Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review
by Bret Dorman
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was a mess of a movie. A lot of people hated it and it is often described as the worst of the three. But… it made a (Pirate) ship-load of money so Disney doing what it does best decided to make a fourth one. With Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly out, they decided to raise everyone’s favorite pirate Captain Jack Sparrow up to the main seat of Protagonist.
The Story: Johnny Depp is out to find the Foutnain of Youth. And so are Penelope Cruz (Angelica), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa), Ian McShane (Blackbeard!), and a bunch of Spanish People (Spaniards). Also, they need cups and mermaid tears.
I don’t know if this is really common knowledge that everyone thinks about, but its not unknown to people that when they shoot a movie, they shoot it out of sequence. I bring this up, because its amazing to watch On Stranger Tides and just feel the energy, creativity and passion get drained from the movie as it goes on. The first action set piece is inspired and very cool, reminding us this is an adventure film. By the end, the action seems to just get sloppier and sloppier and less fun.
The biggest change isn’t that they are bringing in new main characters to fill the gap left by Bloom and Knightly, but that they are just upgrading Jack to main character. Part of his charm and appeal is that he gets to come in and stir things up, weasel his way out of it, and everyone else has to deal with the consequences. A main character needs to have an emotional connection to the audience, and Jack just doesn’t have that. He’s entertaining, not relatable.
Which brings up what may be the most confusing part of the entire movie. Jack is supposed to be the main character, so they give him the ‘love interest’ Angelica. Well not only do Depp and Cruz seem to lack any real sparks (a comment that was also made about him and Angelina Jolie from what I read about for The Tourist, although I didn’t see it), but their characters just don’t know what they want. They literally go from one scene to another where they betray each other then confess their love for each other. I know you could say ‘well that’s them being PIRATES!!!’ but no. That would be fine for side characters, but not the main ones.
Ian McShane as Blackbeard is fantastically underused. His entrance only captures a glimpse of the true terror he is capable of and he never really inspires any fear, just grumbles and has the upper hand a lot. I know this is a Disney movie and all… but its also PG13 and I think little kids could handle a little more.What is probably the biggest let down, the ultimate bummer, is that you have a great cast, access to some of the best writers in Hollywood and could hire an experienced Director who has directed bonafide action flicks before… not to mention an unlimited budget… and given that this movie had more time to do it than Pirates 2 & 3… this is THE BEST they could come up with?! I’m all for cheesy action summer blockbusters, but come on, this is just sad.
I like the idea of creating your own folklore and using ‘real life’ legends and adding a certain amount of fantasy to them, but this movie doesn’t build up any universe. Rather, it just sloppily lays down what it has for the viewer to figure it out. Now I’m not saying I couldn’t figure it out, but part of the appeal of Pirates movies and pirates in romantic storytelling is the idea of building reputations and the art of them telling stories and legends of certain objects. Nothing anyone says in this movie seems to matter to them or carry any weight in their decisions. If the characters don’t seem to really care what’s going on then why should I?
This has to do with the idea that they need two specific cups and a mermaid tear. Now not only are the mermaids given just the briefest of introduction, but everyone seems to know about how to operate the Fountain of Youth and it makes the journey just a matter of getting there. It would be nice to have a little back story on why the two cups are important, why you need a mermaid tear, and why mermaids grow legs when on land? The viewer can figure it all out but since the filmmakers don’t seem to care about having fun the whole thing just seems tedious.
Like I mention before, the action goes from inspired, to tedious, at an alarming rate. Jack’s big escape sequence is fun and exciting, involving some classic rope/chandelier swinging. The mermaid scene has moments of cool parts, but Jack’s crazy decision to just blow something up and have everyone run away is confusing. Then the final fight between all parties is just dull and mandatory (although there is one section of Jack Vs Angelica Vs a henchman where they are all trying to grab the two cups, the tear, and two guns that is kind of neat).
Spoilers!Character motivation seems to be what this movie needs the biggest reworking on.
Jack is after the Fountain of Youth because… otherwise there is no movie… but he never really says why or gives a reason (I know eternal youth, but HE doesn’t say it…)
Angelica wants to ‘save’ her father who isn’t her father who really is her father. The whole girl having daddy issues thing is really weak. She’s a pirate, yet she wants to give her dad eternal life so he can save himself?
Blackbeard is after the Fountain so he can keep spreading terror across the land. Okay this one is kind of solid.
The big twists are the Spaniards, who actually want to destroy the Fountain. That’s cool. But then it begs the question if the ticking clock in the movie is the Spaniards… why didn’t they just bypass the cups and go right to the Fountain, destroy it,m then wait for people to show up with the cups, fight them and destroy them? Instead, they go find the cups which slows them down and give everyone else who actually want to USE the Fountain a chance to catch up.
Also my favorite character is probably Captain Barbossa, who is now fit with a peg leg (a first in the Pirates Franchise?). He is super old and could probably use the Fountain the most, but his only desire is to get revenge on Blackbeard and get his ship back. He couldn’t care less about the Fountain, just knows he has to go there to find Blackbeard.
Depp and Rush have the best dynamic together, as their characters have the most history and their rhythms match up well. It was also nice to see them share a moment when being captured, and how Jack had a way out and escaping, that he only made known after Barbossa basically told him he was just after Blackbeard and to get a real pirate ship again. It was nice to see Jack almost do something nice for another pirate.
Oh yeah… and at the end, before we get the obligatory fight scene thats everyone versus everyone and its just a muddled mess (I hate big group fight scenes, very rarely are they done well), Jack actually stands up and says “Why not just make Barbossa and Blackbeard fight?” Barbossa Vs Blackbeard?! In a legit Pirate sword duel? Two villains going at it?! YES PLEASE! But then some douchebag yells, “Nah!” and they all start fighting. Fuck that.
Another thing that confused me was the mermaid lady. After the missionary guy let her go she disappeared, then was able to transport herself to the Fountain (which oh yeah by the way you have to go through some magic water portal to get to) and she decides to help Jack and these other characters who did nothing but torture and use her. What?
And the BIGGEST laugh, the most defining moment of the movie… was the tiffle between Blackbeard and the missionary guy, and when Blackbeard says something about ‘the mermaid’ (who the missionary guy decides to fall in love with) he YELLS BACK, SUPER intensely, “SHE HAS A NAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Which is hilarious not only because its SUPER intense out of nowhere, but also prior to that moment she was not given a name. And that, my fellow Pirate goers, is what perfectly sums up the clumsy, lazy, retarded writing of Pirates 4.
In Conclusion, On Stranger Tides was not needed nor executed well. Instead its an obvious attempt to just keep the franchise alive while Disney figures out how to recapture the magic of the first one (which I still was not a big fan of anyway). Hopefully for the 5th, Captain Jack Sparrow can move back to being the fun trouble maker and we can get a real story with characters who actually have motivations and wants.
Final grade: D