PIRATED OF THE CARIBBEAN:
ON STRANGER TIDES
BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
DECEMBER 11, 2011
For being a pirate film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” contains just about the bare minimum of pirating lore to get by. With very few ships and even less swordplay, it is not the best film of the franchise, but it’s not the worst. Like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” this fourth installment still misses the exquisite sense of adventure that both the first and third films produced. As far as sheer entertainment goes, “On Stranger Tides” still finds a way to be enjoyable, and I chalk most of that up to the original cast of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush.
Captain Jack Sparrow once again finds himself in a constant state of predicament. Though this film does not castrate him as many previous films have, Sparrow has a Sherlockian sense of knowing what he is doing while coming off as entirely incompetent. Jack is in control from the film’s first frames, as he impersonates a judge in London (cutting a little too close to the beginning of “Dead Man’s Chest,” where Jack rules over the cannibals). The chase scene that follows as Jack attempts to escape London is the best portion of the film, leaving the rest as a sightseeing tour to the Fountain of Youth.
The writers found a way to breathe life into the Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) character (my personal favorite). Barbossa has seemingly put his pirating days behind him when you meet him in the King’s castle in London (though you find out later what he is scheming). Minus one leg, the peg-leg lore of pirates gets tied in. Barbossa is sent by the King to find the Fountain of Youth and to do so before the Spanish, who are less interested in fighting the King’s army and more interested in beating them in a race to the Fountain.
Initially, I felt the new additions to the cast would hinder my enjoyment of the film. I enjoy Ian McShane in other films, but he was no Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). Instead, McShane brings a severity to this world that hardly existed in the previous films. What turned many audience members off of this film is what made it slightly different, in my eyes, from the other sequels. Blackbeard (Ian McShane) has no redeeming qualities, making him a great villain (though, in this sometimes comedic world, it also seems like he is not playing along). It was hard to dislike Barbossa as the first film’s villain because he was so damn likable. Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander) was comparable to Blackbeard as never containing any redeeming factors. Even Davy Jones had a deeper side that made him hard to dislike. The characters of Barbossa and Davy Jones were far more fleshed out because of their dual sides, while Blackbeard (though compelling) became much flatter and monotone because of the lack of depth.
Penelope Cruz, as Angelica, on the other hand, neither helped nor hindered the film. She was just another character used to drive the plot. What she brought out of Jack Sparrow was unique, but still not enough to revolutionize this film series. Her connection to Blackbeard was about the most dramatic thing the writers could have come up with, and even though they toyed with that connection, I hated them for it.
The mermaids were a nice gimmick and added something new and fresh to this world, but it was gone like a flash of bright light. The Spanish tinge to the film also created a spark of ingenuity but was never put over entirely as it should have been. For example, the first three films were all about layers. Everyone had their selfish agendas, which were constantly changing. “The Curse of the Black Pearl” had Jack, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), Barbossa, James Norrington (Jack Davenport), and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) continuously butting heads. The second and third films layered on even more with Davy Jones and Cutler Beckett. And that was what made these films fun and enjoyable. “On Stranger Tides” lays out these agendas immediately and keeps them parallel throughout the film (minus one twist from Barbossa). The rest of the plot is formulaic (“these are the things we need, let’s get them, oh there, we got them”).
Johnny Depp does continue a successful reign as Jack Sparrow, and as long as they continue to attach him to these “Pirates” films, I will most likely continue to see them. However, “On Stranger Tides” fails to live up to the epic nature of its predecessors. The writers hit about fifty-fifty when it comes to the new concepts being added to the film, as they squeeze all they can get out of the pirate lore (I am still on the fence about the ships in the bottle and the voodoo doll). Though not my least favorite of the series, I can honestly say this film only entertains on the most basic of levels.
May 20, 2011
Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean
“On Stranger Tides”
by Tim Powers
Walt Disney Pictures
(for sexual content/nudity, language and some violence)
Kevin R. McNally