Yes, it’s new review time again and I’ve done seen a feature about some pirates or summat. So, are you sitting comfortably? Then shut the fuck up and I’ll begin…
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
So here we are with the fourth Pirates film, hoping to kickstart a whole new trilogy of swordfighting, big set pieces and general seafaring. After the disappointing sequels, On Stranger Tides looks to right the wrongs those films made, promising a “stripped down” approach to abate those (including myself) who thought that the brilliant Curse of the Black Pearl deserved better. Frankly, they were too convoluted and, for lack of a better word, shit.
“I’m just as bent as ever- hellishly so!”
On Stranger Tides once again follows everybody’s favourite pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he learns that an imposter is gathering a crew to search for the Fountain of Youth. However, the fake Cap’n Jack isn’t the only one interested in the Fountain, as series regular Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the Spanish Armada and legendary fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) race to get to the best anti-ageing treatment in the world. Along the way, things get more complicated for Sparrow as he runs into old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz). The plot is fairly decent and certainly less complicated than either Dead Man’s Chest or At World’s End. At least this time round there’s a clear goal which never wavers. The problem I had with it was the lack of urgency. None of the parties interested the Fountain of Youth actually seem to want it that badly. They talk a lot about it, sure- but there’s no real race. Everyone’s just content to float through the set-piecey bits of the sea at their own pace. Depp’s Sparrow routine is still entertaining, although his dialogue is still not as snappy as it orginally was. Geoffrey Rush is still awesome. I liked Barbossa’s turn from being a filthy pirate to being a filthy privateer for the King’s Navy and that his love of apples hasn’t dwindled. Cruz is fine (in all senses of the word) and Ian McShane does a decent job as Blackbeard, although the character isn’t really explored well enough.
I really wanted a bad-ass villain this time around. The film does a good job of building Blackbeard up, but he’s a bit of a letdown. This may be the point- subverting expectations and all that, but we’re dealing with a Disney/Bruckheimer film here, it’s not only permissable to have a boo-hiss baddie, it’s almost the damn law. Occasionally he’ll do something evil with the relaxed attitude of someone making a shopping list, which can be quite chilling, but I expected more. Thank Christ the Will/Elizabeth story is done with, because I’m not sure I could deal with another feature-length lesson in how not to emote from the bland twins. What we’ve got instead is a rather more compelling romance between missionary Phillip (Sam Claflin) and mermaid Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). There’s less of it, but I think it works better than the screen-hogging duo of Bloom and Knightley. Talking of actors, there are quite a few cameos to look out for. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.
Still, it wouldn’t be a Pirates film without some digustingly expensive action sequences and there are quite a few here. The chase through Ye Olde London is well done, setting off a steady stream of typical Bruckheimer funded mayhem. There’s a good old-fashioned swordfight in a brewery, purposefully similar to Will and Jack’s initial dust-up in the first one. This self-referencial scene outlined the problem I had with the sequels and this film. It’s the fucking editing. The sword fights are just a succession of quick shots, mostly fairly close up so you have even less of an idea about what’s going on. I watched the first one back and was surprised to see that the editing was a lot more subdued. There were times in this film when I had no idea who was who (aside from the brewery bit as I’m sure that’s the point). I’m sure the sword stuff is fantastically choreographed too, just allow us to see it next time, for shit’s sake. Having said all that, the mermaid sequence in this flick is creepy, brilliant and undoubtably the highlight of the film in action terms. Those fishy bitches mean business.
“If I don’t kill a man once in awhile, people forget who I am”
So, On Stranger Tides. It isn’t the return to form that it desperately needed, but it’s no worse than At World’s End. It’s on par with Dead Man’s Chest, which wasn’t terrible. If you do intend to make more Disney (and I think one look at the box office receipts will ensure that you will) go back to what made the first one great. Hire some new writers too, because the original dream team have clearly lost it and have now had three films to redeem themselves and haven’t. Now for some observations that I couldn’t cleverly weave into the above paragraphs. 3D not needed, saw it in 2D and apart from the occasional pandering shot (swords pointed towards camera) was perfectly fine. The laws of physics are Jack Sparrow’s bitch. Gibbs looks like a mutton chopped Dara O’Briain when he’s wearing a hat.