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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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Who Knew the Fountain of Youth Could Be so Complicated?

  • May 21, 2011
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, and instinct for self promotion; it has now come to the point that I can no longer distinguish between truth and deception, which is to say it has become exhausting trying to figure him out. But God help me, he’s still one of the best pirate characters ever created, in large part because of the actor who plays him, Johnny Depp. After eight years and four films, Jack remains as magnetic as he ever was. Believe you me, that’s no small task.
The rest of the blame lies with Jack’s old flame, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a new character replacing both Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, their story having ended with the previous film. With her, there’s absolutely no knowing where reality ends and the façade begins. Her entire existence depends on spinning a web of lies, all in an attempt to beat Jack at his own game. When she’s introduced, she’s disguised as Jack, and she takes great pleasure in engaging him in a beautifully choreographed sword fight; as the film progresses, they engage in conversational ping pong matches, some clever and well-mannered, others desperate attempts at one-upsmanship. She complicates matters further by revealing things about herself that may or may not be true.

In the film, Jack and Angelica find themselves at sea with the notorious pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who must find and drink from the fabled Fountain of Youth to counteract his own prophesied death. Angelica, for reasons known only to her, is determined to make sure Blackbeard succeeds, for it will mean saving his soul. In hot pursuit is Jack’s former nemesis, Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who, after having lost his leg and the famous Black Pearl, seems to have traded in a life of piracy for a career with the British navy. As he sets sail, he notices a small fleet of Spanish ships ... and wouldn’t you know it, they too are in search of the Fountain of Youth. Its restorative powers take effect under a confusing set of rules, including having to draw forth man-eating mermaids, capture one, and extract from her a single tear. This factors into an unnecessary and unresolved subplot involving a Christian missionary (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid named Syrena (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey), who he has fallen in love with.
As needlessly convoluted as the plot is, the film is still terrific entertainment, largely because of the amazing set designs, the dazzling special effects, the gravity-defying action, and the humorous characters. Taking the directorial reins from Gore Verbinski – whose commitments to Rango prevented him from participating – is Rob Marshall, the Broadway choreographer known primarily for his film adaptations of musical plays (the Oscar-winning Chicago and the tragically underrated Nine). You’d think this would make him an odd choice for this kind of film. After all, how do you transition from staged song-and-dance spectacles to an action/adventure/supernatural period film? It’s surprisingly seamless. Action, like dancing, is choreographed, and choreography requires an understanding of movement – an understanding Marshall clearly has.

The Pirates films have always had interesting villains, probably because most of them are directly involved with the supernatural. On Stranger Tides is no exception. Blackbeard, in all physical respects a human being, is in possession of a magical sword; with the slightest touch of the hilt, he can make the cordage of his ship slither like snakes, tie sailors up, and suspend them from the rigging. He can also shoot gigantic fireballs from the bow section; how they’re generated is left to the imagination. He even has access to a voodoo doll that bears a striking resemblance to Jack.
The film features much of your usual pirate fare, including exotic jungle locations, drunken sailors, mutiny plots, treasure hunts, and dank caves littered with bones. No cannonball fights at sea, though. Then again, it would be pretty hard to beat the original film’s battle sequence, in which not just cannonballs but also candelabras and forks were fired at the Black Pearl. Visually, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has all the right ingredients (most of them are not enhanced by the 3D process, but that comes as no surprise to me). What’s missing is a plot that doesn’t require note-taking. Blink your eyes, turn your head for just one second, and you’re likely to miss something important. I also would have appreciated more honest and reliable lead characters. When you’re unsure about who they are and what they stand for even after two and a half hours, something isn’t quite right.


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May 26, 2011
I liked the twist about what the Spanish really wanted with the Fountain of Youth. I should have seen that coming. I liked it better than the last Pirates film. Nice review, Chris!
May 22, 2011
Great review! I thought the way the plot and characters were developed was a little lacking, but I still found the movie charming, and entertaining. I thought maybe it played it a little too safe as another launch pad for a new take on a story. I liked the fact that it somehow tried to stick to the original's sensibilities.
May 23, 2011
It hasn't been getting the greatest of reviews, and I agree with the critics who say that the plot is hard to keep track of. But, I don't know, I still thought it was a lot of fun. I guess I'm just a pushover for Jack Sparrow.
More Pirates of the Caribbean: On S... reviews
review by . May 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
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 . May 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
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 …
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
posted in Movie Hype
'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
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 . June 06, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
   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 …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie



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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