Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
June 10, 2011
Synopsis: Jack Sparrow and Barbossa embark on a quest to find the elusive fountain of youth, only to discover that Blackbeard and his daughter are after it too.
I enjoy the Pirate movies (who doesn’t?) The original Curse of the Black Pearl introduced us to a Pirate’s life. We were whisked away to sail the open seas, adventure through caves, obsess over treasure… to experience freedom. “The entire ocean. The entire world. Wherever we want to go, we’ll go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and a deck and sails, that’s what a ship needs but what a ship is… what the Black Pearl really is… is freedom.”
At four films, Disney is certainly milking that premise for all its worth. They know anything with the title Pirates of the Caribbean will make money. I thought the first film was fantastic, the second was moderately-enjoyable, the third felt lengthy but wrapped things up…. and the fourth? Well, to say it bluntly, Pirates 4 felt uninspired.
Pirates4 starts out with a bang; following Jack Sparrow all over London through various impersonations, sword duels, chases, and bar fights. The fluidity of the action scenes, and the offbeat characters participating in them, were excellent. But once we hear rumors of an imposter Jack Sparrow recruiting a crew, the film bogs down in exposition. It doesn’t help that half of that exposition is spoken through whispered lines and thick pirate dialects. As a series, Pirates of the Caribbean has always struggled with how to tell its own plot. ‘Do we read clues on a map? Do we get a long lecture from a guy with an octopus face? How about drunkenly mumbled through an Asian/Pirate accent?’ The result is weariness from concentrating so hard and eventual boredom as we wait for Jack Sparrow to do something entertaining. And when the action starts up again, we wonder why all that talking was necessary in the first place.
Pirates has a knack for reinventing the mystical elements of pirate mythology. (The Kraken, Davy Jones, the cursed Aztec gold…) But On Stranger Tides really lives up to its name. Cannibalistic mermaids? really? (I’m not sure if you can truly call them ‘cannibals’ because they eat humans, not each other. But come on, how many times do you get to say “cannibal mermaids?”) When the pirates began whispering about mermaids who eat people, I almost laughed out loud. First pop culture gave us cuddly vampires, then ab-poster werewolves, now flesh-eating mermaids? What’s next, apocalyptic unicorns? Not only has Disney squeezed another sequel out of a dry bottle, they’ve successfully turned The Little Mermaid into a horror flick. – To be fair, the mermaid developed into a significant character and actually, you know, likeable.
Enough ripping on it. I enjoyed On Stranger Tides. Its got the typical big-budget feel with stirring action, great special effects, laughs, beautiful scenery, and a Hans Zimmer soundtrack with Rodrigo Y Gabriela playing beautiful guitar licks. Jack Sparrow is a loveable character, Barbossa returns to captain a ship, Blackbeard was good, Penelope Cruz was a good choice though slightly annoying, all the stuff of a good summer blockbuster. But even with all this, Pirates4 is held back by a mediocre plot and lackluster character arcs. I blame the new director Rob Marshall, who specializes in film adaptations of musicals (the TV movie “Annie” was good, but not exactly priming your pump for directing Pirates of the Caribbean, is it?) Why they chose Rob Marshall is beyond me. He excelled at delivering larger than life action sequences but lacked connection with the audience. Overall, On Stranger Tides was a charming idea, but a disappointingly uneventful addition to the Pirates series.