in Review

Sending Out an S.O.S.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I had no intentions of seeing yet another cash in Pirates movie, but when I got the call from Ben last Friday I came to the conclusion that “Someday and in some form I will eventually see this movie, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but someday.” So later that day we arrived at the theater with the regular summer blockbuster crowd and strapped in for yet another Caribbean carousal of overblown effects and lengthy plot exposition.

By all logic the Pirates franchise should of been able to make a full rebound here. It had become free of it’s trilogy confines and with the jettison of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley had the rare opportunity for a fresh start. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t have been just as good as the first one and yet it suffers many of the same pitfalls as the last two, regulating it’s position to the second worst of the franchise. It is by no means a complete misfire but far too often takes to the plank, only to eventually drown in a sea of inadequacy.

On Stranger Tides is loosely based on the 1987 novel of the same name by Tim Powers. So apparently this novel was so great that it was better than any original idea the writers could have conceived, despite the fact that it has nothing to do with the franchise. “If it’s so great why don’t they just make a movie faithful to that book?” I ponder, but then remind myself that the Pirates franchise is a juggernaut at the box office. So right there you can see this was a movie where financial gain took precedent over telling a story, seeing as they just ripped it from some fantasy novel. Anyways, On Stranger Tides regals us once again with the swashbuckling misadventures of Captain Jack Sparrow, this time in pursuit of the Fountain of Youth. Recruited against his will by his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her ruthless father Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack is forced to use his knowledge of the area so that he can lead Blackbeard to eternal youth. Meanwhile Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) returns now as a privateer for King George (Richard Griffiths) who is ordered to get to the fountain before the Spanish because those guys suck.

Let me proceed next with a handful of unrelated yet bothersome queries. First off, why does Blackbeard’s daughter have a Spanish accent? Blackbeard I remind you was a real English Pirate who never reportedly harmed anyone he robbed and was killed by the Royal Navy by the time he was 38. Now he’s a murderous pirate played by a 68 year old with a latin daughter. I know it’s all just fun and fantasy, but it really seems more like laziness and a big excuse to hire Penelope Cruz. I think Blackbeard delivers a line like “It’s your mother’s latin blood in you” to explain, but didn’t he raise her? I just plain don’t get it. Moving on to a more substantial issue, why must there be so much plot exposition? It’s a movie about pirates, they should be pillaging and going on adventures and getting drunk, why do they have to talk so much about the plot of the movie?

It’s as if overcomplicating every aspect of the story has become a staple of this series. Take the opening; Jack is put on trial but woops, they have the wrong guy then Jack appears as the Judge and he escapes. Uh oh, then Jack is captured by King George’s men and forced to help them find the fountain, so Jack escapes AGAIN. Now tell me why they couldn’t of started the film with that second scene? Both establish that he’s an infamous pirate and both end the same way. For whatever reason the Pirates films feel the need to stretch out every sequence for as long as possible, why? Is it because the other films did that? Don’t they remember they just kept getting worse? And I almost forgot, there’s another insipid sequence before those two regarding the Spanish discovering the existence of a fountain, though it hardly matters, they only pop up every now and then when a scene needs more bad guys for Jack to fight.

Let’s move on to something good about this movie alright? Johnny Depp is amusing as usual and shows that he can hold down being the primary protagonist without any overly serious leads. Some of the action sequences are carefree summer fun as well. I don’t think I can ever tell what’s going in a sword fight scene but there’s a really entertaining mermaid attack scene. You see they need to have like… A mermaid’s tear in one of the chalices they drink the fountain water out of so uh like, one person drinks fountain water with a tear and the other without so they can um, switch life-forces? Ya know, like one gets eternal life while the other person dies? So… The mermaid sequence is surprisingly exciting and it makes me wish there were more monsters in this series. Actually the last half hour or maybe forty-five minutes, (I don’t know I have no sense of time when I go to these movies.) had some highly entertaining set pieces and effects, which almost evened out all the boring shit. Unfortunately there was a lot of boring shit, a lot. So in that case a pirate’s life is certainly not for me.