Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
(Rob Marshall, 2011, USA)
The second and third entries in the increasingly tiresome Pirates franchise were laborious exercises in excess, milking a once promising franchise by counteracting the fun of the original and complicating their already baffling plots, swapping high seas thrills for convoluted, and often needlessly complex narrative twists, ensuring that their 150 minute plus run-times rendered any welcome they may have once had worn all too quickly. Four years after the series apparently walked the plank, Jack Sparrow, sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow, enigmatically played once again by Johnny Depp, is back for a new adventure and a new set of characters to trick, charm and play with, and although the film repeats the same formula as its predecessors, it is somewhat surprising to note that On Stranger Tides is not the disaster it could have been. Sure it’s baggy and overlong, with its existence purely based around profiting from the money spinner that is the lead protagonist, who is still as watchable as ever, but it breathes fresh air into a stale series and features a narrative that actually knows where it’s heading this time round.
It is somewhat unnecessary to describe the plots of these films as they always meander around some semblance of a cohesive storyline, twisting and turning before arriving at some kind of conclusion, but On Stranger Tides is tighter and more focused, effectively picking up where At Worlds End left off with Jack departing on a mission to uncover the Fountain of Youth. What should be noted, however, is what is different this fourth time round; Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s Will and Elizabeth respectively have been axed, as have the use of numerous villains, to be replaced by Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane, who plays the morally questionable villain Blackbeard, captain of the fire breathing ship the Queen Ann’s Revenge. Cruz, a cunning, and sexy, addition to the cast, plays Angelica, Blackbeard’s supposed daughter and an adversary or perhaps former love interest of Sparrow’s, who can more than handle her own in the treacherous business of piracy. She’s clearly having fun with the role, and she gets some cracking one liners, but her relationship with Sparrow is not as fleshed out as it probably could have been, given the broadness of the films running time. Franchise stalwart Geoffrey Rush returns once again as Barbossa, not so much a pirate anymore but a privateer in the court of King George II (Richard Griffiths in cameo form), who has more than loyalty to the monarch on his mind.
During production, it was reported that the budget for the film had been dramatically slashed and directing duties had shifted from series mainstay Gore Verbinski, who collaborated with Johnny Depp in the superb animated film Rango earlier this year, to Chicago helmer Rob Marshall, two moves that greatly benefit On Stranger Tides, a watered down fourth installment that readily trades a reliance on CGI whizzbangs for more economical set pieces that are, although occasionally lifeless, still as catchy as ever, despite the repetition. Though Marshall demonstrates some cinematic restraint, clearly quite hard with films of this caliber, ardent fans will not feel slighted, and will be happy to find that the finale leaves the doors wide open for more installments, obviously, with a post-credits sequence that is actually worth waiting for, if only to see more of Cruz. The Pirates franchise shows no signs of age, which is either good or bad news depending on the taste and attention span of the viewer.
Once again proving that he can fit back into the Jack Sparrow mold with considerable ease, Depp continues to ride the waves of reliability, delivering another humorous performance without breaking a sweat, even if his character doesn’t really progress much. I initially wanted to dislike On Stranger Tides, but for all it’s imperfections and distractive subplots, it is a comfortable addition to a franchise that, for me, has reached the shores of guilty pleasure, and further proof that I’d rather see pirates swashing some buckle over robots punching each other any day.
- Chicago, 2002. [Film] Directed by Rob Marshall. USA: Miramax Films.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 2007. [Film] Directed by Gore Verbinski. USA: Walt Disney Pictures.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, 2011. [Film] Directed by Rob Marshall. USA: Walt Disney Pictures.
- Rango, 2011. [Film] Directed by Gore Verbinski. USA: GK Films.