Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
November 8, 2011
Despite wrapping up the numerous narrative threads in the third Pirates of the Caribbean film (2007), its massive commercial success pretty much assured another installment in this popular franchise. The only question would be who from the last film would be returning? Having taken some of the criticism leveled at the third film’s excesses to heart, the producers have trimmed down the number of subplots in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) thereby jettisoning the characters played by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom because, let’s face it, the reason people go see these films is to watch Johnny Depp vamp it up as the perpetually soused Captain Jack Sparrow. However, Gore Verbinski, the director of the first three films, bowed out this time around and was replaced by Rob Marshall, an odd choice considering that he’s known mostly for Academy Award friendly prestige films like Chicago (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and not crowd-pleasing action/adventure films. Would he be able to offer a new perspective for a franchise in need of some fresh ideas?
We meet Jack (Depp) in deep trouble yet again as he finds himself on trial in London, England for, well, being himself. He cuts a deal with the authorities who want to find the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish do. After escaping their clutches he crosses paths with ex-flame and fellow pirate Angelica (Cruz). However, Jack’s long-time nemesis Captain Barbossa (Rush) is in the employ of the British and goes after his old foe. If that wasn’t bad enough, Jack is captured by the notorious Blackbeard (McShane) with Angelica as his first mate and a crew of zombies that he controls through voodoo. Soon, all parties involved engage in a series of sword fights, ship battles and, oh yeah, run afoul of mermaids – beautiful sirens from the ocean that transform into vicious creatures.
Thankfully, the two weakest elements from the first three films – Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom – have been removed and replaced by a much stronger actress with Penelope Cruz who proves to be an ideal foil for Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack as Angelica is just as cunning and resourceful a pirate. Veteran character actor Ian McShane looks like he’s having a blast as the film’s heavy, giving the right amount of menace to his take on Blackbeard. The always enjoyable Geoffrey Rush is back as the scheming Barbossa. That leaves Depp who, it seems, has finally graduated from the interesting, quirky roles in unusual films that he made his name on in the late 1980’s and all through the 1990’s, to working on safe, big budget Hollywood films. He’s found his niche character with Jack that he enjoys playing and does it well, earning a hefty paycheck in the process. Depp is good in this film but hardly does anything distinctive from his performances in the other Pirates of the Caribbean films.
Director Rob Marshall does a decent job as he wisely keeps things simple when it comes to the action sequences and pours on the atmosphere for everything else for he understands that films made on this kind of massive scale are all about production design and special effects and this one is absolutely steeped in it. On Stranger Tides is easily the best Pirates of the Caribbean film since the first one – of course, that’s not saying much, but this one manages to recapture at least some of the fun that made the original such a joy to watch and that’s not bad of an accomplishment.
“Bloopers of the Caribbean” is an amusing collection of blown lines as the cast crack each other up.