DVD Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Though there’s not much new or surprising in the fourth Pirates film, fans of the franchise will be happy enough just to set sail once again with Captain Jack.
I’m a huge fan of all things pirate. (The Disney/Jimmy Buffett/Princess Bride kind, not the real kind, I should clarify.) And I adore Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. Even when suffering through the third film (2007′s nearly three-hour-long At World’s End, the most expensive mess ever made), I couldn’t lose any love for the Captain, despite that movie’s astounding awfulness. So the good news is that On Stranger Tides is significantly more enjoyable than its predecessor. There’s no excessively complicated plot this time around, and—as I suspected—Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner weren’t missed at all. Depp/Sparrow is the star of this series, and all other characters will continue to pale in comparison, even when they’re on the seventeenth installment (which I say with no hint of sarcasm, truly—this machine ain’t gonna stop. Ever.)
When we last saw him, Sparrow had gotten his ring-laden hands on a map to the Fountain of Youth, and so naturally a quest to find Ponce de León’s magical spring has become his focus.
Or has it?
Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that in the first Pirates film directed by Chicago‘s Rob Marshall instead of Gore Verbinski, Sparrow has no choice but to help others find the Fountain of Youth, and three separate groups are desperate to do so: the British, the Spanish, and those under the command of the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Sparrow’s joined Blackbeard’s crew because: 1) he’s halfheartedly trying to make things right with a woman he “corrupted” back in the day, Angelica (Penélope Cruz), who just so happens to be Blackbeard’s daughter, 2) he doesn’t have a ship of his own, 3) he wants to retrieve the ship he used to have —the Black Pearl—and believes he can’t do this without sticking close to the notoriously evil pirate, and 4) he was captured by Blackbeard’s men, so it all worked out.
I found the chemistry between Jack and Angelica very forced, and could have done without all of their uninspired bickering. In fact, I’m not sure her character needed to be in the spotlight as much as she was. She was positioned as the driving force behind getting to the Fountain ahead of the other groups; she wanted to outrun a prophecy which predicted Blackbeard would soon meet his demise at the hands of a one-legged man. That man is none other than Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s leading the British Army’s excursion to the Fountain. Angelica’s love for her father was meant to punctuate just how bad of a dude he really is, as it eventually becomes clear that he does not feel protective of her, nor does he care about anything aside from saving his own hide. However, the latter point was made very clearly through other his dastardly deeds (including murder by gigantic blowtorch), so I’m left questioning the prominence of Angelica’s character.
Maybe the team behind the film felt pressure to create a “strong female lead” in place of Elizabeth Swann. But I would have rather had the mermaid Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), who is captured by Blackbeard’s men because they need one of her tears for “the Fountain ritual,” play a bigger role. As it stands, she didn’t do much more than look sad, shoot googly-eyes at the crew’s on-board missionary (long story) Philip, and frustrate males in the audience with strategically placed strands of hair over her otherwise-bare bosom. I love mermaid myths almost as much as I love pirate tales, and was therefore disappointed that the film’s big mermaid/pirate battle wasn’t as spectacular or as engaging as it could have been. It was also the only point in the movie where the CGI was noticeably lacking.
Overall, though, On Stranger Tides held my attention—and that’s saying something for a film that runs two hours and twenty minutes. Sure, Depp’s Sparrow has become a caricature of himself—what with his Pee-Wee-Herman-style of running and his always drunk-sounding mumbling and his now-predictable one-liners. But no one can beat him when it comes to elaborate, dramatic escapes, nor is there any denying his goofy, flamboyant charm.
Thankfully, the pacing of this adventure was undeniably better than At World’s End—I never felt as though there was a lull in the action that made me want to check my watch. As always, my favorite scenes involved Sparrow trying to get himself out of yet another seemingly hopeless bind. And several breathtaking wide-shots of the various ships racing toward the Fountain, or resting still in the ocean, reminded me why the good Captain was so determined to reunite with the Black Pearl: it’s the only thing he truly loves. Take that, Angelica!
Redbox movies from the cast of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: