Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

pirates-of-the-carribean-4-poster1Anyone who claims to be able to resist Captain Jack’s inimitable mix of swagger, swordsmanship, salamander and anti-sobriety must be off their Jolly Roger. It is a testament to the character and the actor that Jack ‘Sparrah’ can almost single-handedly pull this franchise through some serious scriptwriting issues and the excruciating presence of Orlando Bloom’s William Turner.

It is hard to believe that Johnny Depp nearly walked because the execs at Disney thought he had gone mad when they saw early footage of his daft pirate. The series would have experienced a short drop and a sudden stop had Sparrow been sacrificed, or played straight by a less creative and more submissive actor.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was a refreshing surprise blockbuster, whilst follow-up Dead Man’s Chest had some great moments but got a bit tangled in its own fishing net. The second part of that story, and third entry in the series, At World’s End, also had some nice set-pieces but the story was contrived and needlessly complex thanks to the writers’ attempts to have everybody double-cross each other to the point of storytelling redundancy. All the way through, Jack Sparrow was great, thankfully.

A wise move, then, to give Jack a new stand-alone story without the irksome William Turner or his posh tomboy squeeze Katherine Swann. The general plan of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was to reduce the needless complexity, keep up the laughs and action and give Sparrow plenty of screen time. Too much of a good thing could be bad, but never with Jack… sorry, Captain Jack.

Loosely (very loosely) based on a novel called On Stranger Tides, this film sees Jack in search of the Fountain of Youth, with the Spanish and King George II also keen on the prize that would see skincare products wiped off the face of the Earth. King George II sends his surprise employee Captain Hector Barbossa, once again played by the wonderful Geoffrey Rush, on an expedition to beat the Spanish to the Fountain. In general, everyone wants to get to the Fountain, but there is a little more to this legendary elixir of life than meets the eye-patch.

Along for the ride is Angelica (Penélope Cruz), an old flame of Jack’s who is frighteningly good at impersonating her ex-lover, and convincing drunken sailors to join her/him on the Queen Anne’s Revenge for, you guessed it, an expedition to the Fountain of Youth. Oh yeah, and this ship belongs to Blackbeard (Ian McShane), “the pirate all pirates fear”. You will recognise very few supporting pirates, with only Joshamee Gibbs keeping his place among the ever-switching crews, and even the Black Pearl has met her demise under the command of Barbossa, who was previously overpowered by Blackbeard and lost his leg as well as Jack’s ship in the process.

On Stranger Tides makes time for a delightfully terrifying take on mermaids, calling them sinister sirens that beckon men to the edges of their boats, before ensnaring them with a kiss and dragging them to the deep, dark depths of the ocean, ne’er to return!

Gore Verbinski, helmer of the first three Pirates movies, gives things a miss this time, and is replaced by Rob Marshall, who is a surprise choice given that his CV includes Annie, Chicago and Nine. He does a fine job of controlling the action and keeping a lively pace, and the simpler script from ever-present writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott certainly brings back some of the freshness and fluidity of the first, although it still lacks the original’s sharp wit.

The mermaid sequence is excellent, and of course Depp and Rush throttle the life out of their roles, which they both clearly enjoy. Cruz is stunning, as soon as she stops dressing like Jack, and her chemistry with Depp is great fun (don’t expect your standard movie romance here).

On Stranger Tides doesn’t really hit the same satisfying notes as the first, but manages to maintain several elements that fans of the series and newcomers will enjoy. Jack Sparrow is such fun, a timeless character, and Depp’s portrayal is irresistible viewing.

The movie is thankfully devoid of annoying characters (a feat missed by the two immediate predecessors), and it generally coasts along well enough, without exerting too much effort. It is a fair sequel to the all-conquering original, and will undoubtedly result in a fifth Pirates movie, especially considering it made over a billion dollars at the box office.

As long as each movie keeps making a yo-ho-whole lot of money, Jack will be back, sure as the sun sets in that horizon.

DVDRental Rating: 7.5/10

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