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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

May 21, 2011
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth installment in what has to be the most successful movie franchise based on an amusement park ride. By now we know more or less what to expect, so the question that has to be on everyone’s mind is “how will Rob Marshall fill Gore Verbinski’s shoes?” Verbinski left the series after directing its first three movies — to make the wonderful Rango with Pirates star Johnny Depp — and Rob Marshall was brought in. I can happily say that he has acquitted himself fairly well.

Of course, most of the old favorites are back: Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), his old first mate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), a cameo by his father (Keith Richards), and Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). New to the mix are the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane), captain of the Queen Anne’s Revenge with his zombie — in the Haitian sense — officers, his lovely first mate Angelica (Penélope Cruz), and the captive missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin).

Verbinski managed to wrap up the arc that tied together the first three movies rather neatly, and it’s a shame to miss Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Their romance and drama provided a counterweight to Jack’s antics which is largely missing in this movie. Still, if you’re of the mind that Jack was the focus and they were only distractions, then you’ll be even more pleased to be rid of them.

So, lacking any initial heading we take our first bearing from a bedraggled sailor pulled up in a Spanish fishing net, muttering about the Ponce de León and the supposed Fountain of Youth. In England, Barbossa has turned privateer with orders from the king to seek the selfsame fountain before it falls into the hands of a Catholic monarch. And Blackbeard has his own reasons to desire the fountain, in the cause of which he starts conscripting a crew under the name of Jack Sparrow.

Jack, obviously, doesn’t like being impersonated and — after attempting to free an imprisoned Gibbs — crashes the party and gets conscripted himself. Gibbs barters his knowledge of Jack’s charts for a place on Barbossa’s boat, and the race is on.

This latest Pirates movie is a very fun ride indeed, but as I said before it lacks pretty much any emotional depth or complexity. Jack and Barbossa are exactly who they’ve been before; no more, no less. Despite a few attempts at banter, Angelica is a poor substitute for Naomie Harris’ Tia Dalma. McShane, though, dead a good job with Blackbeard, though there’s nothing really unexpected or novel about the character. The plot is thin too, basically serving to bring various groups into conflict in pairs so that each can have a rousing battle scene. It’s sort of a shame, given that Marshall can actually direct movies with some substance, like Memoirs of a Geisha.

Still, if you want action there’s plenty of it, and it does look very pretty. If you want Johnny Depp doing Jack Sparrow schtick, there’s plenty of that too. But if you want a movie that’s every bit as good as Verbinski’s works in the series, you’re out of luck. Still, Marshall may just be getting his sea legs, and he has definitely earned himself another chance.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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