Luckily the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, while perhaps not quite that elegantly filthy matchup of Commercialism and Artistic Awesomeness, is not quite what we'd call "Long in the Tooth"! Not yet, at least! This is even though two of its major stars are decidedly on the "Not Pictured" list, its director has been replaced, most of the imagery from the original Pirates Ride has already been seen and the tale of the tempestuous trilogy has most assuredly run its course.
So what are screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott to do when Disney comes a-callin' for more sequels? Where might these guys grab more inspiration? How might the legend continue and what possible Pirate Icon has yet to be mined?
After all, Jack's already seen Davy Jones' Locker... what the hell... does he need to see what's in the lockers of the other three Monkees?
The answer to all (or, at least... most) of these questions can be found in the treasure chest of Tim Powers' book On Stranger Tides, which features a pirate named Jack and no less a Legendary Villain than Blackbeard himself. Admittedly this is a WAY different Jack than Jack Sparrow, but since Disney legally acquired the rights to that adventurous book, the combination was just waiting to happen.
Thus Disney hired director Rob Marshall and plugged the characters of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, of course) and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) into Powers' plot along with the new character (and eye-candy) Angelica Malon (PenÚlope Cruz) for good measure and On Stranger Tides and Pirates of the Caribbean have combined to become Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides!
So how is the film? Well, let's say this... the series started out to be FUN... and each entry in this increasingly supernatural pirate adventure saga has managed to remain fun. The strange thing is that the first film managed to become so acclaimed (Depp was nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars) that the fun aspect was almost overshadowed even as the series got more and more exciting (if not so much "better and better"). This fourth film (and probable first part of a new trilogy is no exception. It's a metric ton of fun with twenty thousand leagues of excitement, sailing the seven seas of action! And it's almost as over-the-top as that last sentence!
After the obligatory (Re-)introduction of Jack Sparrow (a Captain without a Ship) and his old Mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) we learn that Jack has been on a quest to find the Real Deal Holyfield Fountain of Youth and he just happens to be mincing around with a map that might lead there.
Other than that, his day sucks. From the time that his daddy Teague (Keith Richards) drops in for a hint-riddled visit, Jack has to face off with imposters to his very name, old friends, new enemies, the British Navy, the Spanish Conquistadors, a Legion of violent Mermaids and, of course, the mighty Blackbeard himself (as played by Ian McShane) and the mysterious daughter who is pillaging along with him.
Every splash of the way the film stays exciting and action packed with more characters to keep up with and more mutinies and subplots to keep things both complex and confusing. By the time the star-crossed Philip (Sam Claflin) and Syrena (the beautiful Astrid Berges-Frisbey) show up, it's hard not to feel that this ocean of entertainment is filled to the rim with much more than just brim.
And that's the big issue with this movie... it's so jam packed with both plot and action that it comes damned close to collapsing under its own weight. It's huge and manages to feel even bigger with the great comic acting of Johnny Depp and the epic-sounding score of one Hans Zimmer. However, "Pirates 4" shows its seams as the sheer size of the picture seems to be meant to cover up the holes in the boat by moving so fast we can't keep up or distracting us with bombastic action. In short... it quite often turns out to be a Jerry Bruckheimer film!
In fact, I kept getting the impression that the meshing of Powers' story with the Pirates serial didn't always quite click. The movie bounds between the world of On Stranger Tides and Pirates of the Caribbean with racketball bounce that keeps the audience looking back and forth, following the action along the waterlogged court, thrilling at the sights and sounds but not always catching just how the Privateer Puzzle Pieces fit together.
Then again, for those keeping score, this isn't always a bad thing. This is a swashbuckling tale of derring do and comedic action under the skilled direction of Rob Marshall and the playful comic acting of the unpredictable Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. Depp often steals his own show, dragging the plot of On Stranger Tides all the way back to Tortuga and forcing it back into the Caribbean Waters! Luckily Depp is surrounded by (and enhanced by) an all-around great cast from the veteran pirate that is Rush to the series newcomer (and still fantastic) McShane to the lovely, action oriented and humorous Cruz, this is quite a cruise around some very strange tides.
In short, while it may not be the best of the series, it never fails to be a very good time. There are some slow parts and some incomprehensible elements, but Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides still manages to spring up Three and One Half Stars out of Five from its fountain. Voodoo Dolls, Zombies, Ships in Bottles, Pirate Boats come Alive and the Fountain of Youth? Perhaps there IS life after World's End! So until Cap'n Jack shows back up to open that special room of BLUEbeard's, only to munch on some Cap'n Crunch with one of his wives (with whom he can share makeup tips, fashion ideas and gender identity confusion), I'll see YOU in the Next Reel, Privateers!
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