Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Review


Perfunctory sequel, nothing more

The one thing that we can take away from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is that Johnny Depp is still a leading man capable of carrying a film. Captain Jack Sparrow isn’t. That’s what this film firmly establishes with the character, making the first three more notable for their use of characters to hide this fact. With all the new character additions, and a new director at the helm, Depp’s iconic character has lost a lot from the original film that started it (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl).

When we catch up with Sparrow this time he’s outwitted and outfoxed Barbarossa (Geoffrey Rush), now in the employ of the British throne. Finding himself on the ship in the employ of Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter (Penelope Cruz), the two sides are joined by a Spanish envoy in trying to find the legendary Fountain of Youth before the others. A three tiered race that involves mermaids and the occasional action sequence, Pirates 4 takes all the best elements of the original trilogy but doesn’t have the heart of any of them.

And it starts (and ends, almost) with Depp’s return as Sparrow and his push to the forefront of the film. A main character in all three, Sparrow was never the focus of any of the films. As such he existed as a bit of a troublemaker to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as a pest and potential love interest respectively. Sparrow never had to carry the films by himself as he was part of a functioning team for this swashbuckler in the same way Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, amongst others, worked with comedy. They had set parts and roles to play, with Depp being the comic foil to play off of Bloom’s straight man and without those two characters to work with Sparrow is left alone. Watching the adventures of Sparrow is no fun if he doesn’t have characters alongside him to work with and against.

It’s why the first three films worked, albeit the sequels to a lesser degree, is because of this dynamic. Depp has the character down so well that he could probably do it in his sleep but the novelty has worn off a bit. In Black Pearl it was a breath of fresh air for him and the audience and in Tides it’s a rehash of the greatest hits of the first three. There’s no attempt at infusing anything new into Sparrow or giving him any sort of new depth or character arc. It’s just Sparrow being brought back out of mothballs to keep the franchise going.

That sort of attitude seems to apply to the film as a whole. Given a new director and a massive cast change it’s not surprising, as the film is a sequel in name only. It is intended to restart the franchise with Sparrow moving up, and a handful of characters moving out, but there’s no new direction the film is being pushed in. With the same writing staff coming back aboard there’s no freshness in anything involved; it’s been done before and done better in the same franchise.

There are plenty of interesting things that could’ve been with a fresh take on the Pirates of the Caribbean universe that On Stranger Tides was intended. The problem is that none of them are provided, instead trying to rehash what worked successfully before but with different faces and settings. It leaves the film feeling less like a fresh start and more like a continuation of the mediocrity that the franchise plunged into when the sequels arrived.

Director: Rob Marshall
Notable Cast: Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Richard Griffiths, Kevin R. McNally, Keith Richards, Yuki Matsuzaki, Gemma Ward, Stephen Graham, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Sam Claflin
Writer(s): Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott Based off the novel “On Stranger Tides” by Tim Powers

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