Watched May 22, 2011
Adam Bolden’s review:
Another four years have passed and it’s time to once again sail the seas with Jack Sparrow. With Will and Elizabeth out of the way, and a new, Oscar-winning director at the helm, the expectations for this installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise were among the highest in its existence. And while it doesn’t exactly live up to what it could have been, what it is isn’t half bad.
On Stranger Tides finds Jack Sparrow a while after At World’s End, still searching for the metaphorical and/or physical key to unlocking the Fountain of Youth. Barbossa is now working for the crown and Gibbs is the only friend Jack has left in the world. While escaping the king’s guards Jack meets up with a former lover named Angelica who claims to be the daughter of the infamous Captain Blackbeard. She brings him along to help her father find the Fountain of Youth before Barbossa.
Jack Sparrow is now this generation’s Indiana Jones. The direction in which the franchise is being taken as of this film leaves the field wide open for an unlimited number of mythologically-driven story lines that can send Jack wherever seems convenient at the time. Luckily they took the high road with this concept and made a particularly enjoyable film that is a good omen for things to come. Jack is the same as ever but even more so because this is the first time where he is the indisputable main character. It’s also interesting to see Jack in an actual romantic relationship (or what remains of one) which further explores the fact that he is in his very soul a pirate more than anything. Blackbeard is an interesting villain but not a very memorable one. When compared to somebody like Davy Jones or Barbossa (who is still as fascinating to watch as ever), he doesn’t measure up and will ultimately not be highly regarded in the future, I would surmise.
Despite the budget being reported at $250 million, this is probably the least artificial of the Pirates films to date (though I’m not entirely sure how much of the scenery was real and how much was computer-generated). It should be noted however that Johnny Depp received over a fifth of the budget as his salary. Whereas The Curse of the Black Pearl had an entire crew of cursed pirates and the following two films had fish people, the kraken, and other various otherworldly effects, this film stays well enough in the real world. I believe this worked to the film’s benefit as it brought back that pirate nostalgia that had been missing since the first film.
While the film finally tosses aside the idea that every character needs to be comic relief, it suffers from a few brand new ailments that are a bit more unique. The first fifteen minutes or so of the film are spent in London, hindering the rugged piratey feel of the previous stories. It’s not a very inviting way to return to the franchise and definitely feels out of place. It disappears soon enough however, and I’m not even sure I feel comfortable using this complaint as the East India Trading Company plot brought a lot of this in the past films and it didn’t feel intrusive. I guess I’m not exactly sure what bugged me about it, but it definitely felt uncomfortable and stilted.
An additional and bizarre subplot features a missionary aboard Blackbeard’s ship who has been captured in hopes that he might help redeem Blackbeard’s soul. We’re never given a reason to care about this character even when he develops his own romance along the journey and so I never feel any emotional attachment to anything he does or is involved in. As I stated before, Blackbeard is not a very memorable villain. It feels like they tried really hard to make him bloodthirsty and evil but he never comes off as more than a boring, generic villain. I sort of admire what they were trying to do with him but it never ends up working very well.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a fresh and interesting change of pace for the series that will hopefully lead to more similar films in the future. Depp says he’s up for anything so here’s hoping they don’t bog it down with more convoluted plots and confusing character development like they did in Dead Man’s Chest.