Remember four years ago, when Disney released what was to be the last in a trilogy of seaworthy summer movies known as “Pirates of the Caribbean?” The film’s title, “At World’s End” implied the end of an era and most thought that Johnny Depp would retire his unforgettable Captain Jack Sparrow character and move on to other projects. But Disney was evidently not ready to let go of its $3 billion franchise, announcing that they would have another go, “On Stranger Tides.”
“At Worlds End” was a cinematic smash, grossing over $960 million dollars internationally. Critically, however, the film was criticized as being complicated, lengthy and over embellished. I, however, regarded it as an epic finale to one of the more entertaining film franchises I’d seen in some time. It rounded out the plot lines of many major characters and offered compelling dialogue, breathtaking scenery and the irreplaceable charisma of Captain Jack.
Alas, the fourth installment, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” was released May 20, offering few of these aforementioned elements. Yes, Hawaii provides a beautiful backdrop for the escapades of the scheming buccaneers, all of whom seek to drink from the legendary “Fountain of Youth.” However, I expected much heartier content from a film roughly three years in the making.
“On Stranger Tides” begins in England, where Jack and first mate Joshamee Gibbs have ended up, void of their ship and at the mercy of King George II. Through a ridiculous series of events, the two escape, aiming to round up a ship and crew to sail to the fountain, seeking the youth it provides. Here the plot could have also used some serious rejuvenation.
I was glad to see Depp reprise his role, but just slightly. He returns as a noticeably darker shell of the Captain Jack he played in the first three films. This time Sparrow lacks the quirky mannerisms and verbal tenacity that made him so beloved to his fans in the first place. Depp sleepwalks through his character, engaging in half-hearted romantic exchanges with love interest Angelica, portrayed by Penélope Cruz.
However, Angelica, the salacious daughter of Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane), adds a decent amount of intrigue to the film, despite a complicated on-screen romance with Sparrow. She keeps Jack in check as they spar, both physically and verbally. However, I was left constantly confused by the state of their relationship and moreover just didn’t care about whether they ended up together in the end.
Geoffrey Rush returns as an embellished Captain Hector Barbossa, now a privateer for the British Navy who is also searching for the fountain. Noticeably absent, however, is the comedic duo Pintel and Ragetti, Barbossa’s former crewmen. Their absence isn’t explained and they were sorely missed in “Tides,” where the laughs were few and far between.
As the main characters clamor to get to the elusive “Fountain of Youth,” a tacked on subplot develops between a sultry mermaid and a stalwart missionary. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio seem to be supplementing the romance provided by Will and Elizabeth in previous series installments. This time, however, I did not care whether the interspecies romance played out.
Rob Marshall, who took over directing duties from Gore Verbinski, adds little flair to the movie, instead focusing on his abundant fight sequences, glossing over the dialogue. This may have been a smart move on his part, however, as the characters are clearly stagnated by the script. Behind Depp’s heavy eyeliner, he seems to be begging for a more compelling dialogue.
Despite its many faults, “Tides” did have its moments. A brief fight scene where Barbossa and Sparrow battled Spanish privateers was reminiscent of films past. In addition, the magic of Disney created some interesting effects for the fountain, the mermaids and a miniature Jack the monkey. However, if you do see the film, save your money; the 3-D adds little to the experience.
Hans Zimmer returns to score the film, this time accompanied by guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela, who provide acoustic noodling to a medley of familiar Pirates theme songs. The music was less epic than in years past, but was rejuvenated by the collaboration.
My biggest complaint about the film was how disjointed it felt from the rest of the series. A director change, a unenthused lead cast and a piss poor dialogue really detracted from the experience for me and made me question whether Disney even cared about the film’s content to begin with.
Pirates 4 premiered with the highest-ever international gross, earning just over $260 million for its opening weekend. Unfortunately the film was empty calories, and for the first time I left the theater after a “Pirates” film unsatisfied. “On Stranger Tides” is definitely the weakest in the series and surely isn’t worth its weight in rum.