a critiQal film review Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Plot: Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) crosses paths with a woman from his past (Cruz), and he’s not sure if it’s love - or if she’s a ruthless con artist who’s using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (McShane), Jack finds himself on another unexpected adventure.

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  • While it's nice to see Captain Jack once again, the lack of any characters for him to banter with on a by-the-numbers voyage causes this 4th trip to founder quite a bit.

When we heard Johnny Depp had signed on for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, we started looking forward to seeing Captain Jack Sparrow on another adventure. But, as the plot begin to reveal itself, we were a bit surprised. Fellow co-horts Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom weren’t going to be around for this new adventure – and neither was director Gore Verbinski. Would Captain Jack be able to deliver as much fun with new co-horts Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane? Or would director Rob Marshall (Chicago (2002)) give us nothing but an inferior sequel?

On rare occasions, actors seem to have such an affinity for characters they play, that character lives on in the public conscience long after the film they are in as faded from memory. Like Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter and Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow has become such a character. So much so, viewers are willing to go see him on another escapade, no matter how much of the cast has changed around him. Depp’s embodiment of Captain Jack is so complete, viewers treat him like an old friend coming back for another visit, and welcome him with open arms.

Unfortunately, the script in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides takes that and tries it’s hardest to make viewers not want to come back for another visit. In previous films, Jack did occasionally venture into friendly waters, but director Verbinski managed to keep his stylish rogue persona throughout. Viewers could tell he was fighting these new feelings of friendship and camaraderie that were threatening to overtake him and turn him…gasp…civilized.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, however, he spends his time regretting his past mistreatment of an old flame. That care-free spirit that made him such a great character in the previous films is all but completely wiped away. A few quick glimpses of that old rogue in the beginning of the film (the crazy chase through the streets or the daring escape from the palace) have the viewer anticipating more of the same. So, when he becomes a whipped love-struck puppy, it just makes it all the more disappointing.

His co-horts this time around, while decent enough, don’t really fit into Captain Jack’s mold. Ian McShane’s Blackbeard is so grounded he could be a science teacher rather than a feared pirate. Penelope Cruz uses her accented charms to do…pretty much nothing. Even newcomers Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey seem ill-used. Their rather contrived, last-minute romance seems to be nothing more than a poor imitation of Keira Knightley’s and Orlando Bloom’s romantic interludes that led all 3 of the previous films. Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa is a welcome sight, but his grizzled appearance turns out to be nearly his best quality this time around. Director Marshall just can’t capture that demented passion that Captain Barbossa displayed in the previous films.

Viewers wouldn’t expect a trip to find the fabled Fountain of Youth to grow wearisome. Director Rob Marshall manages to make that happen in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. With Captain Jack as the sole star of the show, the hilarious banter that was his biggest weapon is nothing more than a memory. His attempts to rile his fellows fall between okay and abysmal failures. With Captain Jack rendered impotent, it’s up to the storyline to capture the viewer’s attention once the voyage gets underway. Sadly, it’s by-the-numbers voyage really doesn’t conjure up the excitement it should.

That’s not to say the scenery around it isn’t spectacular. While there’s no barnacled crew this time around to gape at in awe, the mermaids, with their fishy parts flashing around are a highlight. In fact, their major sequence is a point of light within a rather dull journey. Despite the slowly building feeling of boredom, the special effects are always top-notch, and the viewer never once feels like they aren’t in Captain Jack’s world.

While fellow iconic characters like Hannibal Lecter and Wolverine are able to fly solo with relative ease, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides showcases the opposite for Captain Jack. While Captain Jack Sparrow’s mutterings to himself are good for the short-term, he really needs someone to play off of in order to really bring his persona to the forefront. In this by-the-numbers sequel by new-to-the-series director Rob Marshall, he doesn’t have a solid foil. Instead, he ends up looking a lot more desperate – and lovelorn – than viewers either expected or wanted.

Hopefully, the inevitable Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) (this one made $90 mil it’s first weekend) will give him a formidable friend/foe to banter with – even if it’s just to re-team him with Capt. Barbossa for the majority of a film. If they dump the lovelorn shtick and give us back the roguish Captain Jack missing most of the time from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, we’ll be happy.

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