Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Written by: Ted Elliot and Terri Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane
It’s been four years since the last ‘Pirates’ movie sailed to the top of the summer box office, yet it doesn’t feel like its been all that long ago since we’ve been on a journey with Captain Jack Sparrow.
In eight years, there have been four films, three grossing a staggering $2.6 billion at the box office and presumably even more money in merchandising and licensing for Disney. All from a theme park ride.
Certainly poised to make somewhat less than the others due to age, competition and feelings on the third film, On Stranger Tides will still be a hit despite the harsh reviews rolling in from critics.
For the fourth installment, Johnny Depp and Rob Marshall have been promising us and the press that their latest will fix the ails that nearly sunk the second and certainly did the third by making it cheaper, shorter, less complicated, more character driven and more like the original that ignited the success for the sequels. Are their promised delivered?
At 128 minutes and $210 million for budget, it certainly is less grand in scale. Less locations, less central characters and more focus, it’s trimmed as promised. Gone are Knightly and Bloom who had their proper send off on the third film. To replace them Cruz and McShane, who add both comedic and acting bite to the film.
McShane is ruthless and holds well up against Barbossa and Davy Jones before him, but certainly lacks the might and fear that Jones instilled to the second film. Him and Cruz hold their own weight without sinking the ship sort-of-speak.
The quest-driven plot makes this feel a lot more like a pirate movie. In reach is the fountain of youth and in the race is the Spanish, our old friend Barbosa (now sporting a wooden leg and wig of loyalty to the British crown), Cruz alongside her father Blackbeard and the iconic anti-hero that started the whole thing, Captain Jack Sparrow (although he remain apart from his beloved Black Pearl). Crossing swords and paths, each character’s motivation is hardly murky.
With less costly CGI and sets, we never get the same grandeur and magnificent trophies like Davy Jones, the Kraken or a single ship battle. Instead, we get tightly wrapped, exciting and even clever scenes like the Mermaid baiting, the Sparrow escape from London and a sort-of Russian roulette. Add in the new humor, which caters to the previous films while avoiding being too cheesy, and this film proves to be one of the more entertaining and re-watchable of the series.
Marshall does a commendable job choreographing the film — his previous films Chicago and Nine earn him an art house title without really being that great — from the sword fights to the 3D technology, but there is really little stylistically to improve on what Gore Verbinski had already created for him. Verbinski, however, probably made the right career move to move on to more mature, although animated, films like Rango, which faired well and proved his knowledge as a filmmaker isn’t limited to blockbusters.
Despite this praise, On Stranger Tides has its glaring faults that aren’t too uncommon with a large, Jerry Bruckheimer sized summer blockbuster. The mature franchise never really allows itself to mature. In the first film we are asked what a man can do and what a man can’t do, in the second we see a man tied to his duty and in the third we see the Pirate world meet the tides of time. Only the first really plays up on this, but they are there for the picking.
In the fourth film, there is lost opportunity to challenge a father’s love and loyalty to his daughter with wickedness, faith with eternal youth and more importantly, eternal youth and an aging pirate and franchise. What a film it could have been had it explored these routes.
For what it is, and what its worth, Pirates is a series meant to entertain and thrill, and at that it admirably succeeds.