I am happy to say “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is a big improvement over the previous entry, “At World’s End.” Whereas the latter had an incomprehensible story I gave up on following, “On Stranger Tides” has a plot which is a little more straightforward and easier to follow. Stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and director Gore Verbinski have done left the building, and in their place are “Chicago” director Rob Marshall, Ian McShane and the alluring Penelope Cruz. With some of the dead weight removed and new elements thrown in, this showed promise. And of course, we have Johnny Depp back as Captain Jack Sparrow, whom without there would be no “Pirates” franchise.
This one has Jack sailing to the Fountain of Youth, and we’re not talking Beverly Hills. Along with him on the voyage is his former lover Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who proves to be every bit as trustworthy as Jack, which is to say not at all. Also onboard is legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) whose giant sword wields a vicious power even with a simple wave of it. And just when you thought he was out of the way, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is back as well, leaving Sparrow with the usual number of antagonists working against him, and there’s always plenty to go around considering Sparrow’s checkered history.
You would think by now this franchise would have bought the farm as it seems the only reason for it to continue is money. But even in this sequel, Depp still looks to be having a blast as this rock star of a pirate. Never easily upstaged, except by Keith Richards who has one of the movie’s best lines, he finds much to play around with and hasn’t lost a beat since the beginning. It could have been a movie where he could have just taken the money and run, but if he’s still having fun then so am I.
Personally, I’m glad Bloom and Knightley are gone as their romance ran its course, and to have them bitching and moaning at each other yet again would have been tiresome from the start. Instead we have Penelope Cruz who remains an actress as fantastic as she is beautiful. She more than holds her own opposite Depp as Angelica as her character threatens to be even more devious than Jack. Seeing these two play off each other kept me guessing as to who was the more honest of the two, and if they ever reached a point where they start believing their own lies.
I’m also glad to see Geoffrey Rush back as well and fresh off the Best Picture winner “The King’s Speech.” His character of Barbossa has had an interesting journey throughout these films as he’s been an antagonist and then a protagonist. By the time you reach him in “On Stranger Tides,” you’re not quite sure what to make of him which is part of the fun. Like Depp, Rush still has a joyous time playing this enigmatic character, and his gleeful delivery of dialogue is highly entertaining.
Ian McShane was an inspired choice to play Blackbeard, but in some ways his performance is a bit of a letdown. He’s very good, but after watching him portray one of the most cold-blooded bad guys ever in “Sexy Beast,” I expected a lot more menace from him which would have made “On Stranger Tides”’ all the more enthralling to watch. Still, he’s a great actor and could have done much worse.
The one character, however, I could have done without is the stubborn missionary Philip Swift. He’s a bland character who serves no real purpose in a movie which already has more then enough characters to juggle. This is no fault of the actor playing him as Sam Claflin does his best with an underwritten role, but it felt like the screenwriters were making up for the loss of Bloom and Knightley, and they really didn’t need to.
I do have to admit I really dug the mermaids and their natural beauty as much as I did the filmmakers’ take on them. Whereas they are as lovely as we remember them from stories and fairy tales, these mermaids here pack a vicious set of jaws and would sooner devour you than kiss you. There is some nudity here but no breasts (it’s a Disney movie folks), and you will find them unusual than the mermaids you grew up reading about. I guess you could say this is Disney’s subtle take on “Fatal Attraction.”
With Rob Marshall taking over directing duties on this one, I really admire how he streamlined this venture. Even though the movie stumbles a bit in the mid-section, Marshall keeps things moving at a swift pace and none of it gets overwhelming. “At World’s End” was so over bloated to where I wouldn’t be able to describe the plot or remember the name of the character Chow Yun Fat played to you. But here you have a good idea of who everyone is, and even if there are things which don’t make complete sense, it doesn’t matter too much.
In the end, all I really wanted out of “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”’ was a good time. It’s not a movie I ask too much from, and I liked how Disney learned from the franchise’s previous mistakes. While the wonderfully entertaining “Curse of The Black Pearl” set the bar high, this one reaches up far enough towards it. Along with another thunderous Hans Zimmer score, I was pleased with this fourth “’Pirates” film, and I am open to seeing a part five, and you know there will be one at some point in the future.