Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Rating

Director
Rob Marshall
Screenplay
Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Length
136 min.
Starring
Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths,
MPAA Rating
PG-13

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Review
Sequel fatigue should have set in by now for the aging Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but fans continue to clamor for the adventures of Jack Sparrow and his vast array of piratey cohorts. Disney has caved yet again to their demands and offered up a money-making extravaganza that is surprisingly better than the last two films in the series.

While two of the main stars of the first three films have opted not to return (Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom), many of our favorite (and least favorite) characters continue to fly their Jolly Rogers and weave tall tales of treasure hunting, drinking and more. After the success of the first film, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was brought to the forefront of the films, becoming instead of a supporting, flavor character, an integral part of the stories and a driving force for many of the films’ problems. Money seems to be a powerful plague on today’s Hollywood stars often turning them away from their talent and towards the quick buck. It’s been many years since Depp stretched as an actor and, although Sparrow can be a fun character, his concept and antics have become cliché and frequently pointless.

This time around, Sparrow, seeking the legendary Fountain of Youth, discovers another group using his name as a temptation for would-be sailors to fill the crew of a ship also heading out in search of this rumored treasure. After an impressive sword fight, we are introduced to (and this will come to no one’s surprise if they watch the film and know who’s in it, but I caution for a SPOILER if you are leery of those that you should be able to skip to the next paragraph and avoid it) Penélope Cruz as Angelica, one of Jack’s myriad ex-lovers who has teamed with the dreaded Blackbeard (Ian McShane) as his daughter (whether legitimate or a fallacy will be up to the viewer to decide and the film to reveal later).

For their parts, McShane and Cruz are quite fitting with McShane the obvious standout in the film. Other noted returns include the ever-despicable Captain Barbossa, played with scenery-chewing delight by Geoffrey Rush (to think it’s Rush and Cruz that are the Oscar winners in this cast and not the more popular and famous Depp); and first mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) who seems to be a more compelling character in his few scenes than Jack is.

The story itself is rather far fetched, which is always expected. Yet there’s an element of realism to the selection and execution that puts to shame the rather ludicrous choice of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in the adventures of Indiana Jones, the nearest apt comparison to the Pirates franchise. When you sell this type of product to foreign audiences, it’s not hard to understand why there are such simplistic elements at work, but it’s hard to surpass the creativity and excitement the first film elicited.

Director Rob Marshall who had a colossal failure two years ago with his adaptation of the stage musical Nine doesn’t quite return to his Chicago level of creativity but does a fine job handling the material. He creates a strong sense of presence for all of his actors, the action scenes are filmed better than I ever expected and the film moves along at a suitable pace. Although this isn’t his milieu, Marshall shows that he can direct films in multiple media and genres and still craft a work of entertainment. I’d almost say that his deft handling of the fight scenes is one of the most welcome elements of the film. Although the franchise has been noted for its terrific combats, Marshall does an excellent job showing prior directors up in that respect.

When I first heard they were expanding the fading franchise past three films, I was completely against the move and had declared early on that I would not waste my time with the film. It’s been a long while since I made those remarks and I decided to give Marshall’s vision a try for the sake of deciding for myself if the new formula would be worth the hassle. I found a film that didn’t really research a new formula, but retooled it to a point where it was far better than I expected and has given me an increased interest in seeing what they do with the next film.

Whether Disney will learn from the successes of this film or try to use the lower box office performance in the United States as a reason to push the film back into the doldrums the second and third films created remains to be seen, but they must be careful for even if the film’s a success overseas, the United States audience is an integral part of that puzzle and if they aren’t pleased then back-end revenue like DVD rentals and merchandizing may suffer as a result.

A worthy follow up and semi-reboot, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is entertaining where it needs to be leaden where you anticipate it to be and filled with so much spectacle that it’s hard to find the words to describe it all.
Review Written
June 8, 2011

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