It really is a shame that Pirates Of The Caribbean became a franchise rather than just a one-off blockbuster. The first film was surprisingly good, just in that it was watchable at all. We went into the theater knowing it was a movie based on a Disneyland ride and had the considerably lowered expectations that kind of product-driven filmmaking demands. Then somehow it ended up being entertaining.
Johnny Depp brought a batshit insane quality to his Keith Richards pirate, the action was lovably over-the-top, and Geoffrey Rush provided the necessary scenery chewing as the villain. Sure, the plot revolved around an almost impossibly bland romance between Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, but at least it worked. When the film was released people would say in almost disbelief, “you know, that Pirates Of The Caribbean movie was really good.” Then the producers got greedy and tried to manufacture a trilogy. Two almost incompressible 3 hour long sequels followed. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone over the age of 12 who actually likes the sequels, but they did bring in about a billion dollars worldwide each. So, inevitably we now have Pirates 4. I wish I could turn the clock back to 2003 and say it’s surprisingly good, but sadly this series jumped the shark about two movies ago.
There is one positive thing to be said about Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: it’s the shortest film of the series. Now, the thing still feels about 20 minutes too long, but at least it doesn’t feel like it’s an hour too long (or more honestly, 3 hours too long) like the last two movies. And that’s really it in terms of Pirates 4’s positive qualities. This movie is a cash grab of the worst sort. Disney was so desperate to milk this cashcow that they forked over a record $56 million to Johnny Depp to reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow. Though Depp has typically tried to base his career around interesting roles that he hasn’t played before, every man has his price. I think we can guarantee that a screenplay wasn’t in place when that deal was struck. They just knew there was no point in continuing the franchise without him and cranked out the pathetic script for this movie the second that he signed on. It has to be said that Depp seems bored by the proceedings this time out. A character that once provided unpredictable anarchistic wit to an otherwise straightforward blockbuster is now just par for the course. Depp doesn’t seem to be having fun with the role anymore and is simply going through the motions. He’s finally the main character in a Pirates movie and yet it’s possibly the least funny entry in the series. It’s as if Depp and the screenwriters couldn’t be bothered to even try with the now iconic character. Everyone was just there for a considerable payday.
Unlike the last two sequels, it’s actually possible to follow the plot of this movie, but that doesn’t mean the story is any good. Captain Jack Sparrow returns to London having heard that someone is impersonating him and trying to put together a ship to find the fountain of youth, which makes Jack a little peeved since he has the map to the fountain. He quickly learns that it was all a ruse put on by his former ladyfriend played by Penelope Cruz (apparently he once stole her away from the convent with his lady-loving ways). Cruz kidnaps Jack and takes him onto her ship. It turns out the ship is run by Black Beard (Ian McShane), who is also her father and Cruz plans on extending daddy’s life with the fountain of youth. At the same time a Spanish ship (we never meet the characters, they’re just known as the Spanish from start to finish) heads out to find the fountain and the British king hires Geoffrey Rush to beat the Spaniards to the punch. The first 30-40 minutes are dedicated to everyone desperately trying to get their hands on Jack’s map. Apparently it’s the only map to the fountain of youth that exists, yet once it’s destroyed all three boats have no problem finding the fountain without a map. That should give you an idea of the quality of writing at play here.
Everything about the movie is purely serviceable, with new series director Rob Marshall (Chicago) offering personality-free filmmaking indistinguishable from previous Pirates movies. Action occurs every 15 minutes or so whether it can be appropriately worked into the story or not. Black Beard has magical powers purely to keep a supernatural element going until they reach the island. Geoffrey Rush is there just because he was a popular character in the last movies. And on and on. If you’re worried that the movie won’t waste time on a pointless love story because Orlando and Keira didn’t make it into the cast, don’t be. Once all the ships get to the island containing the fountain of youth, we’re treated to a 30-minute love story between a mermaid and a priest. Nope, I’m not making that up. Just when all the plot and character set up is complete and the three ships reach the island for what should have been an hour-long action/adventure climax, a love story kicks off between a stowaway priest and a kidnapped mermaid. It’s just as pointless, irritating, and needlessly sentimental as it sounds. And if that weren’t enough, it slows down the climax. If you thought that Keira and Orlando’s romance distracted from the fun of the last three Pirates movies, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Simply put, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a disaster. What was once a fun romp is now an overlong bore, with even the Depp seeming bored by the proceedings. There is a chance audiences will finally tires of this series with this outing, if only because the insane paydays given to all the actors cut down on the scale of the production considerably. It’s still a blockbuster, but feels noticeably smaller than the last two movies. Sadly, thanks to brand loyalty and Depp increasing celebrity, we’ve got to assume that the film will be a hit. After all as bad as this movie is, it isn’t as bad as the previous sequels, which rank amongst the highest grossing films of all time. Disney clearly feels the same way since this movie ends with 3 different cliffhanger endings and absolutely no closure. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have plans to turn this into the first chapter of a second Pirates trilogy. It’s pretty frustrating, but what are you going to do? At least that means anyone suffering from insomnia can depend one of these movies to help them get a good nights sleep every two years or so.
Oh yeah, and the movie features that terrible retrofitted 3D that’s awful and almost impossible to see since the cinematography is too dark for 3D glasses. It’s worth mentioning, but honestly does anyone even get excited by 3D anymore? That trend is over now, right?