Oh the law of diminishing returns how I loathe thee. This year sees so many sequels that it sort of makes your head spin if you think about it too hard. I’m bound and determined to approach each one with their own grain of salt, but some should deserve more credit walking in than others. Or so you’d think. Being predisposed to enjoy the likes of Scream 4 and Fast Five were a given. But now, just when you thought it was safe for a fourth adventure of the “Jester of Tortuga” comes Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.
It’s been four years since Captain Jack Sparrow last graced the silver screen and Gore Verbinski was apparently the only one smart enough to move on to better things. As Johnny Depp returns to one of his most signature roles, screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have also returned. At least this time the two have take the “suggestion” of basing On Stranger Tides upon the 1987 novel by Tim Powers. While they may know the Sparrow character rather well and Depp can officially play the part in his sleep, Disney has brought along a new director in Rob Marshall. Maybe the studio is still living in their heydays of 2002 when Marshall and company took home six Academy Awards including Best Picture for Chicago, but evidence suggests they also probably missed his last two films (Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine).
In Pirates 4, we begin in Cadiz, Spain; a fishing crew have netted a man bearing evidence of the long lost ship of Ponce de León. Next we’re shuttled away to London, England where returning cast mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is standing trial under scrutiny of being Jack Sparrow. Sparrow plops down incognito as presiding judge sentencing Gibbs to a life of imprisonment. Of course Sparrow has set everything up to help Gibbs escape. After being recaptured and taken before King George (Richard Griffiths at his fattest). Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) makes his existence to the plot known and a slick and polished “harrowing” street chase ensues. (Here’s where we find the most random cameo in years from Dame Judi Dench.)
After narrowly escaping certain death by the likes of Sparrow’s dear daddy, Captain Teague (Keith Richards), Jack investigates a doppelganger scouring for recruits. A dual proceeds and ends with finding out that Angelica (Penélope Cruz) has been manning Blackbeard’s (Ian McShane) ship. Upon said ship we learn that Angelica may or may not be Blackbeard’s daughter but that doesn’t stop Jack from trying to take over with a case of mutiny when he doesn’t believe it’s really even Blackbeard’s ship nor that he’s even aboard. More swords clang clang and we learn that Blackbeard really is on board and now everyone sets sail in search for the Fountain of Youth. Also along the way, they must capture a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) whom they need one tear from for whatever reason is explained. Meanwhile the swashbuckling continues scene after scene with the requisite explosions and one-liners along the way.
Just because there’s some new additions to the plot as in a few zombies, mermaids and voodoo dolls, doesn’t mean anything else has changed. Jack goes about his misadventures through jungles and across tree tops with some of the silliest looking CGI this side of Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls when he’s not fulfilling plodding filler involving attempts to seduce Angelica. Davey Jones’ Locker is a far better place for the series than up on the big screen. Usually these films tend to spend their runtime trying to outdo each successive action sequence with the next but I suppose the only way to phrase things here is with Marshall trying to undo everything. The action gets progressively more boring as it goes along and become simpler with just a few sword fights once it gets past the big mermaid sequence. The 3-D only helps to hinder everything giving the whole film a strange murky look.
And if you thought the last two Pirates outings were exasperating; nothing in Stranger Tides attempts to change that. While the plot may be the most straightforward since Curse of the Black Pearl, that doesn’t mean it’s any more exciting. Marshall brings absolutely no more razzle dazzle to the proceedings than Verbinski brought cohesion to At World’s End. All I can really do now is sum things up that this installment is strictly for die hards. But even with that in mind, no matter how many people try to tell you to just stay home and revisit the original, moviegoers are still going to come out in hordes. There’s no stopping Disney’s cash cow and they’ll continue to beat their dead horse till every last penny is squeezed from your pocketbook.
Photos courtesy Walt Disney Pictures