Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – A Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Dir: Rob Marshall; *ing: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane

First, a few questions: why do the Pirates sequels still keep up the charade of those title appendages after the numerical, when they know damn well that nobody knows or cares about them, and also that they don’t really mean anything? (I mean, this one might as well have been called ‘Stranger Tides On A Dead Man’s Chest At World’s End’ – still would’ve been the same movie, see?) Also, why do the sword fighting scenes now have all swash and no buckle i.e. a lot of sound and fury but mostly filled with a whole bag of nothing? And, oh yes, if they’re going to make every single action adventure film in 3D now, why don’t they have the decency to insert at least one scene in which the leading man gets up close and personal with the camera, preferably with his puffy pirate shirt off and a ‘let’s play jolly roger’ gleam in his eye?

But now to the more pertinent questions at hand: was the fourth one really necessary? Are Keira and Orlando missed? Is the 3D any good? Do Depp and Cruz get cosy? And the quick answer to all four is the same: not really. However, you shouldn’t take that to mean that the film itself is not enjoyable for the average moviegoer; it is, in the way that a big, dumb dog with a wagging tail leaping on you is – it’s just so silly and cute and eager to please that it would seem a shame not to give into its slobbery charms. In a manner of speaking. For that’s the feeling you get from the opening frame of the film right down to the last: it’s just so darn into you and wanting to be liked by you, you’d have to be a right churlish so-and-so to refuse. There is a story of course, as needlessly convoluted as always, wherein Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Depp) and his old love-hate partner/rival Barbossa (Rush) are on a quest to find the fountain of youth, the rub being that they have to get to it before the ruthless pirate Blackbeard (McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Cruz) who also happens to be an old flame of Sparrow’s – but naturally! In order to harness the power of the fountain, they also have to acquire the tears of a mermaid, a task not easily accomplished since the scaly ones are a horde of shrieking homicidal banshees; they make for a neat new order of villains though: the femme fatale as a fish (they may also make you wary of being clawed in the gullet by your dinner the next time you order lobster thermidor for your entrée).

As with the other Pirates entries, don’t go in demanding an intellectual workout and you should do fine. There are solid performances galore, Depp and Rush are as always an utter delight, McShane has dark, creepy fun with Blackbeard and Cruz gives good Latina attitude. Yes, the action set pieces feel repetitive and ‘been there, done that’ but the film still has fun with them, making them part of its flamboyant swagger. And that’s the thing really, the Pirates films have never pretended to aim at anything other than just being good, harmless entertainment, and that this one does no better or worse than the other installments (okay, not entirely true, it’s a tad better than At World’s End). 

This may also be a good time to recall that the Pirates franchise is based originally on a theme park ride. So let’s take a moment and picture together the next big cinematic venture to be born out of Disneyworld/ Sindbad/ Joyland: Whirling Teacups – The Curse of the Expired Milk.

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