Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Directed By: Rob Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Keith Richards
At this point, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, must only make due on two things, Johnny Depp starring as Jack Sparrow and recreating the world of the pirates. Well, franchise fans won’t be disappointed as director Rob Marshall and his team delivered just that. On the other hand, anyone looking for the slightest bit more will leave unsatisfied for the series’ fourth film, On Stranger Tides, has absolutely nothing new to offer.
After breaking out of prison, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) teams up with an old flame, Angelica (Penélope Cruz), to track down the fountain of youth. Turns out, Angelica is Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) daughter and Blackbeard himself desperately needs the powers of the fountain so as to thwart a prophecy dictating his death. But before the trio can even make their way towards the mystical structure, they must first collect the tear of a mermaid as well as two silver chalices from aboard Ponce de León’s ship in order to unlock the fountain’s magic.
Meanwhile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is now in cahoots with the British government, employed by the King to claim the fountain for England. With the guidance of Jack’s now imprisoned first mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Barbossa hits the open seas on a ship that sadly isn’t the Black Pearl, for the Pearl was destroyed during a battle with Blackbeard. Then there are the Spaniards who recently had the good fortunate of snatching up a man from the sea, a member of Ponce de León’s crew who should have died years ago. The Spanish King sends a fleet not only to find, but to destroy the fountain of youth so as to preserve humanity.
On Stranger Tides is a dialogue heavy production, much of which will either go in one ear and out the other or not be understood at all thanks to pirate prattle mumbling. Many plot revelations come well after they’re spoken of. For example, the first sequence of the film during which two sailors find the man from Ponce de León’s ship and bring him to the King of Spain, sails completely over your head. It isn’t until we meet the King of England and he expresses his desperation to beat the Spaniards to the fountain that you start to put two and two together. But still, even then, it never quite sinks in that that original man from the beginning was some 200-year-old crewmember meaning he must have had a sample of the fountain’s water. And, even then, it makes you wonder; did Ponce de León have a massive supply of mermaid tears way back when? Because according to the events in this film, those things are pretty hard to come by.
What else could really be wrong with the film beyond that? The first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, had the stars, action and story to get us all hooked and, ever since, the franchise had the power to drop the story in order to maintain the star power and pirate battles. In that sense, Pirates of the Caribbean has done it again. Depp is back in the traditional Jack Sparrow garb, wobbling around with nonsense dribbling out of his mouth, as is Rush as the always angry and rather ugly Barbossa with Cruz stepping in to fill the void left by Keira Knightley. However, unlike in the very first film, here, they’re all mere placeholders in this pre-established world.
While all of the characters certainly go on one heck of a physical journey, emotionally, they all start where they began. Almost all of the relationships already exist from previous films and remain constant through this one. Even without having appeared in subsequent films, Angelica still suffers from the same predictability. Her past with Jack comes through uninteresting exposition, so we’re well aware, right off the bat, that while the duo has a spiteful yet playful attitude towards one another, there is some honest affection in there. Still, there’s no denying that Depp has this role down. He’s incredibly convincing as usual, but at this point, the role just doesn’t have much more to offer.
The same goes for Barbossa and Blackbeard. Stepping into Barbossa’s boots, or boot, is like riding a bike for Rush. Plus, Rush benefits from having one of the more complex characters this time around courtesy of his curious ties to the British King. While McShane puts on a good show as well, Blackbeard is a cardboard cutout, your quintessential evil pirate. His goal from the very start is to get to the fountain and the guy’s got a one-track mind. The story attempts to play up the father-daughter relationship, but never presents it clear enough to make you wonder how much Blackbeard really cares.
Gibbs gets himself into an interesting situation, being forced to help Barbossa and the English, but he’s missing from such a large chunk of the middle of the film, it’s easy to lose track of his side of the exploit. As for Philip, that character is just an all-around failure, perhaps a lame attempt to make up for the loss of the franchise’s dashing young hero, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Philip’s relationship with a captured mermaid is incredibly contrived and expected. He’s a missionary; are we to think he wouldn’t have compassion?
The only thing that makes Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides worthwhile is the chance to step out of reality and inside the world of pirates. The costumes, set design and action are all gloriously appropriate and quite fun to look at. Then again, ultimately there’s no denying that that’s all a mere façade and deep down, On Stranger Tides is entirely empty.
By Perri Nemiroff