Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021): This Ring-Filled Story Had Me Engaged Until the End

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Just Mercy, The Glass Castle) and stars Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience, Taken), Awkwafina (Raya and the Last Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians), Meng’er Zhang (Oliver Twist, Finding Destiny), Fala Chen (The Undoing, No Regrets), Florian Munteanu (Creed II, Bogat), Benedict Wong (Raya and the Last Dragon, Annihilation), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Crazy Rich Asians), Ben Kingsley (The Jungle Book, Gandhi), and Tony Leung (Infernal Affairs, In the Mood For Love). This film is the 25th feature-length project in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is about a guy named Shaun, also known as Shang-Chi, who reunites with his family and faces his past as he encounters the ten rings organization.

The Marvel train can’t stop, the Marvel train won’t stop. And honestly, despite a couple duds over the years like “Thor: The Dark World,” I am glad this train has yet to grind itself to a halt. Even though they were not perfect, I enjoyed the few Marvel shows we’ve gotten over the past number of months. I will also say that I enjoyed “Black Widow.” But additionally, as I watched some of this content, part of me became a tad worried, because I had a feeling regarding Marvel that I last felt in 2017 when “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” came out. While both movies had their moments, I think both “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” brought some level of disappointment to the table. And honestly, this feels weird to say, I may have had mixed feelings on “Thor: Ragnarok” too, even though I did find joy in it. Much like 2017, the 2021 Marvel slate has given viewers a fair share of “good” but it has yet to deliver that one gem that is comparable to say “Thor” or “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”

Let me tell you something, I’m going to confirm straight out of the gate, “Shang-Chi” is not my favorite comic book movie of 2021. It’s got some tough competition with James Gunn’s “The Suicide Squad,” which received my first perfect score of the year when I reviewed it, but I think that Marvel greatness is coming back with “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” I would say that as a Marvel fan, I was excited for “Black Widow” when they first announced it, and they executed it in a way that could please a Marvel fan like myself. But with “Shang-Chi,” I think it is going to do a better job at getting a wider audience to appreciate it over time. This is not just your standard Marvel movie with all your heroics, big booms, and such. This is a story that I feel could appeal to almost anyone. I would be SHOCKED if anyone comes out of this movie giving it a 1/10. Why? Because at the end of the day, this movie has one fun scene after the next with dozens of cool ideas and likable characters along the way. While I would not call this movie the next “Back to the Future,” I would put it aside that film in terms of accessibility to all audiences. Because that film is sci-fi, romance, comedy, adventure, and action all in one. It has a little something for everyone and each “something” is done to perfection. “Shang-Chi” I would say is a fine mix of action, mythology, comedy, family drama, and adventure.

I have never said this about any Marvel movie. Maybe with the exception of “Guardians of the Galaxy…” I would show this to my mother someday. For the record, she is *not* in the target audience for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I know the MCU can appeal to a wide number of people (Look at “Endgame’s” box office!), but these movies were not ever something that would appeal to my mother specifically. Maybe if I was 8, dad was busy, I could not go to the movies by myself, or if we had some sort of family outing, she would have gone to see one of these Marvel films with me, but I would be surprised if she went to one of these films because she wanted to or if she had any excitement to check one out. I would not be surprised if I had to maybe bribe my mother to watch this film on one occasion or another, but if my mother asked me, “Would I like ‘Shang-Chi?'” My answer would be a “Yes.” And part of that is because of the heart of the film. The heart being, Simu Liu and Awkwafina as Shaun and Katy. These are two people who have been best friends for years and to me they are arguably the most fun pair in recent cinematic history. While I will say that “The Suicide Squad” is still my favorite comic book movie, not to mention favorite movie in general of 2021, I think “Shang-Chi” is going to arguably end up being this year’s biggest crowd-pleaser.

Speaking of, shoutout to Simu Liu for giving a great performance as the character of Shaun. I have not seen much of Liu’s work. I know he is one of the starring roles in “Kim’s Convenience,” which I hear is a really good show, but I have not seen much of it. Frankly, Liu’s performance as Shang-Chi, which to me, evoked a vibe between fun and brooding, made me excited to see what else he could do in the MCU. As for “Kim’s Convenience,” who knows? Maybe I’ll get around to it. But I have way too many things on my plate when it comes to content and life, so we shall see. Also, the man is quite the action star! In the first half of the film, there’s some choreography that comes off as butter smooth. It feels natural, exciting, and fast. I love it! There’s not much evidence in the film that Liu ever needed a double while doing the action scenes, which if anything, pleases me to no end. One of my favorite action stars today is Tom Cruise because he will take any opportunity, practically to meme-worthy points, to do his own stunts. I’m glad that Simu Liu is taking an opportunity to do the same.

You want action? This movie’s got it! This movie does what Marvel does best and delivers one of its finest examples of quality. “Shang-Chi” does a great job at mixing epic action with gutbusting humor, and this is heavily exemplified in the bus scene. The scene is simple. Shaun and Katy are on a bus together, a guy comes up to Shaun, wants his pendant, and he just starts busting everybody in this magnificently fast series of punches and kicks. I won’t go into what makes the scene funny, as I had no idea what was going to happen going in so I’ll let everyone else do the same. However, what makes this scene so awesome is that it sort of grounds the movie despite being in something as fantastical as the MCU. There’s not really any superhuman crap going on here. Well, kind of… There’s some suspension of disbelief that could be brought to the table. It’s just martial arts and trying to survive. Not only is this a breathtaking scene from the heavy duty stunts and eye-popping camerawork, but it also does a good job at progressing the story of the film and establishing a key point of Shaun and Katy’s relationship. Katy’s reactions to this incident could not have been written any better.

Now, you may have seen in the trailer that Wong of “Doctor Strange” fame was going to make an appearance in “Shang-Chi.” If you wanted to know, Wong is in the movie for a number of minutes, but he does not have too much of an impact on the plot from start to finish. He’s in the fight club, he’s in the movie a little later, won’t say when, but if you are a fan of Wong, which I am, I’m sure that his appearance in this film won’t disappoint. Honestly, this movie made me like Wong more, because it did a good job at making him show off a fun personality. Here it is shown that Wong seems to be the kind of guy that you would not mind going out and a having a few drinks with.

As far as origin stories go, “Shang-Chi” excels. In fact, it is up there with “Thor” as one of my favorite origin stories of the MCU. When it comes to the story of this film, much like “Thor,” one of the core aspects of the film is the family drama a good number of the characters experience for themselves. Much of “Thor” was a battle between two brothers trying to impress their father, and in “Shang-Chi,” it’s a situation where the main protagonist is doing whatever he can to disassociate himself with his father. The family drama in “Shang-Chi” had my attention all the way through because I cared about the characters and there comes a point where Shang-Chi’s past catches up to him and he seems to regret everything that happened in his childhood. This is what makes him a broken hero, not so squeaky clean, and much of the backstory and flashbacks regarding what made Shang-Chi who he is happened to be incredibly compelling.

Oh yeah, Awkwafina is a goldmine in this movie. I already mentioned that the relationship between Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi” is one of my favorite relationships in recent cinema, but part of what makes that relationship blossom is Awkwafina’s performance in the film as Katy. She feels so hyperactive, fun, and the real life version of caffeine! I already admire Awkwafina as a performer, just look at what she did in “The Farewell,” one of my favorite movies of 2019. But “Shang-Chi” proves that one of her strengths is comedy. And honestly, she’s having one heck of a year as far as her resume is concerned, because I already loved her in “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which turned out to be at one point, what I would consider to be the year’s best film. While I will say I like “Raya and the Last Dragon” a bit better than “Shang-Chi,” I think “Shang-Chi” will be a better reference to Awkwafina’s talent as a performer as it gives her a space to be dynamic and all over the place. I went through this entire movie wanting her to be my best friend, I think that is the best thing I can say about her. Honestly, if there is one thing I want after seeing “Shang-Chi,” it’s not just more of Katy, it’s more of Awkwafina in general. After seeing her in this film, I went from liking her, to legit wanting to treat her to lunch.

The flaws present in “Shang-Chi” are minimal. Again, I go back to my “Back to the Future” comparison, this is a film that I think just about anyone could enjoy, but it does not mean it is perfect. Before posting this review, I saw this film twice, and both times, I walked out saying the same thing, which is weird to say as a Marvel fan. This film becomes way too extravagant towards the end. You know how a lot of Marvel movies by the end like “The Avengers” or “Iron Man 3” will end in this big climactic battle? Everything is balls to the wall and flying in your face! CGI is everywhere! You can feel the production budget right in between your eyes! “Shang-Chi,” much like those movies, has that. But in the case of “Shang-Chi,” even though the film is by no means small, it feels weird seeing this big climactic sequence when the first half of the film feels natural and clean in terms of its action scenes. I will not do a deep dive into the second half of the film, but a lot happens and sometimes it can be overwhelming. It’s good stuff. Sometimes it’s great stuff, But when you take the fight choreography in the beginning of the film and compare it with everything towards the end, I find it to be a weird change of pace, even though it does at times match the opening scene, which by the way is an incredible opening scene, one of the best in the MCU. My question to myself is, if the story and characters were unlikable, how much would my opinion differ? It’s just something I want to keep on the backburner.

If you read my review for “Black Widow,” one of my complaints about that film, even though I liked it, is that at times, it felt like it was trying too hard to set up other MCU content. And this also brings in a growing complaint, or concern depending on how you look at it, that I have with the Marvel Disney+ shows like “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.” My worry for the future of the MCU is that I will either have to watch a movie to understand what goes on in a television show, or the other way around. I am accustomed to seeing all of the MCU’s content on one specific medium, specifically feature films. As much as I like some things about the MCU shows, watching the MCU is starting to feel like homework. That’s not the case with “Shang-Chi,” and I say that for a couple reasons. First, the movie in general kicks ass. Second, the film feels like a contained story. Sure, it has Abomination in it. Sure, it has Wong in it. But “Shang-Chi” focuses best on being a great movie first as opposed to being a commercial for other MCU content. If you are not an MCU fan and want a place to start, I would not stop you from watching this first. It’s fun, action-packed, hilarious, and it has a little something for every viewer.

Also, I want to just say two words… Hotel. California.

In the end, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of the best movies of the year, and also one of the easiest to recommend to people. Going back to what I said about “The Suicide Squad,” which to be clear, is currently my favorite movie of the year, perhaps by a long shot. That is a film that I immensely enjoyed, arguably because it was made for someone like me. When it comes to “Shang-Chi,” there’s obviously a target audience, but I would not mind showing this movie to someone outside of that target audience and seeing what they think of it because I think they would get a kick out of it. The action is big, the pacing is fast, and I am looking forward to seeing more of Shang-Chi in the MCU. As for his pal Katy, I would like to call her my new best friend. I’m going to give “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” an 8/10.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now playing in theaters everywhere and it is also available in 3D and IMAX.

Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for “Malignant” which has been out for over a week. Take this statement however you want, but I’ve had a lot of thoughts on this movie. Let’s just leave it at that. Also, just recently I went to a local theater to check out “Copshop,” so I will have a review on that coming your way as well. If you want to see more from 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 “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?” What did you think about it? Or, what upcoming Marvel project, I’ll even include television shows, are you looking forward to the most? For me, it’s “Eternals.” The concept sounds engaging, the cast is incredible, a lot of it is done on location, and Academy Award-winning director Chloe Zhao is the director. THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS. Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Free Guy (2021): Grand Theft Awesome

“Free Guy” is directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel) and stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Proposal), Jodie Comer (Killing Eve, The White Princess), Lil Rel Howrey (Uncle Drew, The Carmichael Show), Utkarsh Ambudkar (The Mindy Project, The Muppets), Joe Keery (Stranger Things, Chicago Fire), and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit). This film is primarily set in Free City, a massive sandbox video game where players can control characters through a massive city and go on missions. Guy, an NPC (non-playable character), discovers the secrets of the game and breaks the rules of his own character. While he is typically a bank teller who often finds himself in the middle of a robbery, he gets bored of doing the same thing over and over again and decides to level up his life while also trying to win the girl of his dreams.

I love Ryan Reynolds. The word “movie star” does not have as big of an impact as it may have years ago with faces including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Will Smith dominating the big screen with their blockbuster titles. There are a few big “movie stars” that have risen to astronomical heights over the years including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and others who have maintained their fame for years including Tom Cruise. When it comes to the conversation of which actor is currently the biggest star in the world, Ryan Reynolds has to be in the conversation every single time. He is one of Canada’s finest exports and adds a flair to every movie he’s in. This even includes ones I don’t like such as “The Croods” or “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

The concept of “Free Guy” by itself, where a video game NPC increasingly gains a sense of consciousness and humanity, is already one that could be considered a recipe for greatness. But if you put Ryan Reynolds into the picture, you’ve taken a great movie and bumped up its power by five times. This is a film that had a bumpy road in terms of its marketing. In fact I think the best trailer we got of the film was in 2019 when it made fun of Disney for putting out its animated titles in live-action form. I thought it was genius because it sounded like humor that would associate with Ryan Reynolds, especially considering how he has dominated the meta humor concept with a film like “Deadpool” and its sequel. The trailers after weren’t bad, but they did not live up to the original for me. Although there was a great piece of marketing that had Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool sitting next to Korg (Taika Waititi) doing what could only be a parody of a YouTube trailer reaction video. I was excited for this film despite the mixed road to get to the official release. And I say that even without acknowledging the ongoing pandemic, not that it should be forgotten.

What did I think of “Free Guy?”

Simply put, I had a lot of fun with “Free Guy.” When it comes to movies set in a video game universe, I think “Ready Player One,” which “Free Guy” reminded me of at times and is coincidentally also written by Zak Penn, is a slightly better film. But “Free Guy” takes a cool concept and gives it a smooth execution in the end. And I should not be surprised that this film is as good as it is. Because director Shawn Levy, whose recent projects include Paramount’s “Arrival” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” is a master at creating a film for everyone. One of my favorite films from my childhood is “Night at the Museum.” It is a film that does not exactly feel like it is being targeted at kids, but when it comes to both titles, many children could watch the film, understand much of what is going on, and appreciate everything in front of them. At the same time, adults could watch this film and have a great time with it. The first two films in that particular franchise have been a cornerstone of movie nights in my family. To see Levy do a movie like this does not surprise me, and if anything else, it pleases me.

For starters, it is an original idea, which in terms of blockbusters, feel very few and far between. In fact, this is technically the first Disney original live action film in years (technically because 20th Century Fox made it). I just love seeing creative, never before seen ideas come to life and “Free Guy” is a fine example of that.

Also, if the last couple decades have proven anything, people love video games, including me. Much of my childhood has been spent pushing the buttons on my Nintendo devices, so the idea of this film has a special place in my heart. I find it fascinating that this movie chooses to focus on someone who could be anyone and have them evolve. We look nowadays at video game NPCs as tools to let the player do their thing. But to have what is technically a tool sprout into something more is flat out fascinating. Yeah, it kind of feels like that cliche idea that “anyone’s special,” which as Dash from “The Incredibles,” would suggest, “which is another way of saying no one is.” It’s a cliche idea, but it is brought to life through something incredibly creative in addition to Ryan Reynolds’s terrific encapsulation of Guy.

One thing I’ve always noticed while I play a video game is that when you go by NPCs, they’ll often spew the same things out of their mouth over and over. A big part of that is because they’re portrayed by a certain actor, and actors will record a limited number of lines for a certain character, therefore they can only do so much. Therefore, NPCs are usually one-dimensional, do not have much personality, and are often in the background. In the case of Guy, I think Ryan Reynolds did a good job at making the character not feel flat or putting him in a sphere that makes his personality limited. In fact, Reynolds brings a sense of hyperactivity to his character despite him having a life that most would consider boring. Guy is a banker who drinks the same cup of coffee every day and says good morning to his goldfish by his bedside. This is an everyday routine for him, but he seems to accept it because he’s programmed that way.

Now I like Taika Waititi, but I think “Free Guy” has only increased the chances of me wanting to get together with the dude for lunch. You know how a lot of films directed towards young audiences will have an over the top villain? Taika Waititi’s character of Antwan almost seems to find himself within the confines of that description. Not that this movie is specifically for children, but nevertheless. In a lot of cases, this could be a turnoff because then the film could become a live-action cartoon, but not in “Free Guy!” If anything, Waititi’s performance is an utter enhancement in this film. The mixture of his lines and hyped up antics arguably makes him the best character of the movie. It kind of reminds me of another film Shawn Levy directed, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” because that film’s villain was Kahmunrah, and he was perhaps written and presented in such a way that could arguably make him cartoony, but it was presented in such a way where Levy and actor Hank Azaria seemed to embrace the silly that the script listed. As far as “Free Guy” is concerned, Taika Waititi plays a guy who might as well be jacked up on Red Bull all the time and does not seem to care much about others. As far as I’m concerned, I love the execution of this character, and I almost wonder if part of why it worked so well was because of the casting. I cannot imagine anyone other than Waititi playing Antwan at this point.

Without spoilers, the climax of “Free Guy” is a thing of beauty. The film just goes straight into becoming “Garry’s Mod” of all things. There’s some stuff in this climax that I had almost zero warning about going into it, and I think if you want to have the same reaction, do everything you can to avoid any online discussion about the end of the film. It is in a word, “epic.”

If I had any problems with “Free Guy” it would be that the film does get into some impractical nonsense by the end that comes off more or less as a plot convenience more than anything else. It is not a humungous turnoff as the rest of the film is nicely structured but there’s one moment towards the end that feels jumbled in terms of execution, and it’s a pretty important one. Maybe in the script, it sounds more coherent, but in the final product, it sounds kind of… pun intended, pixelated. It’s kind of sad considering the impact the moment was trying to deliver, but for some reason, they could not stick the landing.

This one moment does not take much away from the literal joy I achieved from watching “Free Guy.” “Free Guy” is a crazy, fun adventure. I love the setting, I love the idea, I love how it seems to have fun with our modern video game culture and how much of a cash cow it has become in addition to being heavy entertainment. I left this movie wanting more. I want to see more of Guy, Molotov Girl, Buddy, all the characters in this film were utter delights. I legit think that this is a movie that anyone could watch and enjoy. I sometimes go to see movies with my mom, and most of the movies I see with her are ones that usually are not action heavy or horror heavy. Despite the action heaviness of “Free Guy,” I legit think that this is a movie that my mother could put on and have a ball with despite some things being there that she may not usually tend to see on screen. If you like action, you’ll definitely like this movie, but the crew behind “Free Guy,” whether they intended to or not, did a really good job at creating something that a lot of people could find themselves attached to, even if it wasn’t specifically made for them. In that sort of way, I highly recommend “Free Guy” to anyone reading this and their friends.

In the end, “Free Guy” may solidify Ryan Reynolds as one of the finest Canadians to ever live and the film itself is easily one of my favorites of the year. Disney did not release this film on streaming. Granted, I do not know if they could have contractually, 20th Century Fox movies still go straight to HBO months after release. But from everything I’ve read, Disney practically had all the faith in the world given towards this movie. Based on what has been created, “Free Guy” has massive franchise potential. Heck, I could see this thing becoming a Disney ride at some point. The film is immersive, fun, bonkers, and just a straight up good time. “Free Guy” by the way is set in two different places. The real world and the game of “Free City.” to my surprise, the stuff that happens in the real world has the same level of intrigue as everything that happens in the world of “Free City.” To have the escape be as interesting as the world from which people are trying to escape is definitely pleasing. I’m going to give “Free Guy” an 8/10.

Also, if you need another reason to see this movie, you’ll get to see Alex Trebek one last time. Seeing him on screen brought a smile to my face and I am sure it will for many other viewers as well.

“Free Guy” is now playing exclusively in theaters and IMAX. Get your tickets now!

Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that on Monday, August 23rd, I will be sharing my thoughts on “Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.” The film is not as often talked about as the original, partially because it was made for television. But I am here to talk about it as we dive deeper into my ongoing review series, “Revenge of the Nerds: Nerds in Review” as we celebrate Scene Before’s fifth anniversary. And speaking of reviews, be sure to stay tuned for my review of “Don’t Breathe 2.” I just saw the film last night and I intend to talk about it soon. If you want to read all this and more on Scene Before, be sure to follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Free Guy?” What did you think about it? Or, if you could put yourself in the universe of any video game, which one would it be? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Jungle Cruise (2021): Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt Sail Through a Mediocre Run Through the Amazon

“Jungle Cruise” is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown, The Shallows) and stars Dwayne Johnson (The Fate of the Furious, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns, A Quiet Place), Jack Whitehall (The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Mother’s Day), Edgar Ramírez (Gold, Point Break), with Jesse Plemons (Game Night, Judas and the Black Messiah), and Paul Giamatti (12 Years a Slave, Sideways). This film is based on the Disney theme park ride of the same name and is set during World War I. Throughout the film we see the mysterious ship captain Frank Wolff, who gives cheap tours through the Amazon River, join forces with Lily Houghton as they search for a tree that contains magical healing powers. While their intentions are to use it for good, Germany has other plans to utilize the power of the tree in order to win the war.

I saw “Jungle Cruise” on opening Thursday in the theater and safe to say, I had moderate expectations going in. I was not expecting Shakespeare, in fact most movies starring The Rock, regardless of his acting talent, are not usually taken as seriously as others. The trailers looked okay, they seemed to have promised a generic adventure that is somewhat family friendly despite being PG-13. In fact, the more I think about it, it kind of looked like a better version of “Dolittle,” as the plot of that film also involved finding a specific tree for healing purposes. There were plenty of people at my screening. It was not a sold out show, but it was good to see families returning to the theater. I went by myself, because I’m awesome, I’m important, and goddamnit, I’m the absolute best! But is “Jungle Cruise” worth the trip? In addition, is it worth $30 on Disney+?

“Jungle Cruise” certainly ain’t no “Indiana Jones.” Or “Pirates of the Caribbean” if you want to get into other theme park ride-based films. Well, the first one to be specific. If anything, “Jungle Cruise” is more in line with the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It’s a fun film to watch once and then forget about. I will admit, I had quite a few problems with this film as I sat down trying to take it all in. This is one of those rare times where I watch a film and think that Dwayne Johnson is not exactly likable. I mean, sure, I can probably find one or two other films where that is the case. “Tooth Fairy” is another one that comes to mind. But if I have learned one thing in recent years, it’s that regardless of his acting ability, Dwayne Johnson is one of the most charismatic movie stars out there today. He’s up there with Tom Hanks and Ryan Reynolds. Two actors who I think are more talented than The Rock, but there is no denying that they have delivered dumptrucks of likability over the years just from their personalities and how they present themselves on screen.

I’m not saying The Rock is a dick in this film or anything. I just find the way they wrote his character to be somewhat of a letdown. You know, one of the best things about movies like “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Memento,” and “Parasite,” without getting into detail, are the twists and turns these movies take along the way. “Jungle Cruise” is no stranger to this idea, but there was one subversion of my expectations that happened in the first twenty minutes of the film regarding The Rock’s character that made him go from a badass hunk of a man to… Somebody. I dunno. The point is, right off the bat, the character did not leave me with the best first impression. In fact, one of first scenes in the movie with this character, Frank Wolff, is him giving a tour through the Amazon River. The tour itself is notably cheap and lacks an oomph factor. That was the intention on the script’s part, therefore I am not calling this a critique. But the thing is, the whole scene is just The Rock trying to give a boring tour while delivering so many dad jokes. And that’s a thing throughout the movie. Dad jokes! Dad jokes everywhere! Who wrote this movie? 7 year olds? I have never ridden the ride this movie bases itself upon, but apparently, according to what I’ve heard about the Jungle Cruise ride itself, there’s a tour guide on the ride, and that tour guide will spew out dad jokes here and there. While I appreciate the nods to the source material, I’ll be blunt and say this doesn’t rock.

Goddamnit.

I will say that one of my regrets, despite seeing this in the theater, part of me wishes I saw it in 3D or some large premium format. I ended up seeing the film in regular 2D as that was the most convenient timeslot. But if you want a visual feast, this may be worth the trip. The same cannot be said for the story though, at least from my perspective. Because while it is unpredictable at times, it is surface level and the unpredictability is not precisely impressive.

Although I will say that one of my highlights of the film would be some of the supporting cast. Jesse Plemons has been great in everything I’ve seen him in so far, so naturally he is also great in “Jungle Cruise.” Here he plays Prince Joachim, an over the top German aristocrat who stands in the way of the heroes. Plemons does not even feel like himself in this movie. He feels like he’s playing someone from another world at times. Granted, it is a Disney film, where a little over the top sprinkles are encouraged. I will also note Jack Whitehall as Lily’s brother, MacGregor, who comes along for the cruise. Whitehall comes off as a likable coward who almost tries to be the voice of reason but does so almost poorly. I think he is easily one of the better parts of the film the more I think about it.

Disney has tried time and time again to recreate the success of “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Whether “Jungle Cruise” gets a sequel or not is still somewhat questionable on the surface because of the pandemic. The movie did not do too great thus far theatrically or on Disney+. But when it comes to movies based on Disney’s theme park rides, this feels more focused on gimmicks and immersion compared to story. The story is okay, but it is most certainly not great. If you have a family and are looking for an excuse to leave the house, I’d say see this in the most immersive format you can afford. It may be fun for a couple of hours, but I cannot guarantee you will remember it much after.

In the end, “Jungle Cruise” is mediocrely paced, more focused on style over substance, and MY GOD the dad jokes never end! That’s a weird complaint coming from me, because if you know my family, specifically my father’s side, we get together a lot and we are no strangers to puns. In fact, for those of you who do not know, my last name is Drees, and on my father’s side of the family, we call puns and other related jokes “Drees humor” just because of how commonplace it has become when we are around each other. Either way, they did not work in “Jungle Cruise.” I think Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are a fair pair. Although I wish the script served the actors better, especially Johnson. The film does look nice, but looks are not everything. I want a good story too, but “Jungle Cruise” failed in that regard. I’m going to give “Jungle Cruise” a 5/10.

“Jungle Cruise” is now playing in theaters and it is also available through Disney+ with Premier Access for $29.99 on top of a subscription.

Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review for a film based on a Disney theme park ride, why not read five more?! Be sure to check out my reviews for all five “Pirates of the Caribbean” films including “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” “On Stranger Tides,” and “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” I reviewed all of these films as part of recognizing Scene Before’s 5th anniversary in an exclusive series titled “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews!”

Continuing down the road of Scene Before’s 5th anniversary, this Monday I will be unveiling my thoughts on the 1984 sex comedy “Revenge of the Nerds” as a starting point of the upcoming review series, “Revenge of the Nerds: Nerds in Review.” As I’ve said previously, my in-depth thoughts on this film, not to mention franchise, feels like it is long overdue.

Speaking of things we’ve all been waiting for, this weekend we are finally getting to watch “The Suicide Squad!” I have IMAX tickets for Saturday, I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you. James Gunn, I have faith in you, do not let me down. If you want to see all 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 “Jungle Cruise?” What did you think about it? Or, did you ever go on the Jungle Cruise ride? What was that like? Leave your thoughts and opinions down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017): Jack Sparrow’s Least Memorable Quest Yet

Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! It is time for the fifth and final installment in the ongoing review series “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews!” So far, each film I have talked about has impressed me in one way or another. I cannot say any of them were totally perfect, but I do recommend them for various reasons. If you want to find out more about why I recommend these movies, read my reviews for “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Dead Man’s Chest,” “At World’s End,” and “On Stranger Tides.” Now with that out of the way, it is time to talk about “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, two directors known for their work on 2012’s “Kon Tiki.” This film stars Johnny Depp (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sleepy Hollow), Javier Bardem (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, No Country For Old Men) Geoffrey Rush (Ned Kelly, Finding Nemo) Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Gods of Egypt), Kaya Scodelario (Skins, The Maze Runner), and Kevin McNally (The Phantom of the Opera, Conspiracy). “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the fifth installment to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and follows Jack Sparrow as he is pursued by a notable, ongoing threat, Captain Salazar, who was killed some time ago by Sparrow but now he returns to end Jack Sparrow’s life.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”..The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) pursues Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon..Ph: Film Frame..©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

So far, the “Pirates” films have all been at the very least… “competent.” Even “Dead Man’s Chest,” which I ended up giving a 6/10, still had its moments of joy and fun. I think Gore Verbinski did a wonderful job at finding a fascinating balance between goofiness and seriousness with the first three films, even though as the trilogy progressed, the darkness kept creeping up. Although given my personal tastes, I would not call that a huge negative. As mentioned in my review for “On Stranger Tides,” Rob Marshall took on directing duties for that particular installment, which ended up providing mixed results. I enjoyed the movie. It’s a serviceable “Pirates” adventure, but I feel like Marshall, the writers, and Disney spent more time trying to think about how the film could look good in 3D as opposed to crafting a story, which is kind of unfortunate because I was rather interested in the Fountain of Youth concept.

On that note, I will address that my first positive regarding “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” despite it ultimately being released in 3D, the directors of the film did a better job at not going over the top in terms of making the film feel more like a gimmick. At the same time though I will jump to my first negative, this film is arguably my least favorite film in the “Pirates” franchise in terms of story.

On paper, I feel like this fifth film was made more or less to get people paid rather than provide an entertaining experience. I mean, come on! Was everyone so desperate for a fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film? But as I have learned with “The LEGO Movie,” any movie can work if you execute it properly. Did they properly execute “Dead Men Tell No Tales?”

Well, kinda. Like all the other “Pirates” films, this is an enjoyable watch. But it may also arguably be the one of the bunch that has the least potential in terms of replay value. Or at least replay value mixed with excitement. I do like how they go down the Turner lineage in this film. In the original movies we obviously see Orlando Bloom play Will Turner, a character who I have grown to admire throughout the franchise. Unfortunately, he did not have a presence in the fourth movie. In this fifth installment, we mainly focus on his son, Henry Turner. We see him early on, he’s ordered by Captain Salazar to deliver a message to Sparrow. Then we eventually see him alongside Sparrow throughout the film. I think Thwaites is one of those actors who definitely has the physique, or lack thereof in this case mixed in with some hints of charisma, to play the type of character a script like this one needs. I did not like “Gods of Egypt.” I think it is one of the worst films to have come out in 2016. But the main problem was not Brenton Thwaites as a performer. I think of the direction given to him and some of the other cast members is a hindrance on the film itself, but Thwaites is not the problem. In the same way, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is probably my least favorite of the “Pirates” films. But there are also things to like about it, Brenton Thwaites’s performance is in fact one of those things. Although when it comes to Turners, Henry is no Will. I feel like Orlando Bloom was born to play Will Turner. As much of a match Thwaites is as his son, Will’s just a slightly more likable character. I bought Orlando Bloom as a brave apprentice in “The Curse of the Black Pearl” and ever since he has grown on me. If they make a “Pirates 6,” which seems less likely by the day given what’s going on with Johnny Depp, who does a good job in the movie, I would be curious to see Henry Turner again, I just don’t know if he’ll maintain the charisma that his father had.

If you want to get a simple perspective of my thoughts on “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” I will just sum it up like this. Even though “Dead Man’s Chest” earned a lower grade than the other four films I reviewed before this one, I at least remember a good portion of that film. I am increasingly forgetting “Dead Men Tell No Tales” by the second. It’s not that I want to forget it. It’s just not as great of a film as maybe I would have hoped to have gotten. In fact one of my complaints regarding “Dead Man’s Chest” that is also one of my complaints regarding “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is that Jack Sparrow goes through this event where he almost arguably should die. Now, it’s probably not as absurd as the one in “Dead Man’s Chest,” where we see Jack falling from such an enormous height and being completely okay. But if I put myself in another mindset, it also kind of is more absurd. It’s hard to compare these two unrealistic events in terms of which one ticks me off more. I’m not gonna say exactly what happens, but if you’ve seen “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” you probably know what I am referring to as soon as I say the word “guillotine.”

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”..The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) pursues Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon..Ph: Film Frame..©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I think if there’s one thing that I like about “Dead Men Tell No Tales” it’s that there is a sense of maintained consistency between this film and all the other ones that have been done so far. A lot of the familiar music returns in this installment. Some characters like Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, and Gibbs return as their charismatic selves. Per usual, the movie does make me want to immerse myself in a high-seas adventure. Although I feel like the fun that I had in this film is a far cry from the fun I had with say “The Curse of the Black Pearl.” The supporting characters in this film, and I will also admit that the first movie had this problem to a degree, were not as fascinating as the script was trying to make them out to be. Although I do think Kaya Scodelario and once again, Brenton Thwaites, gave competent performances.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”..The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) pursues Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon..Ph: Film Frame..©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In the end, I have already forgotten a good portion of “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” and I did not want to say that. This is easily my least favorite of the “Pirates” films. I do want to watch it again at some point. Maybe it’s better the second time, but based on the collective consensus, I think most people would agree with my statement. The film looks good, sounds good, is performed decently, but they just couldn’t stick the landing. It seems as if the directors did everything they could to recapture the magic of the original movie, but as they tried to do it, they just ended up making something that would make me tune out every now and then. The vibe is okay, I just wish that it were in a better movie. Do I want to see a “Pirates 6?” I wouldn’t say no. But if we do get one, I just hope it’s better than this. I’m going to give “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” a 5/10.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is available wherever you buy movies including DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. You can also subscribe to Disney+ and watch the movie there at your convenience.

Thanks for reading this review! Also, thanks for tuning in to my “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Chest of Reviews” series. I hope you enjoyed reading these reviews! Speaking of Disney theme park rides, be sure to stay tuned for my eventual review of “Jungle Cruise.” It won’t be my next post, I still have to review “Snake Eyes.” But it is coming!

Also, stay tuned for August because I will be diving into a cult classic series that I often look back on, “Revenge of the Nerds.” That’s right! On August 9th, we will be doing a brand new review series titled “Revenge of the Nerds: Nerds in Review!” This means on Monday, August 9th, I will be talking about the first “Revenge of the Nerds” installment, which has become one of my more rewatched comedies in recent years. On August 16th, I’ll be discussing “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise.” AND YES, I’ll even discuss the TV films. Look forward to my reviews of “Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation” on August 23rd and “Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love” on August 30th. I’m doing this review series, in addition to a bunch of others in honor Scene Before’s fifth anniversary. I have always wanted to do a “Revenge of the Nerds” themed month, so I cannot wait to share my thoughts on this long-awaited series. If you want to see this and more on Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account, and like the Facebook page, so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, did you see “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales?” What did you think about it? Or, give me your ranking of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films from best to worst. Which swashbuckling adventure is following its compass into the right direction? Which high-seas escape sinks into the ocean? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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!

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!

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!

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!