With the release of L.A. Noire last Tuesday my time has been embarrassingly devoted to playing through the video game, so I may have gotten behind on reviewing the new Pirates of the Caribbean film. I wish I could say this was the only reason for the delay, but it may have to do with the simple fact that I didn’t want to admit that I did not really like it (granted the power outage didn’t help). Guess it won’t be getting that spot on my list of the successful high numbered sequels of the year after all…
On Stranger Tides brings back everyone’s favorite swashbuckler in the hopes of restoring the series to the glory that has been slowly washing away since The Curse of the Black Pearl. Johnny Depp is as entertainingly eccentric as ever as Captain Jack Sparrow on the new treasure hunt to find the Fountain of Youth, but it turns out that his perfected pirate cannot actually carry a film without the help of the characters that he was developed around in the prior films. That’s right, this time around there is no Orlando Bloom to brave the high seas for love and no Keira Knightley to duel against Barbossa with the expanse of her vocabulary (I can’t really remember what they did in the other two films post the first). Whatever your feeling of their characters was before, the loss of the dynamic they created is greatly felt in this one.
A few new characters are introduced to fill the empty space at Jack’s side, starting with Angelica. What first seems to be a very promising character thanks to her past with Jack quickly loses this edge as her true connection to the story is revealed. Penélope Cruz does a fine job with the role she is given, but it is impossible to see past her motivation in the main body of the story that quickly takes front and center over the more interesting relationship with Jack and the potential of what she means to his character. Instead we get some lame father/daughter story with Ian McShane’s Blackbeard.
Prior to On Stranger Tides the main antagonizing forces have always been other strong pirate captains, referring mostly to Barbossa and Davy Jones. Created by Geoffrey Rush and Bill Nighy respectively, each had a strength of character and interesting qualities brought about by the actors filling the roles, but the same cannot be same here. This time around McShane takes the helm of the villainous ship as Blackbeard, a character that is completely dwarfed by his predecessors, which becomes even more noticeable considering that Barbossa is still around to compare him to.
Other than a few comedic bits between Barbossa and Jack that draw heavily on an already well-developed relationship and rapport between the two, the movie is set adrift without any real pull. Think of it as a fishing trip: Casting the line is easily one of the most exciting parts of the process, and On Stranger Tides does this with the reintroduction of Depp’s character. Then the waiting begins. The anticipation of the possibility of something exciting happening continues to grow, all the while the film draws out like the experience of watching a bobber that never dips below the surface of the water. A series that once had a zest for adventure with its kraken, skeletal pirate crews, and whirlpool ship battles now has nothing quite as palpably exciting within its slowly progressing story, and all that remains is something that is challenging to get engrossed in and deserves to get thrown back.
In addition to the far less grandiose action elements, additional cons begin piling up: a romance between two random characters to recreate the attraction of Will and Elizabeth is forced, the inclusion of a few zombified crew members is confounding and completely unnecessary as they are thrown in with as little purpose as the Spaniards, and Blackbeard’s control over his ship just seems silly in a world that has always lived on the outskirts of reality. Speaking of which, one bullet point for the pro side of the list is that mermaids finally make a long overdue appearance (because of their close connection to pirate lore). If only there had been even more of them. Possibly one named Ariel…
The hope with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was to recreate what was done with the first film, but instead of recapturing what made it so inspired, all this film manages to do is build a longing to watch The Curse of the Black Pearl again to wash the dissatisfied taste of this one away. There is no reason for this to be 3D, the action sequences lack excitement, the humor of the characters seems to have waned without the addition of a few key relationships that have already been formed and familiarized with the audience, and it turns out that Captain Jack Sparrow can’t actually carry a film on his own. In the end, I’m sure there were plenty like me that hoped that this movie would be drenched in Disney magic, but unfortunately that ship sailed long ago.
Final grade: C-