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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (A Movie Review)

Updated: 2 days ago


Starring Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Gemma Ward, Richard Griffiths, Stephen Graham, Roger Allam, Keith Richards and Judi Dench.

Screenplay by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio.

Directed by Rob Marshall.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 137 minutes. Rated PG-13.

Eight years and four films into the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, one thing has become startlingly clear. While each of the films has had some great moments, only the first one – The Curse of the Black Pearl – really needed to be made.

However, with the great popularity of that first film, two sequels were nearly immediately (and simultaneously) made to cash in on the booty that the series had inspired. Both of those were interesting, but they were also a little too long and a little too confusing. Dead men tell no tales, indeed.

And that was supposed to be it. In fact, even at the height of Pirate-mania, it was insisted that the series would be a trilogy. At the time of the release of the third film on video, co-star Keira Knightley told me, “I can’t imagine doing another one. That was an amazing experience. It really was. Totally extraordinary. But no, I think three for me is probably enough.”

However, even though Disney truly did plan on the series ending after At World’s End, they did leave a slight opening at the end of that film for a potential sequel.

Now, four years later, part four of the trilogy is sailing into the multiplexes. Knightley proved true to her word; she is not back for this go around. Neither is Orlando Bloom, who played her love interest and was apparently forced to walk the casting plank from the very genesis of the project.

On Stranger Tides would revolve around the series’ breakout character, Captain Jack Sparrow, and surround him with mostly new characters. The one major return is his archenemy Capt. Barbossa – played by Geoffrey Rush – who had seen limited action in the second and third parts of the saga.

It is a riskier proposition than you may think. Even though he is remembered as the heart of the Pirates franchise, as a character, the strength of Capt. Jack was that he was not the main character; he was an offbeat supporting character off of which to bounce the action. It was a big role, but it was not the role.

Smartly, for the new film the producers (and new director Rob Marshall of Chicago fame – Gore Verbinski had directed the first three) have somewhat divorced this story from the complex (some would say confounding) mythology of the earlier films, particularly parts 2 and 3.

Instead, this is supposed to be a leaner, meaner Pirates, a stand-alone tale with much of the fat trimmed from the storytelling (the running time is about a half-hour shorter than that of the previous film).

And that is true. Sort of. There is still a lot of needless gobbledygook about curses and magic and killer mermaids and enchanted chalices and the fountain of youth.

It’s all a lot of manufactured spectacles – impressive looking but often of little consequence.

The film is also wasteful on other levels. For example, why bring in a legendary actor like Dame Judi Dench for a small role and then just give her one line of dialogue – and a kind of ridiculous one at that?

Then again, having fine actors like Dench – or Ian McShane, or Geoffrey Rush, or Penelope Cruz, or even Johnny Depp – is at this point pretty much superfluous in the Pirates movies. They are not about the acting; they are about the spectacle. As such, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is somewhat entertaining – though as an over-the-top Vegas-style production rather than as a story-conscious film.

The truth is Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is probably the second-best film in the series. However, to this day, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl is the only one I’d ever have any real urge to revisit.

Sadly, Disney does not quite agree. Even though even Depp has apparently acknowledged in interviews that the character of Captain Jack Sparrow is pretty much played out, Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is already in the planning phases.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: May 20, 2011.

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