Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Few movies manage to capture the spirit of high adventure on the high seas faster than a movie with pirates giving audiences classics like Captain Blood, cult hits like The Princess Bride, and blockbuster hits like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Beginning with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, gave crowds were treated to dashing heroes, menacing villains, and a tale of high adventure salted with sea-faring mythology, not to mention introducing the world to the most endearing scalawag swashbuckler this side of Errol Flynn, Captain Jack Sparrow. The result was one of the most entertaining films of the last decade, one all the more surprising when you remember it’s based off of a theme park ride.
However, as the series dragged on, the series began to have a lot of increasingly noticeable problems. The plots began becoming increasingly convoluted, and the mythos increasingly confusing, to the point that during At Worlds End, I literally found myself grasping at air for the plotline. Kiera Knightly seems to have gotten her character mixed up with her role in King Arthur, as Elizabeth goes from a spunky damsel in distress to holding her own in sword fights against sea-demons, while in direct contrast, Orlando Blooms role as Will foes from that of a dashing rogue to that of a whiny sidekick, whose purpose in the films seemed to consist of complaining and getting stabbed. While the villains of the first movie were menacing enough, having Davy Jones (who always reminded me of a Scottish Clthulu) and later the East India Trading Company always seemed oddly underwhelming. While Johnny Depp’s performance as Captain Jack remained entertaining as ever, it was not enough to keep me from grouping Pirates with all of the other trilogies from the last decade that left me disappointed.
So it comes as a shock that I found myself looking forward to the new film this summer. With Gore Verbinski busy making the Bioshock movie, Disney handed the helm to Rob Marshall, and he seemed to have at long last taken the franchise back to its roots. Gone is the increasingly obnoxious bits with Will and Elizabeth, replaced with more Captain Jack as well as introducing his scorned lover Angelica. Villains like Davy Jones/Cthulu and the East India Trading Company were shelved in favor of a longtime staple of villainy, Blackbeard. Toss in a tagline consisting of ‘Mermaids, Zombies and Blackbeard’, and I was ready to give the series a second shot, if a little wary.
So does the new Pirates of the Caribbean deserve your pieces of eight or do the people behind the film deserve to be keelhauled? Raise the Jolly Roger and ready the sails, this is my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
The story follows a three-way race to the Fountain of Youth between a force of conquistadors on a mission from the King of Spain, a ship from the British Royal Navy commanded by pirate-turned-privateer Captain Barbossa, and the undead or enslaved crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge lead by the infamous Blackbeard. In the middle of this race of conflicting reasons, Captain Jack Sparrow finds himself pitched into, and as you might expect, he ensures that he has a hand in with however wins.
While it may sound simple on paper, that’s one of the things I found most enjoyable about it. What I really hated about At World’s End how utterly non-sensical and hard to follow the story was, and the fact On Stranger Tides has a simple story that remains interesting was one of my favorite things about the movie. At the same time, it doesn’t shy away from the more mythical elements from the prior movies, yet it never goes overboard. While I was underwhelmed by the zombies (they were voodoo zombies, I was expecting brain munchers), I was impressed with others, especially the mermaids, which in staying with legend not at all typical of Disney films, are seductive sirens that seek to drag sailors to their doom beneath the waves. As a whole though, the story was a little slow in the beginning, and nothing special, but it was well done and enjoyable.
Like the prior films, it is a very character driven movie, and the level of detail and skill in the performance put into each role certainly made the movie as good as it was. Johnny Depp, as it should surprise no one, gives yet another entertaining turn as Jack Sparrow, just as zany and entertaining as ever. Geoffrey Rush gives another turn as the ever-theatrical Captain Barbossa, and not to spoil any plot points, but you never know what he’s scheming, and it shows in his performance. Penelope Cruz gives a delightfully spunky performance as Sparrow’s fiery ex-lover Angelica, and Ian McShane’s turn as the unpredictable and violent Blackbeard has easily become my favorite villain from the series. I was very surprised most of all at the level of skill from the supporting cast, especially actor and actress portraying the missionary Phillip Swift and the mermaid Syrena, both of whom I found surprisingly endearing. To top it off, Kevin McNally and Kieth Richards reprise their roles as Jack’s first mate and father respectively. As a whole, the acting is well done and the characters are enjoyable.
Much like it’s predecessors it is home to many fine examples of swashbuckling and stunt work, and while there is nothing there too altogether impressive, what’s there is done well. The special effects, unlike the last two, are far more downplayed, choosing instead to show off scenery, and I will admit, it works in many ways. The Hans Zimmer crafted score gives of just as much a feel of high-seas adventure as it always has. Much like the rest, while nothing revolutionary, it remains a very good and well tuned movie – I will urge you to avoid the 3D version of the film however.
Overall, I have to admit I enjoyed the movie, and found myself impressed as a whole with it. While not the best movie I have seen this year (that would be Thor so far) it’s still a good movie, and by far the best Pirates film in years. The story is OK, but it’s truly the characters that sweep you away with the tides, with Sparrow and company just as enjoyable to watch in action as ever. It provides a few hearty laughs, a few genuine thrills, and you will leave the theatre smiling. While it has a few flaws, it still remains a very entertaining movie.
So for those of you reading this who loved the Pirates movies, or at least liked the first one, this On Stranger Tides is the best entry in the franchise since the original, and is by far better than either Dead Man’s Chest or At World’s End. More than anything, they took what made the Pirates franchise enjoyable and got rid of what made the latter movies irritating, and the result is a thing of beauty: All the hearty humor and high adventure, none of the filler. If you have the time, I urge you to go see it.