Mark Reviews Movies

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Rob Marshall

Cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo)

Running Time: 2:19

Release Date: 5/20/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | May 19, 2011

Whatever hearty spirit the bumbling, drunken, egocentric, and likeable pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) brought to the table in this franchise of supernatural adventures on the high seas diminished in the previous entry, which took upon itself a tone of deadly self-importance. It's practically absent from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a half-hearted attempt to rediscover some of the joviality the series lost somewhere near the conclusion of part two. Depp's Sparrow at one point was like the character's favorite tool—a compass that helped keep the material on course. No matter how grand the quest and no matter how high the stakes, there was Captain Jack, ready with a wink to remind us that, yes, this stuff isn't to be taken seriously.

Sparrow and his devil-may-care attitude hardly figure into the fourth movie. He has become a passive observer, who now not only continues to let others do his dirty work for him but also waits around for the script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio to allow him to do much of anything else. Meanwhile, the story itself feels like an empty rehash of slightly varied elements from the previous movies—a mystical goal here, an undead sailor or five there, and narrative echoes sounding everywhere.

After some bluntly expository dialogue ("He was seeking something, right," prompts an explanation of Juan Ponce de León's prior quest for this story's MacGuffin), it turns out that Sparrow is still on the trail of the legendary Fountain of Youth. Then, following a series of convolutions involving a bungled prison break, a Jack Sparrow impostor, and escaping the clutches of King George III (Richard Griffiths), Sparrow is finally back on task. Joining him is Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a woman with whom he was once romantic, stealing her away from life in a convent before ditching her. She's still unhappy with him, to say the least.

There's an entertaining give-and-take to be had between Sparrow and Angelica, and it's not until the movie's final minutes—absent the extraneous plotting and other distraction—that the screenplay realizes that fact. Until then, though, the conflict is spent on a swordfight wholly reminiscent of one in the first movie (with the two maneuvering around an enclosed space, using elevated planks and balancing on stacked barrels, which director Rob Marshall shoots in oddly timed long shots) and a few angry looks and dismissive comments once Angelica and Sparrow are aboard the infamous Queen Anne's Revenge, helmed by its even more notorious captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

Angelica is Blackbeard's daughter (or so she says) and a devout Catholic, hoping to find salvation for the soul of her absentee old man through a late-life conversion. She even forces him to spare the life of a missionary named Philip (Sam Claflin), who's tied up to the mast after watching the rest of his crewmates be massacred by the pirate. Speaking of superfluous subplots, Philip eventually falls in love with a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), whose fish tail, conveniently enough for him, turns into a pair of legs the moment she's out of the water. Mermaids feature prominently in the story, since, after all, to perform the ritual to earn the power of the Fountain of Youth, one needs the single tear of a mermaid. They're beautiful women from the waist up but grow a set of vampiric teeth after tempting seamen with their siren song.

And, yes, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) returns for no real reason except that his story of also trying to find the Fountain of Youth in service of the King of England (He's no longer a pirate but a privateer) helps pad things out further. Rush, who, like Depp, knows intrinsically to have fun with this material (He now has a peg leg, adding to while literally taking from the previously joyfully clichéd character), is, also like Depp, hampered by a script that is overburdened with supporting players, incidental events, and familiar tropes. Even Sparrow's previously reliable shtick—verbose roundabout bickering (arguing against sending Angelica over a tall cliff after he's been against it and for it, which leads to a drawn out bit of Russian roulette with multiple one-shot pistols) and clumsy physical comedy (trying to balance the shifting weight of a ship teetering on the side of a cliff to little actual comic effect)—grows irritating.

Whether or not the series continues after this installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides shows all the symptoms of a franchise that has passed its sell-by date.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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