Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides posterI’m somewhat ashamed. This is the first time I’ve gone to see a Pirates movie a full THREE DAYS after it came out, the first time I did not wear my special Pirates of the Caribbean tank top, and the first time I wasn’t there 30 minutes before the movie started to ensure I got a good seat.

Adulthood is killing me.

Regardless, I wasn’t quite as enthused for this one as I was for the previous three movies. The story had been told, and while it was a great, adventurous romp, I didn’t see much reason to continue with it. Of course, given that the first three movies made just a little cash, Disney saw several billion reasons to continue.

So, they ditched Will and Elizabeth, added Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, and got a new director in Rob Marshall. And we’re given On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, which takes us on the search for the Fountain of Youth.

As usual, we have back-stabbings and double-crossings and all sorts of good, piratey fun as three different groups — the English, the Spanish, and Captain Blackbeard — race across the Atlantic in a desperate bid to reach the fabled fountain first. And, naturally, caught up in the middle is the eminently quotable Captain Jack Sparrow.

What Works

Johnny Depp is fantastic as Jack Sparrow, and that hasn’t changed at all. Never once does it feel like he’s phoning in his performance, despite this being the fourth time he’s played Sparrow in less than 10 years. There’s just as much excitement and energy as there was in the first movie, and it’d be worth the price of a ticket alone just to watch him.

But it’s made even better by Geoffrey Rush, whose Barbossa remains one of my favorite villains of all time. He’s such a phenomenal pirate and a great character. And boy, does Rush look like he’s having a blast as Barbossa. My only quibble is that he and Depp need more scenes together, because Jack and Barbossa together are just awesome.

Jack and Barbossa

As for the new cast, Penelope Cruz holds her own as Angelica, a woman from Jack’s past who is very, VERY unhappy with him (for good reason). She’s much less shrill than Elizabeth, and probably the only one of the new characters who’s developed enough for us to get attached to. Plus, she’s more believable as a sword-wielding badass.

But for my money, the mermaid sequence was quite possibly the best in the entire film. They looked very real, very beautiful, and then very, VERY deadly. Easy to see why the sailors were terrified of them.

And speaking of the mermaids, the visuals in this movie were a step above the previous two. The computer effects were a little less obvious, which certainly helps to draw you into the film. There were a couple of parts where it was noticeable, but by and large, the effects looked very real.

What Doesn’t Work

First off: the runtime. The Pirates movies have never been short, but this one suffers from the same bloat that affected the previous two. I think part of this may have come from the novel they adapted (it looks like they found a pirate novel, borrowed the story, and stuck their own characters into it), but it does detract from the movie. (This is just a supposition on my part from looking the book up on Amazon; I haven’t read it, so I can’t comment too much.)

Like I said, there are three factions racing for the Fountain of Youth: Blackbeard and his crew, the English led by Barbossa, and the Spanish. Of the three, the Spanish are the most wasted. They had very, very little to do, and seemed more like an afterthought or a handy plot device to get the real characters from point A to point B. I couldn’t tell you the name of a single one of them. They could have excised everything involving the Spanish and shaved 10-15 minutes off the movie.

And for that matter, most of the new pirate crew was little more than nameless, interchangeable cannon fodder. If they weren’t a main character, we didn’t get to know anything about them, which made it very hard to care if they got hurt or killed. It’s kind of a shame, because some of the crew from the original movies — like Pintel, Ragetti, and Cotton — were some of the most memorable characters.

Angelica and Blackbeard

Apparently, they also decided that they needed another Will character — someone who is more noble than the pirates, I guess — so we get Philip the missionary. (I didn’t even know his name until his very last scene.) It’s not that he’s a bad character; it’s just that we know so little about him that you just don’t care. So when he has his little mini-romance subplot with one of the mermaids, it’s just “meh” in general. Will and Elizabeth were far more fleshed out as characters, and even their love story dragged some. This is another aspect that could’ve been cut out entirely.

And in the criminally underused category, we have Blackbeard himself. His entrance is fantastic. He’s terrifying, the way he is totally in command of himself and the ship. And then he goes from being menacing to just being a dick, which is a complete waste of an actor. I haven’t seen Deadwood, but by all accounts, Ian McShane is one of the best things about it. The man knows how to play a great villain, but he didn’t get the chance to here.

Note to writers: Assholes are not scary.

Verdict?

Worth a trip to the theater, but not worth the extra cash to catch it in 3D. (In fact, so far the only movie I’ve seen that was worth the extra couple bucks for 3D was Avatar.)

All four of the Pirates movies are fun adventure romps, the perfect films to kick off the summer. If you enjoyed the others, especially the first, catch this one.

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