Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
They extended a perfectly decent trilogy for this?

Yeah, I know I'm among the few who enjoyed the third Pirates movie.  It was too long, had too many characters to keep track of, and lost a bit of the fun of the first and second films.  However, there were some genuinely inspired moments; the segment in Davy Jones' Locker was amazing, and I may be one of the few who genuinely enjoyed the climactic action sequence in the whirlpool, but I did.  Those two scenes alone don't necessarily make up for the other hour and a half of the film, but they at least left me with fond memories.  I can't think of a single sequence in this fourth film that leaves me with that same impression. 

This time around, Jack is on a quest for Ponce de Leon's legendary Fountain of Youth.  As you can surely imagine, he isn't the only one.  Also making this trip are Captain Hector Barbossa, and the Spanish armada, each of the three has designs on the fountain, but they are all blindsided when Blackbeard and his daughter join the hunt.  There is plenty of fence-hopping to keep track of, and the characters' loyalties aren't always what they seem. Will Jack Sparrow reach his goal, or will Blackbeard cut him off at the neck?

This fourth Pirates film jettisons much of the familiar cast, only returning Jack Sparrow, his mate Joshamee Gibbs, and Captain Barbossa. The rest of the cast is new, and for me, that is where the majority of the problem lay. Penelope Cruz as Angelica is supposed to be a mean pirate wench, deft with a sabre and able to muster her own crew as she sets sail for the new world, however, she has no presence.  We're supposed to believe that her character has the skills to match Sparrow with a sword as well as lead a ship full of blood-thirsty pirates on her own, but that isn't what comes across on screen.  Her character is limp and irritating, at no point when she's on screen does she emanate any kind of authority, which is a real problem.  Keira Knightley must've been all of 75 pounds soaking wet, but she managed to grow some presence as her films went on, and we saw that she had, if not the physical strength, at least the attitude to command her own ship.  Cruz doesn't cut it in that regard, and if she doesn't, her character loses the heft it demands.

Also new and key to On Stranger Tides is professional bad-bad-man Ian McShane as Blackbeard.  We know he can be a bastard from Deadwood, and he even makes a decent maniacal turn in Kung Fu Panda, but even he appears to be here for the paycheck this time around.  Blackbeard requires more than just dramatic heft and authority, he requires real menace.  This is a person that all pirates dread and a name that makes even the mighty Jack Sparrow nervous.  McShane seems to phone this one in, he is never truly menacing on screen.  We get the impression that he's done enough bad stuff in his past that we should be scared of him now, but with a new character in a film series that is on its fourth go-round, that's just not good enough.  In fact, the worst thing we hear about him is from Barbossa's recollection of a battle between Blackbeard's ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, and the Black Pearl.  This would have been a perfect opportunity to throw in a flash back of that battle to show that Blackbeard has it in him, however, all we get is McShane acting like he's been there before, which really saps the character.

The plot is not as overly convoluted as it could have been, and that is a blessing, but it still is bloated.  Another disappointment is that the action sequences, as I mentioned above, leave little to walk out of the theater talking about.  They are all terribly conventional, save for a very early piece that more or less serves as the audience's reminder that Jack Sparrow is a cool guy who can get out of anything.  Depp plays the role with vigor, but is subjected to some scripting that makes him look less like the actual Jack Sparrow than the guy who looked like Jack Sparrow in Epic Movie.  Thankfully, after the first thirty minutes or so he settles into a better performance, but I thought Depp was better than a spoof.

I'm not gonna lie, I'm gonna buy this.  I'll watch it again, but I'm a Pirates fan, and my son is as well, so at least I have that excuse.  Anyone going into this, though, looking for a grand return to form (and I hope we all know better than that by now) is sure to be disappointed.  The film is adequate, but less than its antecedents.  I'm sure it'll make a ton of money, and a few of those dollars might even be mine, but I'm not proud of that, and anyway, I can blame it on my son.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

  • Rob Marshall
  • Ted Elliott (screenplay)
  • Terry Rossio (screenplay)
  • Ted Elliott (screen story)
  • Terry Rossio (screen story)
  • Ted Elliott (characters)
  • Terry Rossio (characters)
  • Stuart Beattie (characters)
  • Jay Wolpert (characters)
  • Tim Powers (novel)
  • Johnny Depp
  • Penélope Cruz
  • Geoffrey Rush
  • Ian McShane
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Rob MarshallTed ElliottTerry RossioStuart BeattieJay WolpertTim PowersJohnny DeppPenélope CruzGeoffrey RushIan McShaneActionAdventureFantasy

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