Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Directed by Rob Marshall
Screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio
Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow
Penélope Cruz as Angelica
Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa
Ian McShane as Blackbeard
Running time: 137 minutes
Motion Picture Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.
Newest ‘Pirates’ Movie Barely Stays Afloat
In 2003, the world was swept away by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. We were reminded again that Johnny Depp may well be three-quarters batty (in a good way); we were blasted with ingenious action sequences, smart dialogue, and the pretty faces of romantic leads Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Then there were two sequels. The series has featured the likes of Bill Nighy as the legendary Davey Jones, Geoffrey Rush as Jack Sparrow’s frenemy Barbossa, Keith Richards as a craggy patriarch, and Zoe Saldana as a feisty wench. It appeals to those of us (I won’t name names) who tied scarves about our heads, wielded wooden lances, and played “ship” in our childhood bunk beds. Unfortunately the appeal is wearing thin (or the series’ ship is sinking, however you like your piratical metaphors). Here we are, leading into blockbuster season 2011, and the best thing one can say about the fourth Pirates flick is, well, Academy darlings need paychecks too.
The last movie, At World’s End, was four years ago. That film left us with a sentimental ending that ought to have finished the series. On Stranger Tides scratches Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) from the story entirely, sprinkling in the mystical Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz), with whom Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has a romantic past, to make up the difference. The flick has Jack back to his old antics, but without the charming panache of the previous movies. In On Stranger Tides, the Spanish and English race to find the Fountain of Youth, which to grant life requires two chalices from Ponce de Leon’s ship and a mermaid’s tear. Blackbeard has captured the Black Pearl, taking Barbossa’s leg with it. Angelica, a long-lost love interest of Jack’s who never came up until now, wants to procure the Fountain’s life-giving waters for her father, with whom she never had a real relationship. (It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s, you know, evil.) Blackbeard’s crew, including Jack of course, sails into White Cap Bay only to be brutally attacked by evil mermaids, one of whom survives to fall in love with a missionary. At the very last moment, everything goes awry, of course.
Gore Verbinski , Director of the first three films, has better things to do with himself (for instance, the charmer and visual phenom Rango), and Rob Marshall replaced him. Marshall, whose last effort Nine was nothing short of a bomb, doesn’t seem to have the series’ gleeful tone correct. Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio return for the fourth installment, but base the film loosely on a novel by Tim Powers. The resulting script is muddled at best, plodding and poking at jokes worn thin. The film drags at over two hours, offering no surprises and few laughs. Even the visual effects took a nosedive, and though there are a few swords thrusting out of the screen at your face, that fabled third dimension serves virtually no purpose. Despite the millions of dollars that went into production, the movie is at best, something to gawk at while stuffing your face with popcorn and at worst totally flat.
The three leads, Depp, Cruz, and Rush, are Academy Award winners or nominees. They’re brilliant actors with a wide repertoire. Depp’s aptitude for physical comedy is fully intact – and those who love Captain Jack will enjoy the film for him alone. Rush’s overacting is to be expected, though a slight blow to those of us who still think he should’ve won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar last year. Cruz, who gave birth to Javier Bardem’s baby earlier this year, was uncomfortably pregnant throughout filming and used her sister as a body double. The actress, who absolutely deserved her Oscar win for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, seems to be phoning it in. Between Cruz and Depp there’s no hint of a spark, which is unfortunate considering they are two of the world’s prettiest and most talented humans. Even cameos from Keith Richards and the lovely Dame Judi Dench can’t save the cast from the blahs.
Finally, On Stranger Tides apparently hates women. The first film’s Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) proved a lovable (if occasionally obnoxious) female lead, able to hold her own and eventually becoming pirate king. In the fourth film, there are only two women: Angelica and the mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). At first it appears Cruz’s Angelica can wield a wicked sword right alongside the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow, but following that first duel she does little but stand around on deck and look pretty. She is first mate of Blackbeard’s ship Queen Anne’s Revenge only because the captain is her father, and she bows to the whims of the evil man who begat her and her dismissive former lover. Syrena (her moniker’s resemblance to “siren” is not lost on the savvy), on the other hand, is part of a race of unbelievably beautiful creatures who seduce sailors before eating them alive; mythical or not, the cultural anxiety toward beautiful women never quite dies. Syrena’s love for missionary Philip (Sam Claflin) renders her powerless. After Knightley’s Elizabeth (who rebelled against corsets and became king), Naomie Harris’s Tia Dalma, and Zoe Saldana’s Anamaria, we had a right to expect strong ladies in the fourth Pirates movie. Sorry, no such luck.
Apparently the series will continue: two more Pirates movies are in the works. As with the Saw series, studios have latched onto a cash cow and are milking it for all it’s worth. Pirates is the first popcorn flick of the summer season, and it’s a disappointment. Luckily, we have the probable goodness of Green Lantern, the final installment of Harry Potter, and J.J. Abrams’s Super 8 to look forward to (let us not speak of Transformers: Dark of the Moon). Perhaps despite the mediocre beginning, the 2011 summer season will yield greatness yet.