Review: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'
Aargh! More Pirates!
Disney convinced Johnny Depp to commit to extending the life of their pirate franchise by three more films so here is the first of the second trilogy, "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (opened May 20 throughout San Diego and in 3D in select theaters).
Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush has been resurrected as Barbossa. Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom apparently felt no need to return either for the money or the "artistic" challenge. So we have the new additions of Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz as Blackbeard and his pirate daughter. And all four of the characters this time around are on a quest -- for very different reasons -- to find the fountain of youth. Along the way they encounter lethal mermaids and Spanish soldiers. There may be some new elements but essentially, "Pirates 4" is simply a rehash of "Pirates 1-3."
"On Stranger Tides" is better than "Pirates 3" and about par with "Pirates 2." But that's not saying much. "Pirates 3" was probably one of the worst films ever made so it would be pretty hard for "4" to be worse. The strength of the franchise has always been Depp as Sparrow. Depp decided that pirates were the rock stars of their time so he looked to his friend Keith Richards (who returns again for a cameo as Sparrow's father) for inspiration. Depp's performance in the first "Pirates" movie was a refreshing delight. While everyone around him was playing it relatively straight, he seemed to be mocking the whole proceedings. Plus he had a slightly drunken disposition and walked as if he were constantly compensating for a swaying deck even when he was on dry land. He was a hoot to watch and he made up for any of the shortcomings in the film.
But each successive film seemed to get worse in terms of story and script. Disney, which based the film on its theme park ride, seemed less concerned with creating a good film and more concerned with cashing in as quickly as possible on the popularity of the first film. The films felt and feel very much like products rather than movies, something that can provide the basis for toys and Halloween costumes. Jack Sparrow has even been incorporated into the old Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland to bring the marketing of the product and franchise to a complete full circle.
This latest "Pirates" shows a little more care in scripting and the addition of Cruz and McShane is a plus. But "On Stranger Tides" boasts little freshness or invention, and the two strong acting additions are never put to good use. They each get one note to play: Cruz is fiery and McShane is mundanely evil. There should have been more fun sparks between Cruz and Depp, and McShane could have been wickedly evil. But new director Rob Marshall (taking over from Gore Verbinski) is a poor choice to take over the helm. He made Fellini turn over in his grave with his adaptation of the musical "Nine," and his "Memoirs of a Geisha" looked about as realistic as a studio backlot. For "Pirates 4" he plays up all the gags with predictable heavy-handedness and never finds the lightness of touch necessary make the humor sparkle and the action be fun. He gives the characters about as much life as the animatronic figures in the ride.
The effects are fine (some nice scary mermaids) but the 3D is as lame as all the other films coming out and just trying to make filmgoers cough up a few extra buck per ticket. The only 3D that has been impressive was the opening of "Drive Angry." Other than that most of the 3D going around is flat out unimpressive. The 3D here did little to add depth of any kind to the film.
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality, and innuendo) signals the tone for much of the summer movies -- mindless regurgitation of familiar formulas to that audiences will get exactly what they expect from a sequel. You could do a lot worse at the theater than "Pirates 4" but Hollywood could really be doing a lot better.
Here is a list I did as a guest writer at About.com on the ten best pirate films.
Companion viewing: "Pirates of the Caribbean," "Ed Wood," "Captain Blood," "Blackbeard the Pirate"