PLOT: Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is forced by a former flame, Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her dreaded pirate father, Blackbeard (Ian McShane) to guide them to the mythical fountain of youth. Along the way, they run into the Spanish navy, zombies, mermaids and Sparrow's old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who's now in the employ of the English monarchy.
REVIEW: Johnny Depp was never meant to be the star/center of the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise. Orlando Bloom was the star of the first film, not Depp. Bloom was midway through the LORD OF THE RINGS series and had a shitload of clout around him. While Depp, who I truly believe to be a great actor, was coming off the double box office disappointment of FROM HELL and BLOW. You’ll note that the original marketing materials for the first PIRATES movie actually pushed the premise, Bloom and Keira Knightley more than Depp.
The reason for this is that Jack Sparrow was always meant to be a supporting cast member, not the lead. Jack has been, and always will be, Han Solo. Cool as Solo is, you really don’t want to see him as the lead. Solo as the lead would lessen the character and force him to be more of the traditional hero rather than the roguish space pirate that he is. And therein lies the problem of ON STRANGER TIDES: Jack Sparrow has been regulated, by default, to the hero role. He'd already been shoved to the forefront of the previous two PIRATES sequels because of his popularity, but he's never been saddled with being the actual hero...until now.
I guess this was to be expected because Will Turner (Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann’s (Knightley) character arcs were wrapped up with a neat little bow at the end of AT WORLD’S END (You did stick around after the credits, didn‘t you?). The intention for ON STRANGER TIDES was always going to be that it was a standalone pic and that meant there was never any time to introduce replacement characters for these two. What the filmmakers and studio didn’t realize was that this series needs characters like this in order to give the audience someone to associate with and to give the film itself an anchor to maintain to maintain balance. Sparrow is too flaky a character for the film to rest on and the audience was never meant to identify with him. Laugh with him? Yes. Identify? No.
And while TIDES does try to throw a star-crossed couple at you in the form of young reverend Phillip (Sam Claflin) and captured mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), their entire relationship is so rushed and forced that it never really sticks. Plus, they just don’t compare to Will and Elizabeth. Those two had such a solid chemistry and strong bond that their elimination from the series damn near kills it.
Why? Because Jack was never meant to be the lead. He’s too buffoonish and spacey. Director Rob Marshall and writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot try their damndest to fashion him into the hero but they fail miserably. I guess the main reason is because audiences have seen Sparrow three times already and each time they’ve seen him he has progressively become more sneaky and outlandish. The natural next step would be to make Jack either the bad guy or have him fully embrace his inner Peter Lorre, not to turn him into the lead. To suddenly throw Sparrow into the position of being the guy the audience has to relate to is a misstep that TIDES never quite recovers from.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t try. Good gracious does it ever try. Marshall (taking over the series from Gore Verbinski) desperately attempts to infuse the movie with a different feel than previous installments in an effort to give the film a unique voice. Problem is that the voice he gives the movie is meek and too quiet. Remember at the end of DEAD MAN’S CHEST when Sparrow squared off with the Kraken? Or how about when Sparrow and Davy Jones dueled to the death on the mast of The Flying Dutchman as it sailed directly into a whirlpool? Yeah, don’t expect any of that in TIDES. Expect thrills more on par with THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL meaning that, while action-packed, this is a very restrained PIRATES pics. The biggest moment you’ll get here is a CG whirlpool that consumes a baddie in the last act. Kind of a letdown after the over-the-top antics of DEAD MAN’S CHEST and AT WORLD’S END.
I guess that’s the easiest way to describe the ON STRANGER TIDES: a letdown. This isn’t a bad film by any means, just a disappointing one. None of the characters (save for Penelope Cruz’s Angelica) have a good reason to be hunting the Fountain Of Youth and that makes me wonder why they were bothering to look for it in the first place. Pirate movies need a reason even if it is something as simple as treasure. To have so many people looking for the same item yet none of them really seem to have a reason to be looking for it in the first place is just strange. No, not strange, disappointing. You’ve would’ve thought that since the filmmakers shoved Sparrow in the hero role that they would’ve given him a reason to hunt the Fountain but they don’t. Instead, they opt to have him deploy his normal shtick which is, quite frankly, growing a little tiresome at this point.
I don’t know if it’s because he realizes that he’s been trapped in a Disney franchise or what, but Depp seems really tired. Not bored, just tired. Like maybe he’s grown weary of donning the eyeliners and cracking rum jokes. I hope Disney doesn’t use this franchise to kill that mischievous sparkle in Depp’s eyes in the name of making money. That would be a damn shame. In all fairness, Depp does deliver the performance that you are expecting…just don’t expect much more than that. Dude virtually has no chemistry with anyone in the cast because he’s busy letting Sparrow run amok in his own little movie. Hell, Sparrow starts to explain why Ponce De Leon’s ship is wedged into the side of a cliff at one point only to realize that there’s nobody around and hasn’t been for quite some time. That’s how far removed from the actual plot Sparrow is: Dude doesn’t even know when he’s ran off to have his own little adventure while everybody else is looking for the MacGuffin…er, the Fountain Of Youth.
I know I’ve kinda ripped this flick a new one and maybe that was a little harsh.. I did enjoy it, just not as much as the other sequels. It did have a few cool action beats, but none as epic as what came before. The performances were all fine and dandy, but none were as good as the previous. That’s the problem with this ON STRANGER TIDES: It’s just not as good as the first three PIRATES movies. It’s good, just not as good as what came before.
There’s gold to be found in ON STRANGER TIDES (Keith Richards has a great cameo, the singing mermaid sequence is brilliant, the 3D wasn’t half-bad and Cruz looks really nice in pirate garb), but don’t be shocked if you see this and discover that the chest was mostly filled with lead. Decent but disappointing, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES gets a three out of six adamantium bullets.