Movie Review: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (directed by Rob Marshall), is the fourth installment of the popular film franchise and the first among them which doesn’t include the characters, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (it also lacks the director of the first three films, Gore Verbinski). I remember hearing talk from dyed-in-the-wool PotC fans that they felt the series was – pardon the pun – sinking under the weight of it’s own bloat – having become congested with multiple, superfluous characters and confusing story-lines. There was a hopeful buzz about the fourth film, as it promised to be pared down from the albatross that was the third film – focusing primarily on the beloved character Jack Sparrow and keeping the story somewhat simpler.
As someone who was not a huge fan of the film franchise to begin with, I can say that I had little emotional investment in the series either way – Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann were never favorites of mine, so losing them was no big thing. I enjoyed Geoffery Rush’s and Johnny Depp’s performances (as pirates, Hector Barbossa and Jack Sparrow, respectively) – as well as the visual spectacle that the first three films offered – so I could see PotC:OST as having the potential to become the fun summer movie that it promised to be for it’s audience.
Unfortunately, I think that it missed the boat (last one, I promise).
While the plot* is relatively straight forward when compared to those of it’s predecessors, the film is not without it’s problems – primarily that it relies almost entirely on Depp’s Jack Sparrow to carry it. Sparrow as a character works best when he has foils around him to react to his antics – as he did in the previous films when he was merely a supporting character. Presented as a lead, Sparrow’s campy schtick wears thin too quickly and fails to sustain any of the screwball tension that made him so much fun to watch before.
Additionally, he is given a (kind of, sort of) romantic interest in Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former nun-in-training with whom Sparrow had a corruptive affair. Angelica (still wounded by Sparrows’ callous treatment of her) is the daughter of a famously nefarious pirate – Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane) – and has turned to piracy herself after leaving the convent. Now, as you read this, you may be wondering to yourself, ‘hmmm, sounds kind of interesting – what are the circumstances bringing Sparrow, Angelica and Blackbeard together in this movie?’ ** The truth is, I could tell you, but I think that it’s beside the point.
What is worth mentioning, however, is that Angelica and Blackbeard are presented as cruel and ruthless pirates – and while they look the part well-enough, neither of them ever felt like they posed an actual threat to anyone, at any point. Much in the way Neuticles appear to look like testicles but fail to perform any of the necessary tasks of actual testicles, Angelica and Blackbeard merely serve a cosmetic purpose as fearsome pirates, as both failed to project any real menace – something especially surprising in regards to Ian McShane, who does horrifying better than anyone.
‘Neutered’ is actually an appropriate word to describe the film as a whole. The fight sequences and action scenes felt very tamped down when compared to ones showcased in the previous films – save for a set piece involving a Mermaid attack which stood out to me (at least until things got a touch Twilight-y***). ‘Unnecessary’ is another word which comes to mind. A forced-feeling love story between a Missionary (Sam Claflin) and a captured Mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) feels plugged in to fill the void left by Turner and Swann. Though filmed in 3D, many of the scenes are so poorly lit that the addition of 3D glasses make it murky and more difficult to see – hardly worth the additional expense just to feel like dimly-lit swords are coming at your face.
Overall, PotC:OST was underwhelming – I had hoped that the experience of watching it would recapture the fun and sense of adventure that I’ve felt from watching the first three Indiana Jones films…sadly, it did not. I think I’m going to have to go watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom now.
*If you are interested in reading a break-down of the plot, I highly recommend going clicky clicky over to the PotC:OST Wikipedia page, here – I just don’t want to relive it again myself.
**The short of it is, The Fountain of Youth. The long of it is….please don’t make me. It’s just convoluted enough to be a really time-consuming endeavor and frankly, I’m just not up to it. I’m sorry.
***The Mermaids are absolutely stunning in this film -which is awesome, since it is explained that they use their beauty and winsome charms to lure sailors to a watery grave – form following function and all that. When the first attack occurs – a lovely creature appears at the side of a boat and flirts with a sailor who is willing to throw himself overboard just for the promise of a kiss from her…once underwater the Mermaid reveals her pointy, vampire-like teeth – as well as her ability to cast projectile, kelp-like…um…webs (?) at her prey – kind of like Spiderman. It bothered me on many levels (and I have been accused of giving this part way too much thought) but really, why bother making the mermaids so beautiful if they already possess the strength, the web-kelp-casting ability and sharp, bite-y, shark teeth and can ensnare and devour men without ever even poking their pretty heads above the surface? On an animalistic-survival level, doesn’t it make more sense for them to just use their beauty to bring their prey to them – essentially leading the men to drown themselves – thus preserving their strength? Sigh.