dimensionality to Luca as a character. This technically stands as a flaw to me, but at the same time, I would love to know where the writers were coming from on this.

I will also say that when it comes to characters in this movie, the surface characters had some work that I feel would need to be done as well. I think the chemistry between Luca and Alberto is fine, although I feel like there are some things I would change about how their plot moved along because by the end of the movie, I honestly questioned how they were in the positions they found themselves in, but I want to point out the villain, Saverio Raimondo’s character of Ercole Visconti.

Now, I know that this is an animation, so in a way you can get away with making your characters more expressive for the sake of establishing who they are, but when I watched this movie, I could not help but think that Ercole was ridiculously over the top to the point where he almost had no dimension to his personality. He is a surprisingly wacky villain for a story that honestly feels as small as it is. He feels like he belongs in a different movie. Honestly, if I had to make a comparison, he kind of reminded me of the villain from “The Secret Life of Pets 2” who came off as if he were written with the intention of catering to people who needed everything established in front of them. Granted, if I had to prefer watching one character over the other I’d choose Ercole, but nevertheless.

This movie has some okay ideas, but the execution of everything at hand leaves a bit to be desired. I liked some of Luca’s fish out of water experiences, where he learns about stuff like space and Vespas, but the story weirdly feels rushed and as if some details were overlooked. I think the relationships Luca has with Alberto and Giulia are fine, but I do not think I will remember them compared to the relationships I have seen in other Pixar movies like Joy and Sadness in “Inside Out” or Fredrickson and Russell in “Up.” Simply put, this movie is good, but it could be better. Perhaps in more ways than one.

In the end, “Luca” is an okay film, but it is also currently my least favorite Pixar movie. It is perhaps the one that I am least likely to watch again. Even though I said “Soul” was my least favorite Pixar film before this one, I could see myself turning that one on again because it has a lot of deep elements that make you question the meaning of life. “Luca” is a simple movie, but at times it is a little too simple. I never really found anything in “Luca” that resembled an “oomph” factor. Some of it feels very “been there done that” while other portions feel less interesting compared to some of Pixar’s other work. I will say though, the film is nice to look at. I really like the designs they went for with the sea monsters, and the underwater scenes are eye-popping. In the technical department, Pixar once again does not disappoint. I just wish the movie were better. I’m going to give “Luca” a 6/10.

“Luca” is now available on Disney+ for free for as long as you are a subscriber.

Thanks for reading this review! Summer is here! And that means it is time to review some big movies! This summer we have “Black Widow,” “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” “The Suicide Squad,” and “Free Guy” just to name a few titles! But before we get to any of that, we will be diving into a long-awaited sequel. So long in fact that I bought tickets for this movie in February 2020, only to find out it would be delayed until the following year. That sequel, my friends, is “F9: The Fast Saga,” which is now playing everywhere. I will be reviewing the movie hopefully by the end of the month, so stay tuned for my thoughts!

Also coming soon, stay tuned for my brand new review series “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews.” My review for the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” will be available on July 1st. I will be reviewing all five “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies in preparation for “Jungle Cruise,” which like “Pirates of the Caribbean,” is inspired by a Disney theme park ride.

If you want to see all this great content and more, be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account! Also be sure to like the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Luca?” What did you think about it? Or, what are your favorite AND least favorite, Pixar movies? My favorite, it’s “The Incredibles,” also my most cherished animated film of all time. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (2021): I Want a Bodyguard Divorce

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is directed by Patrick Hughes, who also directed this film’s predecessor, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” This film once again stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Green Lantern), Samuel L. Jackson (The Avengers, Pulp Fiction), Salma Hayek (Grown Ups, Sausage Party), and alongside them are actors including Frank Grillo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Purge: Anarchy), Richard E. Grant (Logan, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker), Antonio Banderas (Shrek 2, The Laundromat), and Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight). This film follows Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), the bodyguard who helped protect Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) as he is told to take a break from bodyguarding. That break will have to wait however because Bryce and Kincaid are on another mission together where this time they have save Sonia (Salma Hayek), Darius’s wife, from danger.

I liked “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” when I first saw it. I missed it in the theaters, but I did get it on 4K Blu-ray for Christmas in 2017 and I did watch it a day or two afterwards. “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is nothing too special, it’s really kind of disposable, but if you want a fun action flick that can entertain you for a couple of hours, you cannot go wrong. I also really like the film’s use of the song “Black Betty.” I think that was a really fun scene. The film also had an extended shot that kind of reminded me of “Kingsman: The Secret Service” a little bit. Remember the scene from “Kingsman: The Secret Service” where Colin Firth basically annihilates an entire crowd of hate supporters in a church? Between story, music, and action, that scene was outright perfection. Now I am not saying the “one-shot” take in “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is as good as the one in “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” but it is still fun. But the biggest standout from “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is the chemistry between Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson. Their characters clearly hate each other, but it never feels off-putting. It adds to the fun of the movie. It was a fun little action film that apparently did well enough at the box office. And of course as pointed out with “Star Wars,” “Fast & Furious,” “The Simpsons,” and “The Bachelor,” you gotta make more of it! No matter how good it is! This is where “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” comes in.

When I think of the “big” studios that stand out the most today, I usually think of Disney (Star Wars, Marvel), Warner Bros. (DC, Harry Potter), and Universal (Despicable Me, Jurassic Park). These studios have staying power and tons of properties they continue to utilize until the end of time. Lionsgate almost had that chance with “Knives Out,” but they sold it to Netflix. They used to be a force in the market with “The Hunger Games” and since the studio was affiliated with Summit, they also did “Divergent.” So they were big for awhile in the young adult adaptation game. They had “Now You See Me,” which paused. “Gods of Egypt” never did too well. “Twilight” is over. Just wait until they remake that eventually. I feel like the one big franchise that Lionsgate has that is the perfect mix of financial success, critical acclaim, and staying power, is “John Wick.” In fact they are coming out with a fourth movie pretty soon. I feel like “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” even though it is directed by Patrick Hughes once again, is Lionsgate making it known that they want this to be a serious franchise. And honestly, if it does become as big as say “Fast & Furious,” they need to do much better. This film was NOT good.

The sad thing is, this film starts off fine. It’s a little absurd, but it’s fine. “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” starts off with of all things, an awards show for bodyguarding. The film continues as Michael Bryce goes to therapy as he is told to stop bodyguarding, and I’ll admit the scene ends with a couple lines that did get a laugh out of me. But as soon as the real action starts, where we see Ryan Reynolds and Salma Hayek in the middle of a fast-paced bike chase, the movie switches its goofiness into high gear. One of the first lines from Samuel L. Jackson’s character and how it is handled is something that I think could be taken in a couple manners. It’s either so goofy that it’s funny. Or, it is incredibly idiotic that the line was executed the way it was.

Apparently, Michael and Darius still hate each other, …I guess? So apparently they have not developed at all since the last movie. Just a reminder, Michael took a bullet for Darius in the last movie. And now apparently they still don’t like each other or barely show respect for each other. I don’t know! It feels forced! It feels like they’re just trying to copy the success of the first movie while lazily inserting something new. In fact there is a new subplot where apparently Darius and his wife, Sonia are trying to have a kid. Let’s just say that it barely adds anything to the movie until say the second half. There’s a point that feels as if Michael says something negative regarding this new reality almost forcibly just to keep said plot going along. It just feels so out of the blue. There are a lot of things that feel offish or out of the blue in this movie. I barely cared about the nearly one-dimensional characters who almost face no noticeable changes by the end. I barely cared about Antonio Banderas on the antagonistic side. I barely cared about anything! The action is not even as good as the original. The bike chase scene was good, there was one moment where Reynolds wielded a pool cue that was pretty funny, but that’s about it. The action overall just did not have the same flair that the original movie gave. This is not to say “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” was a masterpiece, but compared to the sequel, it was a good time.

This movie honestly feels like it is on ADHD. One moment it is here, one moment it is there, the next moment it is everywhere! I am not fully against unpredictable movies that go in weird directions, that is what makes stories interesting, the fact that you don’t know where they’re going. This movie was fairly predictable, but the moments that occurred almost every other minute regardless of predictability just came flying in my face and it is was just too much to take in, especially the bad moments. At times, this movie feels like it could work better as an action-based Fox Animation Domination cartoon. It is so hyperactive and non-stop that it barely gives me a needed moment to breathe, even in parts that are supposedly meant to be slower.

I also really hate the ending, because they supposedly “resolve” an extended plot line in the film in the most off-putting way possible. It’s honestly just weird to think about. I almost want to say what exactly happens in this moment, but I can’t because it is literally the last moment of the movie and if I spoiled it, I might be a jerk. Unfortunately, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” was a jerk to me in the process. You how I mentioned this movie can be predictable? Well, this was an out of left field, outlandish, unpredictable moment, but it is so unpredictable and batcrap crazy that thinking about it makes me want to throw up.

I’ll also add a positive before we go any further. The actors do a fine job with their performances. They are fine, but the sad thing is that the writing is just plain bad. It feels like they just whipped up this sequel in an hour! Apparently, this film was written by three people, including the sole writer of the original film, Tom O’Connor. I was not behind the scenes and I do not know any of these people personally, but if they do a third movie, I wonder if they should just let Tom O’Connor do the work himself because he could arguably be the butter that is woven so perfectly onto the bread that is the “Hitman’s Bodyguard” franchise. But seriously, Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are good actors, they play their parts well here. Although I will give extra praise to Salma Hayek, because judging by the title, she has a greater presence in this movie compared to the original, and she solidifies her presence from start to finish. I’ll also add, she seems to swear as much as, if not more than Samuel L. Jackson which says a lot as he is supposedly the guy who “single-handly ruined the word motherf*cker.”

In the end, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” almost feels like it purely exists to make money. Now, just about every movie ever made exists for that reason, but I think that some do a better job at hiding that reason than others. This honestly just feels like a cash grab that exists to capitalize on something that quite honestly, even though the original movie was good, I did not think would become a franchise. Could “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” become say the next “Fast & Furious” or something close to it? Maybe. “Fast & Furious” had some off days too. I think “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” is one of my least favorite movies to this day. That franchise is still kickin’! “F9” literally comes out this week! I honestly at this point do not want to see a third movie in this franchise. Maybe I’ll warm up to it over time, but this kind of left a toxic taste in my mouth that is hard to eliminate. You know that phrase “sequels are not as good as the original”? Well, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is exhibit A. I’m going to give “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” a 3/10.

This movie kind of reminded me of “Venom” because this was a movie that the audience I was with seemed to be fairly invested in for the most part, I felt like a good number of the people in the room enjoyed the movie more than me. I just couldn’t connect with them. More power to them, but for me, I think “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” feels better at this point as a one-off. This sequel should not have happened. I like the actors, I wish them well in their future roles, but this was a bad day at the office.

“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.

Thanks for reading this review! Later this week I will be sharing a brand new review for the Pixar animated movie “Luca.” Also, tomorrow I will be going to see “F9: The Fast Saga,” so look forward to my review for that as well. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account, and be sure to like the Facebook page so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard?” What did you think about it? Or, what movie is better? Do you prefer “The Hitman’s Bodyguard?” Or do you prefer “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!