Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

From the very opening scene it’s apparent that the magic that once coursed through the veins of the original Pirates of the Caribbean has all but run dry. The long-awaited reunion with everyone’s favorite scoundrel pirate lacks the humor that should have permeated the entire affair, and such lusterless exploits continue throughout the rest of the film. The romance between Captain Jack Sparrow and newcomer Angelica should have provided a prominent and consistently witty repartee, but instead manages only a few fleeting moments of amusement.

The supporting characters could have presented more hilarity in their preposterous predicaments or at least offered validation for their inclusion in the adventure, but fall short in both aspects. And the villainous Blackbeard definitely should have embodied the dastardly and menacing persona expected of the legendary pirate. Perhaps Sparrow works best in tandem with strong-willed heroes rather than alone with only Barbossa’s wily antics to aid him.

When word reaches King George that Spain has begun a quest to locate the Fountain of Youth, he hires pirate-turned-privateer Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to find it first – with the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who happens to possess the map to the long-lost treasure. When Sparrow refuses, he escapes the King’s grasp only to find himself shanghaied aboard the supernaturally powered ship of notorious pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who seeks the life-giving waters to thwart his own fatal date with destiny. As Sparrow attempts to outwit his captors and his pursuers, he must battle vicious mermaids, nefarious pirates, and the deceptive wiles of his former lover Angelica (Penelope Cruz).

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The fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film is very similar to the fourth Indiana Jones outing – it’s fun to see the characters return for a new feature, especially when they remain visually faithful and are scripted with the same sharp wit and idiosyncratic catch phrases. The problem is the story; it’s as if the filmmakers have run out of adventures to tell with these particular heroes. Jack Sparrow should be able to suffice as the lead protagonist, but simply doesn’t have enough emotional involvement with any of the plethora of supporting roles. He has a love interest now, plus new villains and the return of several familiar faces. But despite the nearly nonstop action sequences, he never interacts with the characters around him in a manner that begets investment in his plights, misadventures or successes. It’s hard to care about someone whose perils are approached with such a lack of seriousness.

Most of the film is so dark and shadowy that the 3D is completely lost, along with the specific details of sets and fight choreography – which is further obscured by rapid cuts. The stunts and chases are still overly complex, harkening back to the second film’s attention to purely ridiculous yet uncannily diverting action scenes that bridge moments of verbal storytelling. Here, it’s even more of a reach. Part of the problem is that it is repetitious to see yet another sword fight in the rafters of a wooden dwelling or melees with royal guards or a showdown with a towering warrior.

As the second Transformers movie proved so painfully, once the initial excitement of witnessing a unique cinematic event is gone – in Transformers, the robots metamorphosing; in Pirates of the Caribbean, all sorts of legendary acts of pirating – we’re left with a dreary, dull bit of recycled material. A completely extraneous subplot with a nameless preacher and a nameless mermaid tacks onto the already lengthy running time, along with Spanish soldiers that barely present a predicament and the intricate, on-the-spot rituals necessary to unearth Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. At least the unforgettable, catchy theme music returns in full force.

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