Our Flag Means Death review: an engrossing pirate comedy – at last

It’s easy to watch HBO’s pirate comedy Max Our flag means death and immediately enter it as “Taika Waititi Latest Project”. Waititi, director of Thor: RagnarokWhat do we do in the darkand Hunting for the wilds, the executive producer of the show, co-starred in it, and directed the pilot. And that pilot in particular feels akin to his version of What do we do in the dark, with pirates instead of vampires. The humor, built around a cocky, arrogant pirate captain and his crew of quirks and baddies, fits directly into one of Waititi’s favorite themes: the lighthearted, often hilarious conflict between how people picture themselves and how everyone else sees them. Like almost all of his best comedies, it’s completely pointless and utterly ridiculous at the same time.

But ultimately, the series is the vision of creator, showrunner and writer David Jenkins. And after that setting, he takes the series in directions that those expecting a Waititi comedy might not expect – directions that make the show truly memorable and admirable, rather than just The lighthearted, disposable comedy that the first episodes teased. Waititi is certainly no stranger to heartfelt beats or big drama, but the more the show builds over the course of its 10-episode season, the more it comes from a particular, distinctive voice. completely different. That’s why it’s a good idea to skip the premiere and wait a week before you watch it, until there’s enough of the series so you can get hooked and have a better understanding of what really makes the show worth the investment.

There isn’t really anything wrong with the show’s opening episodes, which introduce “gentleman pirate” Stede Bonnet and his crew, and set all the important gears in motion. . Stede, played by Rhys Darby (a longtime associate of Waititi, and the head “Werewolves, not werewolves” pack in What do we do in the dark), was a real plantation owner in the 18th century who abandoned his family, chartered a ship and declared himself a pirate captain, despite his complete lack of experience at sea. Darby demonstrates his incompetence with the hilt: His version of Stede is a connoisseur, soft-spoken, unarmed, sailing, and commanding. He’s more suited to garden parties and lace shopping than airplane action or stormy weather, and that’s immediately evident in everything he says and does.

British navy man Connor Barrett holds up a hand-sewn pirate flag with a skull biting a smaller skull, as pirates Ewen Bremner, Matthew Maher and Nat Faxon, disguised as gentleman sailor nasty, very attractive in Our Flag Means Death

Photo: Jake Giles Netter / HBO Max

His crew isn’t very clear about him, but they aren’t exactly murderous either: The squad consists of cannibal naked Buttons (Trainspotting‘s Ewen Bremner), frigid man artist Frenchie (Undergroundby Joel Fry), mocking John Feeney (Game of Thrones‘Hodor, Kristian Nairn) is deceived by a Swedish gang (Nat Faxon), and the wanton mutant Black Pete (Matthew Maher). Only the soft-spoken Oluwande (Samson Kayo) and the silent knife enthusiast Jim (Vico Ortiz) show the ability and bravery, or at least the willingness to endure a situation where they are paid a steady salary and Don’t risk your life on the actual ship- ship combat.

But with so many characters to introduce, the pilot is exceptionally light-hearted and goofy, mostly centered around Stede putting his reluctant crew in a contest to sew the best pirate flag for the world. ship. And the warm-up doesn’t hint much at what comes next, when Stede meets the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Waititi, in a dramatic, standout performance). The program follows Stede’s life-wide specs enough that his Wikipedia page could be considered a major series of vandalism. But what’s missing from the history books is what fueled Stede and Blackbeard’s relationship, and that’s what Jenkins is looking to fill in the show. When that process begins, Our flag means death completely found its place, its heart, and the movie underpins all the wacky characters and comic jokes.

Waititi’s show introduces Blackbeard very early on, along with early hints about other elements that will become important to the big picture, including Stede’s feelings about his wife Mary (Claudia O’ Doherty), Jim’s secrets and backstory, and Black Pete’s uncanny desire to be seen as a real pirate. But the seasons don’t quite come together until around episode 4, when Jenkins begins to reveal his larger intentions. Before that, the series was a perfectly lovable collection of absurd settings built around delightful guest stars, like Leslie Jones and Fred Armisen as a bar-owner couple, or Rory Kinnear as a claustrophobic British navy soldier. There’s a lot of Waititi-style humor, with one kind of character ignorant, self-respecting, and self-delusional, and the other sloppy, weird, and prone to failure.

Taika Waititi as Blackbeard brooding in the vivid blue sky in Our Flag Means Death

Photo: Aaron Epstein / HBO Max

However, when the final setup is complete, Our flag means death becoming something very emotional: a story of identity and friendship, of how hard it is for anyone to realize who they really are, when alone and with others, both have their traps and distractions. Over the course of the 10 full episodes made available to critics, Jenkins’ series never lost its comical angle or low humour – Bremner proudly ran around acts of rude, vocal spitting. Scotland’s height is almost impenetrable, which is a joke that keeps getting bigger throughout the show. But the story finds some real resonance when looking at how people romanticize their place in the world and miss the connections they might have in reality, and how relationships are one. constant negotiation, as people’s needs and wants involve changing as they grow.

And in particular, Darby and Waititi’s performances just get better and more nuanced as the show unfolds. In the opening episodes, Stede is a man’s one-note joke, a bit of repetition that makes you start to be grateful early on. That’s unquestionably by design, but his deliberate, purposeful shallowness doesn’t make him any more shallow. And Blackbeard similarly began to have more myths than humans. However, once the movie moves into deeper waters, both men put so much charisma and nuance into these characters that the movie will be well worth watching just to see them interact. Waititi has always been as engaging on screen as he is when he’s behind the camera, but here, as a man who always shows new layers in every episode, he’s particularly engaging and interesting.

Apparently, it is possible to watch the opening episodes of Our flag means death at launch, and then come back later for more. But there’s so much content these days, and it’s easy to start one show and then lose track of other contests – especially something that started out as episodes and sitcoms like series. hey, there’s no obvious mystery making appointment view. And with a series that relies heavily on turning early funny stories into later drama, and incorporating big emotions from small beginnings, the binge experience can be a lot more engaging. . Can give Our flag means death pass this week. And then don’t miss out when you have the chance to get the full impact.

Episodes 1-3 of Our flag means death We Now streaming on HBO Maxwith two new episodes airing every Thursday.

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