Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally
Director: Rob Marshall

So is this what I have been reduced to on this blog? Reviewing bad sequels to action movies? *Sigh* Let's get this over with...

Johnny Depp is back in his iconic role as Jack Sparrow in this fourth (that's right, fourth) addition to the "Pirates of the Caribbean" film series. Picking up where the last one left off, we find him on a quest to discover the Fountain of Youth. But he is not alone: he is joined on his journey, whether he likes it or not, by Barbossa and Gibbs (played once again by Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally respectively), as well as an old flame named Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her father, the legendary Blackbeard, (Ian McShane).

Ok, I'll be fair; it was actually pretty decent. The biggest problems of the two previous sequels were that they had an overstuffed plot (the movies basically had a two-part story arch) and too many over-the-top, pointless action sequences. This film, on the other hand, is much more sensible, with a generally straightforward and interesting story-line and with action scenes that are dramatic but do not feel forced. It actually brings to mind the first film. The new cast helps as well; Cruz and McShane do well in their roles. Depp and the rest of the returning cast, meanwhile, have been playing their roles for so long now that they kind of had to be good.

But you don't want to hear me praise it; you want me to tear it to shreds. Very well...

From a logistical standpoint, there are a few problems with sections of the story. Blackbeard is shown to have magical powers that can bring any ship under his control. So why does he need a crew at all? Can't he just sail the ship himself? Another plot hole which is not as prominent but far stranger (no pun intended) takes place at the end: the Spanish military, which is on the same mission as Sparrow and co., reveal their intentions on what to do about the Fountain. I will not spoil the "surprise," but believe me when I say that their reasoning (or lack thereof) is really, really, really bizarre and makes no sense whatsoever on any level of sanity. There is also a subplot involving a missionary (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), a half-hearted attempt replace the Will Turner-Elizabeth Swann relationship of the previous films (as if it were necessary) that contributes only a minimum amount to the plot and for the most part appears pointless. That is, unless, they decide to make a fifth movie, God forbid.

I guess my biggest overall criticism of the film would be that, despite the reboot, it still feels kind of old. As I said, it brings to mind the first film, but that's both a good and a bad thing. The bad part is that when you watch it, it feels like it's really...average. It's not that there are no new ideas being put in play and it didn't really drag at all (though one or two parts go on a little longer then they should have); it's just that there does not really seem to be any reason to care. I know it sounds like I'm being very ambiguous, but it is just difficult to put it into words. Maybe the last three films have drained the franchise of its vitality; maybe there was another reason that I didn't pick up on. Whatever it is, it's there, and it is difficult to get away from it.

In my opinion, the original "Pirates of the Caribbean" is the best and is frankly the only one that is actually worth seeing in terms of its relative entertainment value. Everything that has come afterward has mostly been time-wasters. As far as time-wasters go, however, this isn't too bad. It's a little difficult for me to recommend it outright, but it would not really harm you if you did see it. You may even genuinely enjoy the movie. Just don't set your hopes too high.

I do not own the rights to the above image; it is for entertainment purposes only. Please do not sue me.