Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Richard Griffiths
On Stranger Tides
- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here aren’t too many movie franchises that have the kind of unwavering popularity that awards them the clemency that the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series has enjoyed. Despite a pair of sequels that failed to live up to the first film (in fact, some might even say they were downright awful), Disney makes so much money from the “Pirates” movies that the decision to do another installment wasn’t much of a decision at all – especially when most fans were clamoring for one. Johnny Depp has been pretty vocal about correcting the problems that made “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End” a convoluted mess, but while there's been a lot of cheap talk about "On Stranger Tides" being a much more streamlined adventure, there's still a very been-there-done-that feel to the movie that's lacking the charm of the original.
When we last saw Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp), he was sailing off in a rowboat with a map containing the location of the Fountain of Youth. Since then, he’s pretty much given up his search for the legendary spring and has wound up back in London to rescue his old friend and first mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally), from certain death after he’s captured by the British due to a case of mistaken identity. But before he can save him from the clutches of the British army, Jack is kidnapped by Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former flame and the long-lost daughter of notorious pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), to help in finding the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish and British (led by Geoffrey Rush’s pirate captain Barbossa, now under the orders of King George) beat them to the punch.
Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Apparently, reaping the benefits of the Fountain’s magical abilities requires a ritual that involves collecting two silver cups from Ponce de León’s shipwrecked boat and the tear of a mermaid, because... well, why not? Did I mention that the mermaids are actually flesh-eating monsters that seduce men with their beauty? I don’t remember that part of Disney's animated classic, but then again, in a movie where zombiefied pirates have no interest in human flesh, it’s probably best not to spend too much time thinking about it. Of course, that doesn’t excuse the fact that “On Stranger Tides” has just as many problems as the last two films, because while it may be the shortest movie in the series, it still feels overly long at 137 minutes and packed with subplots and secondary characters that aren’t really necessary to the story.
The romance between a young missionary (Sam Claflin) being held prisoner on Blackbeard’s ship and the mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) that’s been captured for the aforementioned ritual is particularly pointless – almost as if screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot felt compelled to fill the void left by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. The rest of the new cast members don’t fare any better. Penelope Cruz shows hints of what could have been a great character, but is never given the material needed to convince the audience she’s worthy of being Jack’s female equivalent, while Ian McShane’s Blackbeard pales in comparison to past baddies like Barbossa and Davy Jones. Even the series’ few returning actors, Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush, seem to be running on fumes at this point, although they’re still the best part about these films.
Their scenes together are great (like two old war pals chatting over a cup of coffee, or in this case, rum, about their many battle scars), and if Disney did decide to go ahead with a fifth installment, a buddy picture with these two would almost certainly be the way to go. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else about the film that’s really memorable. The cameos by Keith Richards and Judi Dench (in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her chase sequence) are amusing, and the 3D is better than usual, but “On Stranger Tides” never amounts to more than a bunch of noisy action scenes loosely strung together by a lackluster plot with no sense of excitement or adventure. Sorry Mr. Bruckheimer, but no matter how much fun the first movie may have been, the pirate’s life just isn’t for me.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Unlike Disney’s past releases for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, the Blu-ray for the fourth installment is severely lacking in bonus material. There’s an audio commentary with director Rob Marshall and executive producer John Deluca, a short blooper reel, and some LEGO-themed cartoon shorts, but that’s it for the disc. You can access more production featurettes and behind-the-scenes goodies by using the Second Screen feature, but for anyone without an iPad or a nearby computer, it’s absolutely worthless.