After taking on superheroes, vampires and Hitler, Taika Waititi turns his hand to pirates as the star and executive producer of Our Flag Means Death, now showing on BBC Two in the UK. With an ingenious comic premise and a fantastic cast, this should have been a home run of hilarity. Instead, the end result really misses the mark.
The show’s ten-episode run focuses on Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a wealthy landowner in 1717 who has a midlife crisis and decides to leave his privileged life to become a pirate. He commissions the building of a ship, the Revenge, and hires a seasoned crew as he dubs himself a pirate captain and sets sail.
After months at sea, his crew are at the point of mutiny due to Stede’s non-violent manner and lack of pirating aptitude, despite enjoying the stories he reads them in the evening. Black Pete (Matthew Maher) tries his best to incite the others including Wee John (Kristian Nairn), Frenchie (Joel Fry) and Roach (Samba Schutte), while the ship’s scribe Lucius (Nathan Foad), Oluwande (Samson Kayo) and Jim (Vico Ortiz) try their best to help Stede do his best as captain.
When first mate Buttons (Rory Bremner) informs Stede of the impending mutiny by the crew, Stede tries his best to become a better pirate captain by attempting to pillage a nearby ship, which just happens to by a Royal Navy warship captained by Stede’s childhood bully Nigel Badminton (Rory Kinnear). Hi-jinks ensue as Stede tangles with friends and old foes, and more adventures lead him to dub himself the ‘Gentleman Pirate’. However, he soon finds himself in incredible danger after bringing his antics to the attention of the fearful pirate Blackbeard (Taika Waititi).
On paper, Our Flag Means Death sounds brilliant and I was really hoping it would be the pirate version of What We Do in the Shadows. But despite the fantastic premise and a brilliant cast, Our Flag Means Death never manages to shine the way it should. After the initial hilarious introduction to Stede and his crew, the first couple of episodes feel a little dull. The series picks up again once Waititi’s Blackbeard shows up and the relationship between him and Stede is truly a delight to watch, but it never gets to the heights it deserves.
There are some hilarious moments, usually witty retorts or quips from the crew – Kristian Nairn’s Wee John and Nathan Foad’s Lucius seem to get the lion’s share of these – and watching Waititi’s version of Blackbeard always raises a smile. There are also some great guest stars that add to the laughs, Nick Kroll and Kristen Schaal as French aristocrats is a particular highlight. What was also pleasantly surprising about the show was the amount of sweet and heartwarming moments, and the relationships that develop between different characters. These were rather unexpected and added more depth and heart to the otherwise entirely silly premise.
The problem is that despite having so many brilliant aspects, the show just doesn’t quite work. Yes there are moments that are funny and heartwarming, but it’s not enough and overall it just feels flat. It’s not nearly as funny as it should or could be and I felt that it tries a little too hard and just ends up missing the mark. It pains me to say it as it should’ve been brilliant and with such a stellar cast I wanted so much to love this, but I just couldn’t.
Our Flag Means Death had all the makings to be hilariously brilliant, but instead it never meets the expectations set by its cast and premise.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!