Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow in an action-packed adventure. Crossing paths with the enigmatic Angelica (Penelope Cruz), he’s not sure if it’s love — or if she’s a ruthless con artist who’s using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the “Queen Anne’s Revenge,” the ship of the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn’t know whom to fear more: Blackbeard or Angelica, with whom he shares a mysterious past.
Captain Jack Sparrow sets sail in an all-new adventure in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. If you’ve enjoyed the first three movies, then you should be on board with the latest venture. If you’ve never seen one of these flicks, there’s not a lot to catch up on. Gone are Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom; gone are most of Captain Jack’s original crew. The only returning cast members here are Geoffrey Rush as Jack’s nemesis Barbosa and Kevin McNally as crewman Gibbs. Jack’s ship, the Black Pearl, has been captured (along with the mischievous monkey) and somehow miniaturized and placed in a bottle, as have many other ships that have gone against Blackbeard. But those elements are the only links to the original trilogy. They are nods to the faithful fans, but shouldn’t get in the way of a new viewer’s enjoyment.
There was a lot of criticism, particularly of the third film, about the overly-long running time and completely convoluted plot (I didn’t have a problem with either). Unfortunately, those criticisms have not been addressed according to the comments I heard coming out of the screening. Yes, the film is long and yes, it does seem to have about three endings (and that doesn’t include the post-credit scene that sets up the next movie), but you know what? I applaud the filmmakers for not dumbing the movie down to just another empty action popcorn movie that you forget all about once the lights come up. Granted, the story could have been streamlined a bit — there are just a few too many different groups of people who show up at the Fountain of Youth for the film’s climactic battle that makes you lose track of what’s going on, and I’m still trying to figure out the geography of the land around the Fountain (Jack and his group walk through jungles and a cave, magically rise up through a puddle on the cave roof conjured up by some silver chalices, but the other armies seem to have reached the same spot without all of the special effort).
Okay, so you really don’t want to try and figure out the entire plot because it does go off the rails a bit, but I still applaud the effort. What I really missed, though, were the supernatural elements of the original trilogy. There are no ghostly pirates (or ships), no Davy Jones, no giant squids; just some zombiefied crewmen on Blackbeard’d ship … and those are just guys in makeup. There’s a hint that Blackbeard himself may be undead, and he has a magic sword that can bring ropes and sails to life but that’s about it. Obviously the film’s smaller budget had an impact on what they could do as far as special effects and I really found that to be a huge disappointment, but the mermaids were cool.
As for the new additions to the cast, Ian McShane makes a great Blackbeard with that deep, growling voice of his, but he may or may not return for another chapter (of course, Barbosa has made it to number four even though he was dead and a ghost and now alive and mortal again). Penelope Cruz was wonderful because she was really the antithesis of Keira Knightly’s character. Cruz’s Angelica gets right into the action from her first moment on screen, matching Jack movement by movement in a sword fight. She never plays the damsel in distress, and I could understand every word she said (I really have a hard time with heavy accents). Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp are, as always, a joy to watch because you can tell they are having a ball playing these parts. As for the film’s 3D – this is real 3D, not the shoddy conversion process used on Thor. There are a few swords to poke you in the eye but the effect seems to be used more for depth which really renders it unnecessary (seriously, if you’re going to use 3D, throw stuff at us!), and with poor projection the image can appear a bit too dark in a film that has a lot of dark scenes. I would also recommend not taking small children as there is quite a high body count (bloodless for the most part, but still) and the mermaids get a little freaky-scary as they attack and kill the sailors sent to retrieve a tear to perform the ritual of life at the Fountain. All I could think was, “Ariel, nooooooooooo!” The film does have a much darker tone overall, so keep that in mind. I found the film an enjoyable romp for the most part, but it is missing some of the magic, literally and figuratively, of the original trilogy. It may be a chore to sit through for some, but the fans of the series should be ready to set sail for the further adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.