Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Not That Strange After All

20 05 2011

Based in part on Tim Power’s historical fiction novel On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise sees Captain Jack Sparrow take center stage on a brand new adventure. Here’s the breakdown:

Jack Sparrow is back, but this time, lacking a ship and a crew. In an effort to reclaim his beloved Black Pearl, Jack must embark on a dangerous mission, a mission that ultimately leads to the coveted Fountain of Youth. Along the way, Jack will meet old friends and new enemies – and some who might be both. And with zombies, deadly mermaids and the dreaded Blackbeard thrown into the mix, Jack’s quick wit might not be enough to save him this time.

The Monkey: Johnny Depp IS Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp has made this character so thoroughly his own, it’s hard to image Depp in any other role. From the swagger to the lilt, Depp brings this beloved film character to life once more. Fans of the original trilogy will not be disappointed; the humor is back in force and the twisted logic and mesmerizing double speak of the world’s most “savvy” pirate will keep new and old fans alike pleased.

While this was most certainly Depp’s movie, the supporting cast did an admirable job doing just that – supporting. Geoffrey Rush returns as Hector Barbossa. Having traded in his pirating ways, the scheming “privateer” is now in His Majesty’s navy, and finds himself at odds with Jack. Kevin McNally is back as sidekick Gibbs. Ian McShane breathes life into the legendary Blackbeard, his dark-rimmed eyes holding all the menace necessary for the character. Oddly enough, it was actually Richards Griffiths’ simpering portrayal of King George that nearly stole the show. His five minutes of screen time were some of the most enjoyable of the film.

While the cast was well comprised, a summer blockbuster just wouldn’t be a summer blockbuster without the requisite visuals and action sequences. On Stranger Tides has several action pieces and stunning visual treats, but none so incredible as the eerily violent mermaid attack. Expel any notion of The Little Mermaid – these sea sirens are fanged, vicious creatures and their appearance in the film makes for one of the most thrilling scenes of recent memory.

While I still find that 3D tends to make the picture unnecessarily dark, On Stranger Tides was beautifully done and quite stunning in all its three dimensions.

The Weasel: The reason Captain Jack Sparrow became such a favorite was his unmistakable role in the previous Pirates franchise; he was the comic relief, the jester, the character that worked because he was surrounded by a strong cast of main characters. Unfortunately, On Stranger Tides loses site of this formula and places Jack smack in the middle of the story, giving him the responsibility of comic joker and main character all at once. And while this can and has been done successfully, in this case, it’s too much of a good thing. Depp is fascinating to watch, but is far more enjoyable when he is balanced out with more traditional characters. Here, Jack is the star of the show, giving little room to the other characters and giving the audience hardly any breathing room between clever one-liners.

It was clear that Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, Sam Claflin’s Philip and Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s mermaid Syrena were meant to fill the void left by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley; however, so little effort was put into these characters that, by the end, you wonder why the writers even bothered with them.

These characters weren’t the only things left half-realized; On Stranger Tides features so many half-plots and almost-themes that the story starts to feel cobbled together. Glimmers of deep plot points involving religion, the morality of immortality and familial bonds were left unresolved. Odd bits of supernatural elements (magical rigging, voodoo dolls, shrunken ships and the like) were taken for granted and never even cursorily explained. Then, add in two love stories that were thrust upon the audience with zero justification, the pointless inclusions of the “evil” Spanish Catholics, and the complete lack of convincing character motivations (particularly with Barbossa and Blackbeard) and you have quite a mess on your hands.

All these errant plot points caused the film to drag in several places – the scenes without Depp felt like mere filler until the camera could get back to Jack’s usual shenanigans.

A fun summer movie to be sure, On Stranger Tides will please both franchise and Depp fans. But if you’re looking for a sequel (or even potential second trilogy kickoff) that manages the same magic as The Curse of the Black Pearl, you’ll walk away disappointed. It turns out On Stranger Tides isn’t that strange after all – pretty standard in fact.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Do you think On Stranger Tides is the beginning of a new Pirates trilogy? Can Jack Sparrow carry a movie on his own? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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6 responses

24 05 2011
scarletsp1der

I, too, felt there was too much going on in this one to make for a great movie. Entertaining, but could’ve been so much more. Great review. I agree! Glad to see you back!

31 05 2011
Dustin

Glad to be back! It’s been a crazy few months – just not enough hours in the day! 🙂 Glad you agreed – just seemed to be missing something. I’m excited for ‘First Class’ though – it’s been getting great initial reviews!

31 05 2011
scarletsp1der

btw, Dustin, saw this over at Anomalous Material and it made me think of your love for Star Wars. I hope you can jump in on the discussion on the page once it begins. May I recommend making AM a regular stop for you. It’s a lot of fun to mingle with other movie lovers/bloggers there from all over the world.

Here’s the link to that story: http://www.anomalousmaterial.com/movies/2011/05/the-people-vs-george-lucas/ Hope you dig it!

31 05 2011
Dustin

Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely add the site to my ‘check often’ folder 🙂 I have yet to see that movie, but I’ll have to check it out – like you said, I’m sure I’d have a lot to say about it, ha! 🙂

17 06 2011
Jordan

Dustin, Thanks for the great and thorough review, I think I will pass on this one. Are you going to review First class? The reviews have been overall positive, but I haven’t come across a really in-depth review yet.

19 07 2011
scarletsp1der

Hey Dustin! Just poppin in to say hello! I’m sure things have been crazy busy. If there’s anything ya need just give a shout!

Hope you are well. Miss seeing ya around the blogosphere!
-T

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