Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides represents the fourth entry in this unlikely series. Not bad for a series whose source material is a Disney theme park ride. They are, perhaps, the face of disposable, inconsequential summer films, but On Stranger Tides has the faint stink of a phoned-in cash grab, and box office receipts will likely confirm fears that this is not the last we’ve heard from Jack Sparrow and company.
As the film opens, Sparrow (Depp) has returned to London to save his friend, Gibbs (Kevin McNally), from certain death after the British have mistaken him for Sparrow. Before he can secure Gibb’s release, he is captured by Angelica (Cruz), the daughter of notorious pirate Blackbeard (McShane). Blackbeard is aware that Sparrow has a map of the exact location of the mythical Fountain of Youth. Also on the hunt for the Fountain are the Spanish and British, now led by old Captain Barbossa (Rush).
Director Rob Marshall makes his Pirates directing debut, though you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything to distinguish it from the series’ other entries. These films roll off the production line as if they are cars, and this time around the screenplay (by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) gets real over-complicated and is loaded down with filler. One would think that simply drinking from the Fountain would ensure eternal youth, but instead the act requires two separate chalices from Ponce de Leon’s shipwrecked boat and a single tear from a mermaid. Problem: These brands of mermaid are seductive, flesh-eating killers. The film never really works into a rhythm, thus making the 137 minute runtime (the shortest of the series) feel bloated and sluggish.
Depp, at this point, can play Sparrow in his sleep, but he’s still the best part of the film by a long shot. He gets another entertaining scene with Keith Richards and a memorable, albeit very brief, scene with Dame Judi Dench that should get a good laugh. Penelope Cruz is the main addition to the supporting cast, but her character is drawn in crayon and she’s not given much else to do other than bark orders. Rush and McShane get the job done as Barbossa and Blackbeard, respectively, but there’s really not much else to do with these two.
And that’s where the core of the problem lies. Barring an overhaul of the series, it’s starting to feel like we’re watching the same episode over and over. The action scenes don’t seem near as enthralling as those in previous films, and there’s reason for that: our expectations rise with each new film. This feels stuck in ’07, but make no mistake: Disney will reap every last dollar out of this series, no matter how tired it feels. The coin will be there, but audiences want more as we head into the summer of 2011.
Note: The 3D presentation is surprisingly not terrible. Motion sequences still seem blurry and distracting, but on the whole this is one of the better presentations of late. Is it still worth the extra money? No.
Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Length: 137 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.
Theatrical Release: May 20, 2011
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio.
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally