Eye For Film >> Movies >> Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) Film Review
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Reviewed by: Stephen Carty
Following the surprising success of the somewhat over-rated original, many felt that Cap'n Jack (Johnny Depp) should've then sailed his own way. With the overly-plotted sequels straining more and more each time to bring everyone back, the idea some suggested was to drop the rest and let Depp mince about on a new, unrelated adventure. Now, with Disney's mega-franchise returning after a four year absence, he gets to do just that. And, quite honestly, we're none the better for it.
But then as some of us have always known, Jack plays better as part of an ensemble. Undoubtedly, he was (and still is) the highlight, but it was playing off the thanklessly-straight performances of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley (who are, surprisingly, very much missed) that made his quirky mannerisms and drunken swagger stand out. Here, he’s unashamedly the all-seeing, all-doing heroic main man and the Pirates universe is now just a bit too in love with him now.
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When rumours surface that someone is using his name to put together a crew, Captain Jack Sparrow discovers that it's actually his former lover Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who's searching for the mythical Fountain Of Youth. With Barbossa captaining the British quest to find the Fountain before the Spaniards, it becomes a race to get there first, with Jack and Angelica under the command of the fearsome Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
Of course, such an iconic creation is always going to provide some laughs and there's a few witty moments with Geoffrey Rush's also-returning Barbossa (see the pegleg as rum-holder gag). But yet, there's a nagging, hard-to-shake feeling that both these characters, like the franchise itself, are tired and don't seem to be having nearly as much fun as previous pirating endeavours. Given that On Stranger Tides is purposefully the lightest instalment since the first, this will be especially disheartening to fans looking for the jolly to be put back into their Roger.
And, while some viewers will be happy with a simpler, child-friendlier story after the heavy mythology of Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, it actually feels emptier and meaningless by comparison. Clearly, parts two and three were over-stuffed and unnecessarily complicated at times but at least you always felt like there was something at stake. This time, we’ve got a cross-continental race to the Fountain Of Youth which might save a key character's foreseen appointment with death, though by this point we've had so many back-from-the-grave resurrections that death is starting to mean very little.
It's perhaps unfair to blame such failings on new kid on the plank Rob Marshall (who replaces original trilogy director Gore Verbinski), since he's inheriting a ship that's, arguably, already sailed its course. That said, despite the studio's claims of loosely rebooting the franchise he keeps to the usual blend of well-worn ingredients. True, we spend noticeably less time at see than usual, but there’s still plenty of dangerless sword fights, an overly-long running-time and more double-crosses than you can conceivably keep track of without a flow-chart diagram.
Likewise, the first few set-pieces don't offer much that we haven't seen from the series thus far. An early high-speed carriage chase in a decidedly grey London is pacey yet sterile, while a close-quarters brewery duel reminds you of the first's blacksmith shop scrap and is just as lifeless. Things change, however, when Marshall navigates us into mermaid territory however. Painting the fishy sea goddesses as beautiful-yet-vampiric sirens, the nighttime attack is surprisingly and definitely the movie’s high-point in terms of someone-might-actually-die tension.
Which, to be honest, should have been any scene involving the annoyingly-wasted Blackbeard. Don't misunderstand me, McShane is perfectly cast and does as much as is humanly possible with that dread-emitting stare of his. But while a cursing, killing, menace-oozing Deadwood-style performance would've positioned him as the premier villain of the Caribbean, Pirates 4 is too family-orientated for that. Too kiddie-orientated.
Where Bill Nighy's Davy Jones was a flawlessly realised creation, he also boasted a tragic backstory. Here, Edward "Blackbeard" Teach has a few cool moments but the former Lovejoy is so frustratingly-underdeveloped that it's a missed opportunity that raises questions. For example, if he can make the ship move with his sword (and that's not even the issue), why is there a crew on deck?
In terms of new faces, the romance between Sam Claflin's honourable missionary (our new Will Turner) and Astrid Berges-Frisbey's captured mermaid does offerss the closest any plot arc comes to depth, yet they're also under-written. And though most of the old cast were jettisoned, Kevin McNally returns as Jack's right-hand man and there are great cameos from Keith Richards (including a brilliant, brilliant gag nobody seemed to get at the screening I attended) and Jack the monkey.Reviewed on: 14 Jul 2011