It’s been four years since we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow and his mates sail the seas, but they’re finally back for this fourth outing, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The main worry I had before this entry began was whether or not the franchise had enough steam left to still be entertaining after three highly successful films. What we end up with for this entry is a film that shows that perhaps this series has passed its prime.
It begins with Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) on trial for the crime of piracy among others. An attempted rescue attempt from Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) ends up with both of them in custody. However, instead of being sent to jail, Sparrow is brought before King George (Richard Griffiths), who orders that he assist a fleet in finding the fabled fountain of youth. The mission is to be led by none other than his old rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) which doesn’t sit too well with Sparrow.
An escape attempt eventually leads him to an encounter with an old girlfriend of his, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who shanghais him into service aboard Captain Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) ship, which is also on a quest to find the fountain of youth. Meanwhile, a bargain with Barbossa lands Mr. Gibbs in his crew. It becomes a race between Blackbeard’s crew, Barbossa’s crew, as well as the Spanish to retrieve the necessary items in order to perform a ritual at the fountain in which the victors could receive eternal life.
The summary may seem extremely convoluted, but in fact, the main problem with the film is the exact opposite. This outing of the Pirates franchise doesn’t have enough story to it to warrant its 130 minute runtime. It may be the shortest of the series, but somehow it ended up feeling like the longest. Putting aside the minor details of events, the only real story that the film has is that everyone is trying to get to the fountain of youth first. For the rest of the film, it seems as though the writers, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, decided to fill up the film with some action scenes and unnecessary sideplots.
In order to take a look at these sideplots, I first have to explain that in order to use the fountain of youth, the various crews have to collect certain items which include two chalices and a tear from a mermaid. For some strange reason, the writers chose to make the mermaids into vampire-like creatures that ravenously attack people. I know it’s important to have obstacles on a quest like this, but this was just ridiculous.
Later on, there is a completely unnecessary “romance” between one of these mermaids and a clergyman who has unwillingly become a part of Blackbeard’s crew. It ends up adding nothing to the story and merely comes across as filler since these two characters aren’t important enough nor developed enough to care about.
Speaking of romance, you may recall how Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley had provided the romance for the previous three films, but since they both declined to return for this latest outing, that gap left by their absence had to be filled somehow. The first romance, I’ve already mentioned. The second is between Sparrow and Angelica, but like the other, this romance ends up going nowhere and ends up holding very little interest.
The first three films had a pervasive sense of fun while being highly entertaining at the same time, but it is that sense of fun that felt like it was missing from this film, and since there was very little story to be had here, it only came off as partially entertaining. It could be that Elliott and Rossio were just too hard pressed to come up with anything as good as they had written before, or it could be the change in director (this entry was directed by Rob Marshall, director of Chicago, while the previous three had been directed by Gore Verbinski). Whatever the reason may be, this latest entry just didn’t feel like it belonged with the other films. Without that sense of fun, much of it just ends up coming off as very bleak.
Despite these problems, there were a couple of things to enjoy about it. Some of the actions scenes were entertaining and well-done like those in the previous films. There are numerous swordfights and daring escapes that will delight many. We also get an outstanding production design from Academy Award-winner John Myhre (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha).
The last thing I’ll mention is that this film had no business being in 3D. It adds absolutely nothing and was completely pointless. All the 3D does here is make a dark film even darker until it gets to the point where it’s hard to see what’s going on. During the film, I lifted up my glasses several times in order to remind myself how the film should look and so that I could notice all the detail that the crew worked so hard to put into it. Like the previous films, this one is meant to be seen in bright 2-D, so avoid the bland 3-D at all cost.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is not really a bad film, it’s more so a disappointing and forgettable one. The previous films had been filled with great adventure, fun, camaraderie between the characters, and great stories, but most of that was lacking from this film. It doesn’t really leave the franchise open for another sequel, and perhaps that’s for the best, though it’s been reported that Rossio has already turned in a script for a fifth film, so perhaps he thinks he can take the story somewhere else. There are even rumors that Disney wants to shoot five and six back-to-back, so perhaps another grand two-parter is on the way. Let’s just hope they first learn from their mistakes on this film before charging ahead into the next.