Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) (Redux)
Not content with squeezing a bloated trilogy out of the already chafed udder of the Pirates cashcow, the producers moved on with a Jack Sparrow centric adventure a few years after. However, Bloom and Knightley wouldn’t return and Gore Verbinski wouldn’t be parking his arse in one of those comfy looking directors’ chairs. Mahogany and Beech not signing back up was a plus, but Verbinski leaving is a tough one. Dude’s a talented director and would need a fitting replacement. Enter Rob Marshall, director of some music videos and easily forgotten films doomed to gather dust in your Mum’s DVD collection (I mean, when was the last time you heard someone talk about Memoirs of a Geisha?). Having only seen On Stranger Tides once before, I was struck at how flat everything was shot (odd, considering this was the only Pirates flick fiilmed and released in 3D) and how fuckin’ bored I was during it. Anyway, obligatory plot rundown:
“Don’t be a fool, Jackie. The fountain will test you.”
Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) travels to London, but upon arriving he hears tell that another Jack Sparrow is looking for a crew to commandeer a ship. Intrigued, Sparrow sets to confront the imposter. He then becomes part of a bigger plan to find the Fountain of Youth and finds himself under the command of legendary feared pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his first mate, daughter and old flame of Jack’s Angelica (Penélope Cruz). The race is on between Blackbeard, the British and Spanish navies to find the mythical fountain. Despite being clumsily set up in the last film, I was looking forward to a quest for the Fountain of Youth. However, it turns out to be a plodding exercise in mediocrity. Depp’s Sparrow can still be entertaining, but the schtick is tired and played out. He needs better lines and characterisation. Penélope Cruz does admirably in the role of Angelica, although the only thing she’s asked to do is play a stereotypical hot-blooded Latina woman. Ian McShane doesn’t really do much as Blackbeard. He’s not at fault though- the script doesn’t have any real interest in the character and he’s just there. Not exactly a baddie for the ages. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also returns, but he may as well be a different character. Once again, the writing lets him down as he’s a far cry from the character I liked in the previous films.
You may have noticed a few complaints about the script so far and I honestly can’t rag on it hard enough. It was doomed from the start as having Sparrow as the main character doesn’t work. It creates a divide between to the plot-serving emotional journey and the wacky goofball sides of him. As a result, we get a watered down character that has both sides pushed up to maximum in the hopes that you won’t notice and be reminded of the times when the act was charming. Remember when Jack was all bravado and escaped situations with a healthy dose of luck and opportunism? The writers don’t. Now he’s just a cocky knob who is consistently brilliant at everything he tries and must have powers of precognition. Which is much less interesting. Quite why Elliot and Rossio weren’t shaken loose when they upended the franchise toy chest is beyond me. The one thing I will commend the film on is its stripped down approach. It’s much less convoluted than both of the previous sequels and has a better story focus. The story isn’t particularly great, but it’s there. None of this “getting bogged down in its own mysticism” bullshit to be found here.
The one element I liked was actually something a lot of reviewers singled out as one of the worst things about the film. I liked the little romance between the missionary Philip (Sam Clafin) and the captured mermaid Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey). Whilst their little courtship was tacked on purely because these films have to have one, I found it more convincing than the Turner & Swann saga. He gets renewed faith in his dearest Lord plus he fancies her a bit and she learns that all humans aren’t bastards and she fancies him a bit. They both learn something and get something from the relationship. Makes sense to me. It may be indicative of the film’s problems that I latched on to what must be the C or D story rather than the main supposedly epic quest for the MacGuffin or the Angelica/Sparrow angle.
Even the action’s not particularly good. There’s a bright spot when the crew are attacked by mermaids, but that’s about it. There’s plenty of swordfighting, but we’ve seen all this shit before. The apparent lack of energy or creativity with the camera (Marshall, you scallywag) exacerbates things too. Never will you be more away that you’re watching actors playfight on a set. I just didn’t care about anything and wanted to shut it off in favour of something that tries harder.
“Gentlemen, the fountain is the prize. Mermaid waters, that be our path.”
On Stranger Tides is just as bad as At World’s End, but in different ways. Stranger Tides has a clearer plot and isn’t as indulgent as At World’s End, but the story it went with was dull. At World’s End at least had some creativity here and there whereas On Stranger Tides has an air of a run-of-the-mill Hollywood production line product about it. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s not good either. I’m a great believer in franchises redeeming themselves (the Fast and Furious films) so here’s hoping that 2015’s Pirates 5 has a better crack at the whip. Having said that. a cursory glance at the film’s IMDB page reveals that it’s directed by two fellas I’ve never heard of and that Elliot and Rossio are back on writing duties. I can already feel the dread starting to build.