OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH Is a Comedic Shipwreck to Sail Far Away From

HBO Max/YouTube

OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH Is a Comedic Shipwreck to Sail Far Away From

By Movieguide® Contributor

OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH is a 2022 historical pirate dramedy set in the 18th century. Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a soft-spoken British aristocrat, suffers a mid-life crisis and hastily joins a band of pirates. Stede navigates the chaotic seas while learning to embrace his dysfunctional crew. This HBO Max Original series is loosely based on a real story. Taika Waititi, the director of THOR: RAGNAROK, serves as the show’s executive producer.

OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH fails to dig up its golden premise. The characters are unlikeable, the comedy is “hit or miss,” and the storytelling is lackluster. It contains gore, stabbings and blood. Despite the great costume design and a few talented actors, they are not enough to salvage its hedonistic outlook. As a TV-MA dramedy, MOVIEGUIDE® cautions viewers to sail away from this wreckage.

The first season has Stede struggling to lead his pirate crew. Stede proclaims himself as the “Gentleman Pirate,” an outlaw who instills pacifist and “refined” manners to his mostly illiterate crew. The men become skeptical and quickly challenge his lack of authority. At the same time, the crew faces the British Navy, Spanish conquistadors, and the infamous Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). Stede overcomes his troubled past and embraces the true calling of piracy.

Hedonistic and materialistic ideas plunder the show’s worldview. Whether it is Stede’s crew or other pirates, most characters prioritize notoriety, treasure, and self ego. Characters are stabbed, wounded, and amputated in gruesome ways. An enemy pirate stabs Stede in the stomach and causes him to pass out. In various flashbacks, Stede’s aristocratic friends heckle him for his cowardice and weak backbone.

In one scene, Stede’s crew paints a detailed illustration of a man’s private parts. His crew smokes, drinks, and utters many profanities. Gore and blood are also present. In one episode, the team brushes against Spanish Jackie, a notorious and powerful female pirate with 19 husbands. Jackie suspects that Stede’s crew killed one of her spouses. The show does not question or rebuke this polyamorous fact.

To combat these immoral seas, Stede tries to be an “ethical” pirate. He builds a library on his ship, negotiates with his enemies, and provides mercy to his hostages. However, he succumbs to assassinating a British officer, traumatizing an enemy ship, and sabotaging an aristocratic boat party. Stede’s arc has him synthesize his “gentleman” manners with his new swashbuckling lifestyle.

To balance its absurd and gritty tone, OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH employs dark comedy. The prime source of comedy is pitting Stede’s naïveté against maritime criminals. In this case, the humor lands. Rhys Darby’s empathetic yet clueless demeanor is effective. He works his best when he bounces off Taika Waititi’s excellent improv. Aside from these two minds, the other cast members fail to pull their comedic weight. As such, the series leans more on “shock” value than genuine wit, which cheapens the drama even further.

The most “treasured” aspect of this dramedy is the production design. The “boat” sets feel real and the costume design is excellent. Whether it is Stede’s dignified apparel or the haggled look of mercenaries, the outfits well encapsulate the 18th century era. It does not match the exquisite style of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, but it finds a unique voice in its pirate decor.

In conclusion, OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH is a disappointing attempt at nailing a historic dramedy. The characters are insufferable, the comedy is inconsistent, and the cheap “shock” value hampers the experience. The two lead actors are charismatic and the production design is excellent. However, the hedonsitic and polyamorous ideals deserve to be buried. MOVIEGUIDE® urges viewers to steer clear of this shipwreck.

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