Editor’s note: This review was first published May 20, 2011.
‘Pirates’ brings nothing new to the deck
Despite some clever quips, humorous situations and Johnny Depp being… well, Johnny Depp, all taking place while searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” continues the series’ perceptible decline in quality and ingenuity. And no amount of exploding whale oil or shimmering mermaid tears are going to remedy the situation. And no, shouting “Parlay!” won’t work here.
“On Stranger Tides,” directed by Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Memoirs of a Geisha”), takes the counterintuitive title of being the least strange movie in the series. Whatever the reason, predictability is the name of the game while the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp, “Pirates of the Caribbean” series) hunts down the Fountain of Youth. While in London, Jack runs into a bevy of main characters, including frienemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, “The King’s Speech”) and former flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz, “Blow”). After trading blows and escaping his shackles, Jack ends up in an even worse predicament: a prisoner abroad the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship captained by the fearsome Blackbeard (Ian McShane, “Deadwood”). This works for Jack, though, as he happens to be shipless at the moment, after the Black Pearl was taken from him. And how else would you find Ponce de Leon’s ship if you don’t have a ship of your own?
The crux of the plot — not that it matters much — centers around a three-party race to reach the Fountain: the Spanish (who have the lead thanks to Leon’s Spanish roots), the English (simply to beat the Spanish) and Blackbeard (who received a prophecy that he’s going to die within a fortnight). So, of course, the entire situation becomes a game of finder’s keepers, with magical chalices and mermaid tears changing hands faster than you can “What?”
And as with any Jerry Bruckheimer movie (he produced “On Stranger Tides”), fights and explosions were bountiful. In fact, you don’t go five minutes without swords or pistols or vampire-like teeth getting drawn. It’s a bit overwhelming at first, and then it just becomes tedious. Watching Jack continually beat the odds against what must be the back-up reserves of the King’s army is entertaining for only so long.
And let’s not forget about the love story between a missionary (Sam Clafin) and a mermaid (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Because, without Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s ridiculous tale of love and misery taking center stage, we needed a new couple to swoon over.
But then again, who needs love when you have zombie pirates? Oh, yes: zombie pirates. Apparently, though for no reason explained, Blackbeard can zombify his crew. What purpose this serves is a mystery, and not even a good one.
And that’s a running theme in “On Stranger Tides”: You’re given a new story arc, and either no background or an abrupt end to go with it. For example, while you know from the third “Pirates” movie both Barbossa and Jack are searching for the Fountain, you’re not told how the man who informed the Spanish came to be (something about being on Leon’s ship 200 years after the fact, but it’s a sketchy connection at best). And while the previous installments haven’t really adhered to the rules of continuity (Gore Verbinski, the director for the first three films, has that tendency), it proved more a hindrance than a cinematic technique. (Speaking of cinematography, “Pirates” also is filmed in 3-D.
However, there’s one bright spot: “On Stranger Tides” was quite humorous. The countless barbs hurled between the main characters at least distract from the endless fights and mutinies.
In the end” Pirates of the Caribbean” is the definition of mediocrity, and mediocrity should not be rewarded. So no matter how you feel about the first three films, “On Stranger Tides” arrives dead in the water.
Two “Wait, there’s a mermaid?” stars out of five.