It would be difficult to have higher expectations for a film than I had for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The first film in the series, The Curse of the Black Pearl, is probably my favorite film of all time. I enjoyed the second and third films immensely, even though they were very different from the first. So keep this in mind when I discuss On Stranger Tides, which I managed to see earlier this week.
For those of you looking for a simpler, cleaner Pirates film, this is it. The film is all about fun and fast paced action. There’s no Will Turner or Elisabeth Swann holding us back from reveling in the glory of piracy, and director Rob Marshall takes full advantage by launching immediately into the plot without the long wind up we are used to from previous films.
Picking up from where At World’s End left off, we find Captain Jack Sparrow in search of the Fountain of Youth, as are a number of other adventuring pirates, heads of state, and pretty much every character in the film. Along the way, you see what has become of Barbossa, Gibbs, and the Black Pearl. The film is designed in such a way that if you had not seen the previous films, you can jump right in and enjoy this one.
Jumping into the cast this time around are Penelope Cruz as Angelica and Ian McShane as the infamous Blackbeard. Cruz is the best move that producer Jerry Bruckheimer could have made, as the scenes between her and Johnny Depp crackle with electricity. The two of them have a great chemistry and bring a touch of romance and intrigue to the proceedings.
McShane, on the other hand, brings nothing to the table besides his menacing presence. Blackbeard, the character, adds no real sense of danger or stakes to the film, but merely serves as a foil for Jack and Angelica and, to a lesser extent, Barbossa. His purported evil, however, seems much less imposing after the cool veneer of Cutler Beckett in At World’s End or the ruthlessness of Davy Jones in Dead Man’s Chest.
The first portion of this film, despite the multiple action scenes, tends to drag a bit. All of the pirates chasing the Fountain of Youth is fun, but at points while watching I wondered why some of them didn’t just give up. Was it worth all of this? The race to the Fountain lacks a sense of stakes, and the first three films focused a great deal on what was at stake for each character. When the various crews get closer, however, the film really picks up, and the last 45 minutes of this 2 hour and 15 minute film feel like a worthy addition to the Pirates franchise.
To me, the main difference between this film and the previous ones comes with the substitution of Rob Marshall for Gore Verbinski in the director’s chair. Say what you will about the long and involved Pirates sequels, but you cannot deny that those films were daring and adventurous, pushing the boundaries of what a big budget film could be by creating memorable action sequences, mixing plots and taking risks. On Stranger Tides does none of those things.
This is a film that plays it completely safe, following the pirates and featuring more Jack Sparrow, more witty banter, and less controversial or complicated story lines. This is a paint by numbers Pirates film, where Marshall fills in what would be expected, but doesn’t make the franchise his own or try anything new. That doesn’t mean it’s not good, and I recommend that everyone who loves Pirates go see it, but if you’re like me, and were looking for more of the magic, whimsy, and adventure of Curse of the Black Pearl, you’ll be disappointed.