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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The fourth film in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, directed by Rob Marshall

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A Pirate's Life For Me

  • May 27, 2011
Rating:
+3
I recall when the first Pirates of the Caribbean came out that I thought it would be a terrible movie.  In the first place it was based on a theme park ride.  And in the second place it had a horrible title.  When I saw it, however, I was pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed the clever and witty dialog and I enjoyed the simple, yet fun story.  And best of all, Johnny Depp played one of the most memorable characters in recent cinema: Jack Sparrow.  It was only a matter of time before they came up with a sequel for the 2003 film because it became a box office juggernaut.  Admittedly enough, I rather enjoyed Dead Man's Chest.  The action was more fun and more intense, but it lost that charm of the first one: The clever dialog and witty banter.  At World's End turned out to be a convoluted mess.  Still, Pirates of the Caribbean turned out to be a lucrative franchise.  And--judging by the box office opening this weekend--still is.

On Stranger Tides comes as no surprise.  There is one thing that On Stranger Tides has going from the get go.  It isn't a film that was split into two parts as Dead Man's Chest and At World's End was.  It's a self contained story.  Which is something that is surely going to help Pirates of the Caribbean more than harm it at this point.  The story is also simpler, leaving you with far fewer questions and a much easier tale to swallow.  For the most part it plays it safe and compared to how over the top and disastrous At World's End turned out to be, this isn't a bad thing.  In fact, it's rather relieving.

The film begins with Jack Sparrow narrowly escaping incarceration in London.  This time he is on a search for The Fountain of Youth.  His nemesis is a pirate named Blackbeard played very well by Ian McShane and he teams up with Blackbeard's daughter Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz).  It's a rather simple story.  Blackbeard wants to find the fountain of youth so that he can go against fate.  The King of England also wants to find the Fountain and Barbosa--now a privateer who serves the king--is hired to do it.  And Jack?  Some unrequited love, of course.  Will and Elizabeth Swan are not here for this adventure (and I'm one of the few who sees this as a plus).  But these aren't the only parties after the fountain.  So is the Spanish army.  This may seem like the film is overstuffed, but as I said, it plays it rather safe will all this.  It doesn't actually juggle all this too much because it's much more straightforward with its story.  There's an upside and a downside to the approach that On Stranger Tides does.

The upside is that the film isn't biting off more than it can chew.  Part of why things just seemed so overstuffed and confusing with At World's End was because there was not much of a plot to Dead Man's Chest and it was used as a film to get us to the events of At World's End.  Thus, At World's End had to stuff more plot than the one movie itself was able to hold... introducing twists out of the blue and trying the "Bigger is better" gambit--meaning much more glorious CGI and the like.  The end result was a three hour long film that by the time you walk out of the theater you had to take a moment to reexamine what you saw.  As a result, At World's End became needlessly confusing because it had to cover so much ground.  On Stranger Tides avoids all this.  There may be a moment or two that doesn't make sense, but the plot is constructed in such a way that you won't find yourself lost.  And if you are, it's only a matter of time before the movie provides an answer.

The downside is that everything is toned down, and it never does the things which made the original Curse of the Black Pearl so amusing to begin with.  The dialog and witty banter that made the first one so memorable doesn't seem like it's ever coming back.  There are a couple of funny moments but they don't particularly come from clever dialog.  There are some comedic moments, however, that are truly golden.  Particularly Jack's escape from London (in which part of it involves him just having to have a dessert that's stuck to a chandelier).  The movie doesn't actually begin to feel like what we experienced in the original Pirates until Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Depp are on screen together.  There Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny play on one another never ceases to be old.

The other thing that's not so amusing is Blackbeard himself.  He's played very well by Ian McShane but he's no where near as charming or as amusing as Barbosa was in the first film... and isn't nearly as terrifying as Davy Jones.  In terms of toning things down and simplifying, this is one instance where On Stranger Tides back peddled a little too far.  Blackbeard just isn't that interesting.  About the only thing that stands firm is that he's a selfish brute.  But aside from that there isn't much that he does to make you believe he's actually a villain.  Likewise, while Angelica is certainly pretty, she's just as uninteresting as Blackbeard.  But she's pretty much your replacement for Elizabeth--who was also an unusually boring character as well.  Angelica might be worse, however, because she suffers from the same pitfall as Elizabeth... she's the only goddamn woman in the movie.  I suppose in a film with this much testosterone teenage boys had to have something pretty to look at besides other men.  And she's a fairly flat character all on her own. 

Which is why it's somewhat tough to review the film.  The other thing that also comes off as toned down is that all the stunts and all the action sequences are also a little overly simplistic.  As I mentioned (as I'm sure you might've read in Woopak's review) a lot of the film is simplified.  It was as though they were afraid to go the extra mile.  In one scene where Blackbeard throws a crew member overboard for being on watch for a failed mutiny the film waste a perfectly good moment to show whether or not Blackbeard can be scary or come off as threatening.  But the scene is a letdown.  You don't necessarily need something like The Kraken, but it would've been nice if the film gave us some reason to see Blackbeard as a reasonable threat. 

But Blackbeard and Angelica have their place in the story at least.  And Ian McShane is charming enough that you can at least tolerate blackbeard.  And I suppose Penelope Cruz isn't so bad (at least she's not the token female character like Elizabeth Swan, there are actually mermaids in the film--albeit you might think Anne Rice created them just before she found Jesus). 

What is unforgiveable, however, is that the Spanish Army are all a bunch of throwaway characters.  There are times when watching that I couldn't figure out why they were of any importance at all.  We don't even learn the captain's name and he's very integral to the plot.  If Blackbeard and Angelica aren't that interesting, the Spanish Army is downright boring and forgettable. 

Yet the movie is actually a lot of fun.  Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush more or less save the film from being a boring outing because they're so good.  The second half in particular actually really picks up and more than makes up for the first half which only has a couple of good moments.  In short, if you actually liked the first one you might actually enjoy this one quite a bit.  There's not a lot of interest in it, but it's definitely a lot of fun.  It's the closest to the first movie most of us who loved it the most will get.  It may have the witty dialog and the stunts may have been simplified, but looking at the glass half full it means the film itself and the plot isn't over reaching by any means.  In short, in spite of some of my harsh criticisms, this is some of the most fun I've had with Pirates of the Caribbean in years because it's not trying too hard to be bigger, better and more glamorous... but is just striving to be entertaining.  It succeeds.  There's not much forgettable, but it showcases some good fun and humor from time to time.  Especially in the second half. 

If you were disappointed with At World's End you may find On Stranger Tides to be redeeming as it tries very hard to go back to what made the first one work.  It gets about halfway there... but that's still better than trying to go too far in the opposite direction.

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June 03, 2011
Excellent observations about this film and the others. Nice review, Sean!
 
May 27, 2011
Very accurate summation of the series thus far. I'm planning on seeing this one soon. I hope it proves to be a bit more character and plot driven than the third film which was just awful.
 
May 27, 2011
fantastic observations, Sean, and thanks for the shout out! Loved that part where you commented on the mutiny sequence...I am totally with you on your review. I hope the next sequel will be more shall we say...impressive in action and really put the film into high gear towards the formula that made the original successful.
May 27, 2011
I want them to bring back skeleton pirates!
 
May 27, 2011
Wow - I love your description of this film!! I have not had the pleasure to see it yet, but I will not miss seeing Depp and I'm glad to know it's basically "fun" like the first one. I did not like the last 2 films either; a little too in depth and complicated for me. Thank you for sharing this great review!
May 27, 2011
Actually I liked the second one a lot more than I let on.  It's the third one that I felt was pushing things.  As confusing as the second one seems, if you step back there wasn't really that much story at all so much as there was adventure.  The third one is what really confuses everything.  At least in my mind.  I had fun with the second one.  Sometimes I'm not actually sure if this one is really "better".  It's a lot more focused but doesn't hit high on the action and adventure nearly as much as those first two.
May 27, 2011
Well at least I'll get to see Jack Sparrow again and maybe it won't be as confusing to me as the third one! LOL Thanks Sean
 
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More Pirates of the Caribbean: On S... reviews
review by . May 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A
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 …
review by . July 02, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I skipped this film in theaters last summer because of the bad reviews and negative word of mouth. That was a big mistake. This was the best of the series so far.      Rob Marshall reinvented this series when he took over. There was nothing wrong with the previous storyline, but it had come to its conclusion in At World's End. Keira Knightly's and Orlando Bloom's characters were gracefully written out and the series was ready for something new. Marshall instead of …
review by . May 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   It took me two different screenings to fully absorb Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, one being a midnight screening and the other being a repeat screening with my Dad (it’s one of my favorite traditions). I actually had a chance recently to re-watch the trilogy, and the latter two still stand out as my favorites. I really dug the supernatural parts of the story like Davy Jones and his crew and how things slowly built toward that colossal, one-hour scuffle between …
review by . May 16, 2011
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'Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' 'Two Jews On Film' Say Jump On Board This Ship (Video)
'Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' directed by Rob Marshall is the fourth film of this franchise...And in my opinion, the best.        Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow but this time, except for Geoffrey Rush (Captain Hector Barbossa) and Kevin R. McNally (Joshamee Gibbs) there's a whole new set of characters that may or may not want to do him harm...including the beautiful, enigmatic, Pirate...Angelica (Penelope Cruz).    …
review by . May 20, 2011
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Review: Fourth ‘Pirates' Movie Keeps Series Strong
   Usually I find a series to be worn out when they go anywhere beyond a third movie, but Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides changed my opinion on that. Although the 3D scenes made it a little too Disney cheesy, the love and hate banter between Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa, terrifying mermaids, and the new “it” couple made me fall in love all over again with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.      The fourth installment finds Jack, Captain …
review by . May 21, 2011
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Star Rating:         Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio are amazing men. Their screenplays can confuse audiences just as easily as they can entertain. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the fourth film in the hugely successfully Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer franchise and the first to be released in 3D, is exuberant fun – and damn near impossible to keep track of. Some of the blame rests on the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, a man known for his lies, trickery, …
review by . June 06, 2011
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   One of our beloved characters has returned back to initiate this franchise into a new trilogy. While is taken as the fourth installment, On Stranger Tides is actually the start of a new trilogy because of the new totally different and unconnected story from the first series.      The main story strangely revolves around the duel between Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard (Ian McShane) building anticipation for the final stage of their on-going battle. …
review by . May 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Here’s a sequence from the new Pirates of the Caribbean flick: Penelope Cruz is Angelica, and Ian McShane is Blackbeard her father.  Johnny Depp is, of course, Jack Sparrow (there should be a captain in there somewhere.) They are searching for the Fountain of Youth.  Depp leads the way, but they come to a giant, uncrossable chasm.  For some unexplained reason, someone must jump into the chasm.  Cruz volunteers, but McShane says no – Depp must do it.  Depp balks, …
review by . August 15, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
For number 4 in this series, this bad boy isn't a stinker. I did miss Bloom and Knightley, but Depp is still good/bad ol Cap'n Jack, and Rush is back as well bringing his creepy elements to the whole story. Penelope Cruz adds a little feminine touch as the daughter (? is she or isn't she?)  of the infamous Blackbeard.      And speaking of feminine touch. I will NEVER look at a mermaid quite the same way again. Shudder. Who knew?      If you …
review by . May 22, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Do Not Board.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES   Written by Ted Eliott and Terry Rossio   Directed by Rob Marshall   Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane       Barbosa: You haven’t changed.   Jack Sparrow: Implying the need.       It’s fitting really that the fourth installment in Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series, ON STRANGER TIDES, finds everyone’s …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #3
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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Director: Rob Marshall
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Release Date: May 20, 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott
Runtime: USA: 141 min
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
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