Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review

I didn’t watch the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Johnny Depp’s turn as the drunken and flamboyant Captain Jack Sparrow has become the primary selling point of the franchise. He’s great, but nothing can top The Curse of the Black Pearl. Its sequel, Dead Man’s Chest, was so disappointing that I couldn’t be bothered to see At World’s End.

I guess I should have seen it.

On Stranger Tides, the fourth entry in this increasingly bloated franchise, makes some substantial allusions to actions from the third flick, leaving me to make a quick trip to Wikipedia to understand the events of the film.

OK, so here’s the deal. Will and Elizabeth are long gone, off doing some crap from the third film. I love both Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom, but good riddance. They weighed the plot down. Instead, director Rob Marshall has veered in a slightly different direction. Jack is off being Jack, working to save Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from incarceration in London. Wacky antics and swashbuckling battles ensue, resulting in a three-way race to the fountain of youth. (Remember, that was mentioned in the third film.) You’ve got both a reformed Captain Barbossa privateering for the royal crown and the Spanish Armada en route to the fountain. The lovely Angelica (Penelope Cruz) swindles Jack onto the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a ship captained by none other than Blackbeard himself (Ian McShane).

Blackbeard is worried about a fortune that was told to him, predicting that a man with one leg will kill him. So he wants Jack to take him to the only place that will save him: yeah, the fountain. Antics happen on Barbossa’s ship as they head over, and the Spaniards just seem to do their own thing.

Anyway, to make sure things don’t stay simple, Angelica might or might not be Blackbeard’s daughter, and she might or might not want to save his soul should he die. Thus, some hunky missionary named Phillip (Sam Claflin) is kept on the ship to do … who knows what. He seems to fulfill the role left behind by Bloom as the idealistic young rouge, but he tends to wander off on his own, only popping in to offer an occasional opinion.

His plot is complicated when they capture a mermaid whom he names Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). They fall in love after swift glances at each other, and I guess they save each other at some point. It’s all really dumb, does very little to flesh out the plot, and only works to keep a long and bloated film that much longer.

That’s essentially what On Stranger Tides is: a bloated sequel in a tired franchise. For some people, the sight of Jack Sparrow is enough to make them happy, and the 137-minute film will be pure pirate fun. Plot and narrative and development aside, there are lots of flashy sword fights and killer mermaids and foggy swamps and all those other things that make a swashbuckling film enjoyable. For me, the entertainment alone was enough to carry the original film, which felt fresh and special and self-contained.

While On Stranger Tides is better than the second film because it feels less tacked on to the franchise, it doesn’t make up for the fact that nothing is really new anymore. Jack is Jack. The sword fights are the same sword fights you’ve seen a hundred times before, the mystical crap is the same mystical crap, and the sexy young ladies are practically middle-age by this point. With hints toward a fifth and sixth film, as long as Pirates of the Caribbean remains Disney’s great cash cow, quantity over quality will hamper the franchise.