Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
What It Is
An early scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides showcases its best idea: two Captain Jack Sparrows. When the real one (Johnny Depp) learns that someone’s pretending to be him in order to recruit a crew, he sets out to reclaim his not-exactly-good name and finds the culprit: they dash about and fall down and fight a bit, and then, as they mimic one another’s gestures, stroking their chins and mincing, he discovers what you already know. The imposter is Angelica (Penélope Cruz), who asks, just a little slyly, “Are you impressed?”
Indeed he is, as Jack is always impressed with himself. He’s less impressed with Angelica’s proposal, that they set out together in search of the Fountain of Youth. It happens that this puts them in competition with Spanish King Ferdinand VI (Sebastian Armesto) and English King George II (Richard Griffiths), as well as Barbossa (currently captaining one of George’s ships, with a few mates returning from Jack’s own Black Pearl) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Jack finds out this last part rather roughly and too late, when he’s knocked unconscious and dragged off to Blackbeard’s ship by Angelica, apparently the notoriously bloodthirsty pirate’s long-lost daughter.
As if these complications and extra characters aren’t enough, the film piles on another subplot, following the pattern of the first three Pirates installments. This year’s Orlando Bloom is Philip (Sam Claflin), a missionary repeatedly abused by Blackbeard’s crew for proclaiming his love of God. If Angelica and Jack function something like mirror images of one another — both charming, scheming, and ambitious — Philip is another kind of mirror, for you. As Blackbeard commits one monstrous act of violence after another, the camera cuts again and again to the missionary’s horrified face, exemplifying the appropriate response.
This is how the On Stranger Tides has it all ways, supplying bouts of dark violence (considerably less cartoonish than the first two films, and less abstract than the third), along with a bit of a moral lesson. Part of this is conveyed as Blackbeard decides to capture a mermaid, Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), whose teardrop is needed to perform a ritual once they reach the Fountain. Wouldn’t you know? Philip falls for Syrena, who is by her mermaid’s nature deceitful, and so the film sets in motion one more conflicted romance.
After several days and nights of sailing under harsh conditions, all the crews reach the Fountain, whereupon a showdown reveals who’s selfish, who’s loyal, and who’s lost.
Why It’s Fun
Angelica is charming, though her role is mostly confined to sparring with Jack.
As in the previous films, the high seas action is energetic and the makeup is sensational. Aging, chronically cranky pirates like Barbossa (now with a peg leg) and Blackbeard again have ghastly complexions and elaborately tangled hairstyles, while Jack remains the fashionable semi-outcast, his scarves and beads colorful and his affect flamboyant.
Vivacious set-pieces include jack’s escape from King George’s castle, swinging on a chandelier, leaping across rooftops, and careening down the street on a series of carriages. He’s still smarter and more agile than anyone else, despite his apparently perpetual drunkenness.
This installment features fewer run-ins with supernatural entities, leaving out the animated skeletons and ghosts per se. It does, however, provide something of an effects-driven centerpiece in the pirates’ confrontation with mermaids. Legendary, of course, they are here also exceedingly dangerous, swarming together and determined to lure sailors to watery graves. It’s less fun than strange.
Who’s Going To Love It
Johnny Depp fans will want to see him reprise this iconic character — though Jack’s tics and mannerisms are becoming just a tad familiar. He doesn’t do much here that’s surprising. And really, the brief encounter he has with his father William Teague (Keith Richards) only reminds you that you saw them reunite already in another brief encounter in the last Pirates film, At World’s End.
As the franchise is wearing thin, it increasingly shows its original gaps. Aside from Depp, the players are pretty much interchangeable: there are bad pirates and swarthy first mates and a pretty couple, all providing occasions for Jack to make faces, scream, and demonstrate his incredible skills at escaping whatever difficulty he lands in.
What To Be Aware Of
The movie is long (137 minutes), and not especially fast-paced, so younger viewers may be restless.
As noted above, the film is inclined to violence, much of it dark and gritty and a little disturbing. While it includes a couple of generic-seeming sword-fighting scenes — combatants leaping abut a ship’s deck or over tools and wagons in a barn — it also includes less upbeat action.
Most of this action involves men falling down, punching at one another, and swinging swords. These scenes are accompanied by the Pirates theme song, and do little to advance plot.
A scene highlighting Barbossa’s use of poison on his sword’s tip suggests a grisly death will follow its victim’s being scratched by it, and shows some blood.
Some of the action features standard 3D shtick, like a sword thrusting to the front of the frame, towards you. (Mostly, the 3D glasses only make the screen appear darker than it already is.)
A scene in a tavern includes the requisite busty ladies and allusions to sexual temptations.
The sexual banter between Jack and Angelica might be summarized in the line you’ve heard in the trailer, when she asks why he is always “pointing something at me.”
The assault by the mermaids on the sailors is at first startling: they leap from the dark water in numbers, their tails slapping the surface and the men expressing their alarm. Once it becomes clear that Blackbeard means to capture a mermaid, and that he cares not whether he leaves sailors or mermaids dead in the process, the scene becomes more frantic and more disturbing.
The captured mermaid appears not to be wearing a top over her chest, but her hair or water covers her breasts at all times. As she is weakened during her captivity, she looks increasingly sad and close to dying, which inspires Philip to sympathize with and save her.
Needless to say, Blackbeard is a very bad dad.
Jack does like to drink, and behave as if he’s drunk. His compatriots like to try to keep up.
4 out of 10
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
US Premiere: May 20, 2011
UK Premiere: May 18, 2011