The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise have always proven to be profitable, despite its somewhat lackluster sequels. Fans of the original film were a bit disappointed how the sequels didn’t turn out to be as fun. Well, Jerry Bruckheimer and director Rob Marshall tries to return to the sensibilities that made the first film so much fun; taking inspiration from the story “On Stranger Tides” by Tim Powers, Bruckheimer and company seems poised to take back the ’pirate glory’ attained by “Curse of the Black Pearl”. Yes, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” tries to avoid the convoluted storytelling, overwritten scripts that lost its focus, and somewhat empty performances set by “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World's End” and it does; “On Stranger Tides” proves to be a fun movie experience and but now, it seems like the 3rd sequel is a bit lacking in ambition with its narrative.
Barely escaping incarceration in London, Jack Sparrow, (ahem) Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is lured into the quest to find the fountain of youth by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is now an agent of the crown of England. Jack also finds an old flame, a spirited woman called Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who is also the daughter of the menacing pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who seeks out the means to perform a ritual to eternal life. They require certain items and one of them require the tears of a mermaid (played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who becomes the apple of the eye of a missionary named Philip (Sam Claflin). Jack must now keep his nose away from the tip of his enemies’ sword, as he also attempts to romance his former love and somehow save the day….
Let’s be honest here. Even the original “Pirates” film was based on formula and this was the reason why it was so much fun. I am actually not looking for anything overly ambitious nor am I looking for something groundbreaking, “On Stranger Tides” is a return to popcorn sensibilities, and I cannot fault it for doing what it is supposed to be. It can be argued that after the convoluted and overwritten screenplay dreamed up in the last two sequels, the franchise is needing a rebirth of some sort. You may as well take “On Stranger Tides” as the transitional film that hopefully will introduce new quests and new characters, this isn’t exactly a bad thing if only the film did pay more attention to characterization.
The core of the script in “On Stranger Tides” is the fountain of youth, which may arguably be one of the most overused devices in storytelling. I am not one to complain, as long as the story develops the premise well enough to keep viewers interested and enthralled. I am not sure, the mechanics of the plot were simple enough, and I did like some of the developments in its plotting. I thought the way it uses the elements of adventure and fantasy were coherent and solid enough; the way Barbossa, the mermaids and Angelica kept the plot moving were good, but I felt that the screenplay this time was just too careful. Much as I thought “At World’s End” lost focus, I couldn’t deny that it was ambitious (albeit overreaching). I am not sure, so many factors kept this third sequel from hitting a home run.
I found myself a little dissatisfied with the portrayal of Blackbeard; I found his development a little too uninspired as it relied heavily on Angelica. Barbossa is still marvelously played by Rush, albeit the character was reduced to a one-legged pirate whose dimensions were lost in the way the direction barely scratched the surface to his new changes. Syrena the mermaid and Philip the missionary’s blossoming ‘love’ feels a little empty despite the complications faced by the two. Marshall does have to keep the story about Sparrow, Barbossa and Angelica, and perhaps some characters were meant only for support. But I think the Syrena-Philip subplot was made to compensate for the lost of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Not to say that the film was a lost cause. Johnny Depp is still as charismatic as ever as our favorite pirate, albeit some parts of the script threatened to make even Sparrow a little overbearing. Penelope Cruz does make for a great female lead opposite Depp, as she proves to be capable of pulling off her character. Cruz is beautiful, mesmerizing and I could just not keep my eyes off her dressed like a swashbuckler. The cinematography and set designs followed the style set by the first three films, it looks quite gorgeous with the scenes of magic, the supernatural nicely brought forth by its CGI work. Marshall isn’t a great action director though; he fails on the some of the film’s stuntwork and the ones that were good, I thought they didn’t present anything new to the table of our favorite Jack Sparrow. Marshall seemed to drain the momentum it had achieved as some scenes felt a little empty and it drained the personality out of its key characters.
While I thought the film did try to return to the original’s sensibilities, it lacked the ‘spark’ established by Gore Verbinski‘s “Curse of the Black Pearl”. “On Stranger Tides” may be a film easy to like but I just saw the characters struggling to make for some of its hollow characterizations and for the choreographed moves to work, it feels a little stiff on several spots and the swashbuckling tone and mood loses some energy almost as quickly as it achieves them. But there are zombies, there are hot mermaids (wow Gemma Ward!), and a Judi Dench cameo; so yes, “On Stranger Tides” is a formula film meant for popcorn fun. It has the same quirky humor, a decent feeling of adventure and that cream puff sword-battle was just amusing. There is a lot to see but little that is worth a watch, but hey, it may be just a launch pad for a new “Jack Sparrow” adventure; and if this is so, “On Stranger Tides” can still prove to be a fun diversion for many.
Timid Recommendation. [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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