Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is one of my all time favorite movies. I’m not kidding. I like it so much that any sequels were handicapped right from the start because I thought they couldn’t possibly be any better. And I was right. Dead Man’s Chest was one of those incomplete middle volumes and At World’s End was a total mess because they tried to cram too much in. It looked like the series would end at three, but of course there was still money to be made so this year Disney gives us a fourth installment of their theme park ride based franchise. Here’s the story:
Famous pirate Jack Sparrow is kidnapped by an old girlfriend and roped into helping the evil captain Blackbeard beat the Spanish and the English navies to the fountain of youth.
Each Pirates of the Caribbean film involves some supernatural object. Cursed gold. Davey Jones’ Locker. The world of the dead. The fountain of youth seems to fit in with the theme. The movie also shares a main character – the pirate Jack Sparrow – and a writing team with the other three films, but the director is different (Rob Marshall replaced Gore Verbinski) and so is most of the cast. As a result, it feels like exactly what it is: a sub par add-on to a series that should have finished with the last movie.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). He’s wacky and hilarious and he gets himself into and out of trouble in the most random and improbable ways. But he is not a leading character. You may have thought the was in the original trilogy, but Jack just gets carried along on other people’s adventures, so he even though he gets the most screen time he is actually a secondary character. He can’t drive a plot because he never changes. He doesn’t evolve, he doesn’t learn, he doesn’t progress, he doesn’t even really have feelings (love, hate, sadness, etc.) like normal people do because everything is tinged with that hint of wackiness.
Because Jack is so abnormal, there needs to be a regular, honest person, like Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) from the original trilogy to have normal reactions, goals, and a character arc, and act as a foil for Jack’s humor. On Stranger Tides was missing this character. Phillip (Sam Claflin), a missionary who has been imprisoned by Blackbeard (Ian McShane), tries to fill this role, but it doesn’t really work because he isn’t even introduced until halfway through the film, and even then he and Jack have very little to do with one another.
For a priest, Phillip spends an awful lot of time shirtless.
Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (and their gaggle of supporters) have attempted to introduce a love interest for Jack in the form of Angelica (Penelope Cruz), but it fails miserably, because Jack just does not have romantic feelings. Despite all his talk of brothels and robbing women of their virtue, he’s effectively asexual. So their love/hate banter just comes off as hate/awkwardness. Of course, it also doesn’t help that Angelica is extremely annoying. She spends the whole movie screeching in Spanish like a hysterical fishwife and stabbing everyone she can find in the back (not literally).
“How dare you breathe the same air as me, etc. etc. ad nauseum.
So the only hint at a love story we get comes from Phillip and the mermaid that Blackbeard’s crew captures as part of the ritual needed to use the fountain of youth. Serena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is beautiful, vulnerable, and yet also a member of a vicious race that pulls men out of boats, drowns, and eats them. It’s an interesting setup. Too bad there wasn’t much time for it to play out, despite the fact that the movie is almost two and a half hours long.
We’ve only got a thirty second scene, here, so are you going to eat me or not?
All that time is taken up by the main plot of getting to the fountain of youth, which is thankfully a lot simpler than the fifty things they were trying to accomplish in At World’s End. But it could have been handled better. They set things up well, with three factions (English, Spanish, and Pirate) after the fountain, but then they largely forgot about the Spanish except when it was convenient to the plot.
As in, whenever it would be funny to have a firing squad pop up out of nowhere.
Another staple of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies are cool special effects and unique battles done in awkward places, but On Stranger Tides falls down here, too. Jack’s swordfight battle with an imposter version of himself is too much like a knockoff of his fight with Will in the smithy in Curse of the Black Pearl. The method of entering the fountain of youth is a little too reminiscent of how they returned to the living world in At World’s End. Even Jack’s escape from British custody by balancing on the tops of carriages pales in comparison to the water wheel duel from Dead Man’s Chest.
This is called “phoning it in.”
There are new elements, such as how Blackbeard can control the ropes on any ship with his magical sword, the murderous mermaids, and the zombies that Blackbeard has created to crew his ship, but there’s really not that much you can do with ropes, the mermaids are only in one sequence, and the zombies might as well be regular thugs because they don’t do anything.
I’m supposed to want to eat WHAT?!
“Excuse me, Mr. Beard, sir…”
….but the other movies also had humor coming from Will and the supporting characters. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is actually working for the British in this one, gets in a few laughs and Angelica tries to be funny but just comes off annoying. There’s also not as much brilliant situational comedy (like Jack stepping off his sinking ship onto the dock in Black Pearl).
Only a pirate would store rum in a false leg.
So do I recommend On Stranger Tides? Well, yes and no. If you can go into it without expecting it to be as good as the others, you’ll have a fun time. There’s sailing, things blowing up, swordfights, magic, etc. It just can’t hold a candle to the old ones. If you do go, remember to stick around after the credits for an extra scene. Oh, and also, keep an eye out for Keith Richards (Johnny Depp’s inspiration for the Jack Sparrow character) doing a cameo as Jack’s dad.
See? You can’t make this stuff up.