‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ delivers exactly what you expect

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Directed by Rob Marshall

Written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio

USA, 2011, 136 mins.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides delivers exactly what you expect: a lot of swashbuckling, Captain Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) witticisms, tons of special effects, and pirate lore.  It sort of works due to the actors involved, namely Depp and Ian McShane as the famous pirate Blackbeard. Without these two chewing up the scenery, along with Penelope Cruz as Angelica and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, this film would have been a bore.  Along with inheriting an excellent cast, director Rob Marshall does pull out all the stops with a couple of well filmed action sequences including one frightening mermaid attack that is on par with the great action sequences in the first one.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean, directed by Gore Verbinski, was a welcome breath of fresh air.  It came out of nowhere to become a box office smash worldwide due to the entertaining swashbuckling action sequences, a charming love story, some genuinely scary scenes, and Johnny Depp’s brilliant performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, turning Depp into a bona-fide movie star.  Half Peppy Le Pew and half Keith Richards, Depp’s Jack Sparrow became an iconic character and netted him an for Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  Looking back at the nominees, Depp really should have won.  The first film actually revolves around Orlando Bloom’s blacksmith character and his quest to win the heart of Keira Knightley. Bloom doesn’t have the most range in the world but he is very good in these sword and sandal pictures. His presence is missed here because he provides a good counterbalance to Depp’s manic character.

The sequels were fun although they lacked the freshness of the original film and were considerably bloated.  Still, you could tell they were trying to do something ambitious and some of the set pieces were terrific. Marshall, best known for directing the Oscar winning Chicago along with the duds Memoirs of a Geisha and Nine, has a stripped down and simpler script to work with.  The film has a defined destination, that being to reach the fountain of youth.  In this case, the film is a success.  There is one terrific set piece involving a mermaid attack that really works because it is actually kind of terrifying.

The film is still too long and wastes a lot of time with unnecessary exposition.  The romantic subplot between Captain Jack and Angelica doesn’t really work because their relationship is never clearly defined.  One moment they are in love with each other and in the next moment Jack betrays Angelica in front of her face, and she doesn’t seem to even notice.

Still, the cast makes it work.  While Depp’s performance isn’t as fresh as it was in The Curse of the Black Pearl, he is still a lot of fun to watch as Captain Jack and is always, at the very least, amusing.  Cruz is completely over the top as Angelica but she is able to match Depp’s energy level.  Rush is at home chewing the scenery as Barbossa, clearly having a good time.  Ian McShane is also having a lot of fun as the real life pirate Edward Teach aka Blackbeard.  McShane is pretty much playing Captain Al Swearengen. Apparently, ever since Deadwood, he is now only allowed to use his Al Swearengen accent, even if the character he is playing, like the real life Blackbeard, is British.  Those actors are a lot of fun to watch and they make this whole enterprise work.

Ultimately, On Stranger Tides is going to get the good old marginal thumbs up.  However this one is very marginal and it is proof that this franchise is barely afloat.  Maybe they should take a look at what Justin Lin did with Fast Five when he reinvented that franchise and turned it into a heist film.  By doing that, he delivered what might be the best film of that series.

Josh Youngerman

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