You know it’s summer when the blockbuster sequels come out to play. Already the news stories have trumpeted which movie had the biggest opening, and which one came along to knock it off the top. In a three-in-a-row trifecta, this summer sees the return of the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, and Spider-man series. Still going strong, none of these seem to be trilogy finales (though Pirates comes the closest). Each of these “part threes” are true to their predecessors but it’s a pity that they’re all just repeating more of the same.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
This was the one I was most looking forward to. The 2nd movie left us wondering how Will, Elizabeth, and resurrected Capt. Barbossa were going to sail to world’s end to rescue the Kraken-devoured Jack Sparrow. Dead Man’s Chest established a lot more of the pirate mythology, including the compass that points to heart’s desire, sea-demon Davy Jones, his beating heart, his sea monster and ghost ship, along with the pirate’s hell of Davy Jones’s Locker. At World’s End continues to build up the mythology with talk of pirate lords from the four corners of the world and the sea goddess Calypso. Chow Yun-Fat makes an appearance as Sao Feng the pirate lord of Singapore. He and the brethren of pirates have to find a way to stop the East India Trading Company (under the relentless Lord Beckett) from eliminating their way of life. Appropriately this movie falls into three parts: first the gang goes to “hell” (which is apparently just another sandy shore) to fetch Capt. Jack; the second is a lot of quick and confusing dialogue and various characters shifting their loyalties to suit one plan or another (it’s very confusing); finally, a climactic sea battle between the pirates and the navy is very drawn out (If you thought that the battles in Lord of the Rings were long, you’d better strap yourself to the mast for this one). They’ve overstuffed this movie with a lot of the same ingredients as before (much of it wasn’t really necessary). If you disliked the previous movie, I think you’ll like this one even less. I enjoyed Pirates 2, so I thought this one wasn’t bad. (4 out of 5)
Shrek the Third
I wasn’t really sure they needed to make a second Shrek movie (but I still enjoyed it), so a third one seems entirely like a money grab. A Shrek movie is always a delicate balance between the winking contemporary cultural references and the fairy tale satire, but I’m not sure they achieved it this time ’round. Shrek the Third had essentially two themes: fear of impending fatherhood (yup, Fiona’s expecting) and fear of being a loser (young royal loser cousin Artie is tapped as the next king). Frankly, I think the Shrek formula has shown itself a little weak — I hope that means there aren’t any more sequels. Even the villain of this movie was recycled (it’s Prince Charming leading a villains’ revolt sans fairy god-mommy). When he takes over the castle, y’know what he does? Stage a play! (Now I am a big fan of theatre, but seriously?) There was some funny high-school satire (when Shrek goes to fetch Artie from boarding school) that could have been further developed. But there was also a lame attempt at feminism when Fiona’s baby shower turns into a commando troop of fairy tale princesses (Can you believe they made the elegant Julie Andrews head-butt a wall? Twice!). As if that weren’t bad enough, there are a few schmaltzy speeches that just drain the wit right out of the scene. To top it all off, the Shrek babies weren’t even that cute. (3 out of 5)
This is truly a sequel to the other Spider-man movies which combine spectacular, large-scale comic-book action with incredibly trite attempts at character development. I understand that they’re trying to use all the super-powered stuff as metaphor for real-life issues, but it just doesn’t really work for me (or in any of the Spidey films). This time, we begin with Peter Parker’s life on a high note. Everything’s going great for him in his job, in his love life, etc. Unfortunately that doesn’t last (as if we thought that it would) and as his beloved MJ’s life takes a turn for the worse, he’s not there to be sensitive (which is a surprise because isn’t the only reason to hire Tobey Maguire is for him to play Mr. Sensitive?) Meanwhile new baddies appear, including a wad of black alien goo which becomes an evil outfit that takes Spidey to the dark side. (Why is it that people are always cooler, or at least think that they are, when they’re evil?) Between the new villains and his imploding private life, the script writers have really packed a bit too much into this moment for Spidey. That’s why I hate the character scenes in these movies so much. I get whiplash from the stop-and-go pacing, and there’s never enough time to make those dramatic scenes remotely believable (Mary Jane gets all bent out-of-shape because Spidey re-staged his upside-down kiss as a publicity stunt with another woman? Come on!) (3 out of 5)