Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
PLOT: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is forced by a former flame, Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her dreaded pirate father, Blackbeard (Ian McShane) to guide them to the mythical fountain of youth. Along the way, they're pursued by Sparrow's old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who's now in the employ of the English monarchy.
REVIEW: Here we go again...
Seriously folks, is there anyone out there that was chomping at the bit for another PIRATES after AT WORLD'S END came out four years ago? Granted, the first installment of the series was a fun frolic on the high seas, boosted by a tremendously charismatic star turn from Johnny Depp, which in turn made him a full-on superstar, and got him a well-deserved Oscar nomination. But the sequels? Sure, they made money, but did anyone even like DEAD MAN'S CHEST or AT WORLD'S END? I sure didn't, and by the time the credits rolled on the last film, I was totally done with Jack Sparrow and crew.
Alas, Jack Sparrow was not done with me- as there was still money to be made, no matter how bad the last two films were.
Still, I hoped that the fourth installment might be a rebound for the once entertaining series, more in line with the first film than parts 2 and 3. Alas, that was not to be, as everything that was wrong with those films is here too, only more-so. Messy, unfocused storyline? Check. Boring action scenes? Check. Over-length? Check. Jack Sparrow being sidelined in his own movie? Check.
Let's start with the storyline. Obviously, some effort has been made to scale back on the scope of the films, with the lower-key Rob Marshall taking over for the lavish Gore Verbinski, and the story being far more bottled up. The thing is, where do you go when the last installment had your hero rise from the dead, and featured a climax that literally took place at the end of the world? Comparatively, a search for the fountain of youth seems boring, although it could have worked if the screenplay by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio had been less by the numbers, and the direction a little less by rote.
To be fair, the first twenty minutes of ON STRANGER TIDES aren't bad at all, culminating in an energetic chase through London, which is really the film's only halfway decent action scene. From there it's all down hill, with us spending most of the next two hours watching our heroes trek through the jungle at nighttime, with the the occasional cut to Barbarossa baring down on the crew on-board a ship of his own. It's all very boring, and I'm not exaggerating when I say I almost fell asleep twice during the incredibly draggy midsection.
As bored as I was, director Marshall and Depp seem ever more so. I'm not a huge fan of Marshall's (I thought CHICAGO was over-rated, and I loathed NINE), but I hoped he'd bring a bit of pizazz to the series. Sadly, this seems to have been a paycheck gig through-and-through, and that comes across on-screen. At least Gore Verbinski seemed to be trying to make a good movie. Here, Marshall's just coasting, and the same goes for Depp, who does the same old-shtick.
That said, I can't really blame him, as it's amazing how marginalized the character is in this installment. If it wasn't for Penelope Cruz as his marginal love interest (bringing a little much needed sex appeal now that Keira Knightley's gone), he'd have almost no role at all. The ending is a particular shock, as the big Mano-a-Mano showdown actually goes to Geoffrey Rush, who, along with a solid Ian McShane as Blackbeard, seems to be the only one who actually gives a damn about making a good movie. I love Depp, but between this and THE TOURIST, I'm amazed at how much he's phoning it in these days. The only time he seems to be having fun is during the tacked-on Keith Richards cameo- which happens early.
And the length! Good Lord, why did it have to be 141 minutes? In the old Errol Flynn pirate films, they could tell an epic story in two hours flat. This could have easily been done in 100 minutes, considering the reduced scope of the film. It's incredible how many extraneous subplots are packed into the the film to give it this length, with the saccharine love story between Sam Claffin's Reverend McSix-Pack, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey mermaid being something that could have easily been totally excised from the film, without anyone knowing. I suppose this was an effort to pull in a younger, teenage audience, but wasn't that why Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were in the first two? You ditch them, but then you bring in virtual clones, and give them nothing to do? What's the point?
Of course, the whole thing's in 3D, and to be fair, this is probably the best 3D I've seen in a while, although it doesn't particularly add to the film. Marshall doesn't seem to be enough of a visual stylist to really make it work, and considering 80% of it takes place at night, you'll have a hard time making out a lot of the action.
It's too bad ON STRANGER TIDES is such a miserable end to the franchise, if in fact it is the end. I suppose that all depends on how much money it makes. I have no doubt it'll open big, but if the lukewarm reaction this received at the promo screening is any judge, word of mouth is going to be poison. Stay home and rent CAPTAIN BLOOD or THE SEA HAWK instead, and enjoy a real pirate movie (heck, even NATE & HAYES would do better than this).