Proof Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [3.5]

For being a pirate film, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides contains just about the bare minimum of pirating lore to get by. With very few ships and even less sword play, On Stranger Tides is definitely not the best film of the franchise, but it’s definitely not the worst either. Like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, this fourth installment is still missing the grandiose sense of adventure that both the first and third film produced. Still, on a sheer entertainment level, On Stranger Tides still finds a way to be enjoyable, and I chalk most of that up the original cast of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.

Captain Jack Sparrow once again finds himself in a constant state of predicament. Though this film does not castrate him like many of the previous films have, Sparrow has a Sherlockian sense of knowing exactly what he is doing while coming off completely incompetent. From the first frames of the film, Jack is in control, as he impersonates a judge in London (cutting a little too close to the beginning of Dead Man’s Chest where Jack rules over the cannibals). The chase scene that follows as Jack attempts to escape London is the best portion of the film, leaving the rest of the film as a sightseeing tour to the fountain of youth.

The writers found a way to breath life into the Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) character (my personal favorite). Barbossa has seemingly put his pirating days behind him when you meet him in the King’s castle in London (though you find out later what he is really scheming). Minus one leg, the peg-leg lore of pirates is finally tied in. Barbossa is sent by the King to find the fountain of youth and to do so before the Spanish, who are less interested in fighting the King’s army and more into beating them in a race to the fountain.

Originally, I felt the new additions to the cast would hinder my enjoyment of the film. Though I do enjoy Ian McShane in other films, he was no Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Instead, Ian McShane brings a severity to this world that hardly existed in the previous films. What turned many audience members off of this film is what made it slightly different, in my eyes, from the other sequels. Blackbeard (Ian McShane) has absolutely no redeeming qualities, which makes him a great villain (though, in this sometimes comedic world, also makes it seem like he is not playing along). Barbossa was extremely hard to dislike as the villain of the first film, because he was so damn likable, Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) was very comparable to Blackbeard, as to never contain any sort of redeeming factors, and even Davy Jones had a deeper side that made him hard to dislike. The characters of Barbossa and Davy Jones were far more fleshed out because of their dual sides, while Blackbeard (though completely convincing) became much more flat and monotone because of the lack of depth.

Penelope Cruz, as Angelica, on the other hand, neither helped nor hindered the film in any way. She was simply just another character used to drive the plot. What she brought out of Jack Sparrow was slightly unique, but still not enough to revolutionize this film series. Her connection to Blackbeard was about the most melodramatic thing the writers could have come up with and even though they toyed with that connection, I hated them for it.

The mermaids were a nice gimmick and added something new and fresh to the film, but like a flash of bright light, it was gone. The Spanish tinge to the film also created a spark of ingenuity, but was never put over completely as it should have been. For example, the first three films were all about layers. Everyone had their own agendas they were constantly changing. The Curse of the Black Pearl had the agendas of Jack, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Barbossa, James Norrington (Jack Davenport), and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) constantly butting heads. The second and third film layered on even more with Davy Jones and Cutler Beckett. And that was what made these films fun and enjoyable. On Stranger Tides simply lays out these agendas immediately and keeps them parallel throughout the entire film (minus one twist from Barbossa). The rest of the plot is formulaic (“these are the things we need, lets get them, oh there, we got them”).

Johnny Depp does continue a successful reign as Jack Sparrow and, as long as they continue to attach him to these pirate films, I will most likely continue to see them. However, On Stranger Tides fails to live up to the epic nature of its predecessors. The writers hit about fifty-fifty when it comes to the new concepts being added to the film, as they squeeze all they can out of the pirate lore (I am still on the fence about the ships in the bottle and the voodoo doll). Though definitely not my least favorite of the series (that honor belongs to Dead Man’s Chest), I can honestly say this film only entertains on the most basic of levels.

[Directed by Rob Marshall] [PG-13] [136 mins] [20 May 2011]

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