Ugh, hate long titles. I have this kinda steadfast rule that I won’t abbreviate titles, no acronyms either. It’s always bugged me. Guess I’ll just have to avoid referring to the film’s name during the course of the review. So, who asked for a fourth Pirates of the Caribbean film? Wasn’t me. Someone must have. Regardless of who asked here it is. Before you click the link below for my full review try answering the following question. When has an unnecessary sequel, such as this, ever been good?
I ask the previous question for one reason. Because as I was writing that previous paragraph I wanted to make a comparison, you know the sort, “will this be the X of the Y or the A of the B”. I honestly couldn’t think of a good sequel to a series that had already reached a natural conclusion. No one asked for Troll 3 (yes it exists). No-one asked for Best of the Best 3. No-one asked for Police Academy’s 4-7 that’s for sure. Note one thing of those 3 film series. None of them were huge blockbusters. Police Academy comes close but if you look at the money made by it you’d wonder why they ever kept going. The difference here is that the Pirates of the Caribbean films, despite being critically patchy, had made a staggering amount of money across the 3 previous films. Which I guess answers my first question, who asked for this?
In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (dammit) Jack Sparrow (Jonny Depp) is after the fountain of youth. So is a load of other guys. Penelope Cruz (Penelope Cruz’s pregnancy bump) is dressed as Jack Sparrow and tells people to join her so the real Jack is all like “you wot luv?”, and then he joins her on her boat. Which is actually Blackbeard’s (Lovejoy), cos he wants the fountain of youth too. Now Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is an admiral or something for the King (Pie in the Sky) and he’s after the fountain but maybe not really. They go to an island and mermaids happen. Also there is some handsome vicar (?) or something. He fancies the mermaid girl (Some skinny lass) they capture for her tears cos romance.
So, you may be able to guess by this point that I don’t rate the film too highly. It could be because I thought the sequels to the magnificent first film were kinda awful, and thus their stank has carried over to this. It could be because I’m a bitter twisted old cynic. It could be because the film is poorly written, created via tick boxes, contains a horribly ironic plot and also directed with the energy narcoleptic that falls asleep whenever Jonny Depp acts weird. Could be any of those reasons that I find this film to be some kind of dross.
So, where should we start? How about I swerve you by going over the film’s positives. Jonny Depp seems bored playing Jack Sparrow. Balls! That didn’t go well. OK, so the film looks like all the money spent on it (A figure ranging between $150 and $250 million according to Wikipedia) has been put up on the screen. Well most of it. $55.5 million of it went into Depp’s pocket. There’s a scene early on where we gradually see Jack Sparrow’s thought process as he’s planning his escape from custody. That was nice. Later on he claims to just make it up as he goes along though, which undermines that moment. There’s scenes which could be described as containing “exciting” action. These scenes are often drawn out and lacking in direction… so… yeah. Exciting if you really don’t care about narrative I guess. I tried to not give a shit but I’m not Shia LeBeouf so I was unable to give that little amount of shits.
Well, that positivity focused paragraph went well. Let us move on. Approximately 60% of the dialogue in the first half of the film is expository. What this means is rather than dialogue driving the characters on, or us learning about who they are, or involving them discovering new information along side the audience, we instead have information spoon fed to us like the morons that we are. Right after Jack “rescues” Gibbs from being put to death instead of any charming repartee we instead get Gibbs flat out asking Jack about the fountain of youth map and any information he knows. This pattern continues on and on. When Jack confronts Penelope Cruz he’s asking her about the rituals for the fountain. When we meet Barbossa he’s telling us how he came to be under the employ of the King rather than us seeing that happen. This trend continues onto the film’s second half in a lesser extent but it is replaced by forced romance between a cleric and a mermaid we don’t care about. Seriously, I challenge anyone to care about them at all. Will and… err, what’s her face… Elizabeth, they are not.
That romance deserves a little focus. Well, I mean, it doesn’t… but it’s kinda awful so I guess I have to. So around 30 minutes into the film Jack has arrived aboard the Queen Ann’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s voodoo powered pirate ship. He sees a guy tied to a mast and asks why he is there. Apparently he’s there for talking about God and trying to save Blackbeard’s soul. About 20 minutes later we see him again as he is freed. He says one line about not joining sides. A while after that he suddenly seems to be a main character. We’re now nearly an hour into the film and all we know about this guy is that he’s some sort of cleric. Eventually the pirates capture a mermaid because they need a single tear from her for magic reasons. At this point the cleric (I can’t remember his name, gimmie a mo… Philip… huh. No surname.) decides to be all nice to the mermaid because she needs someone to help her not die. Now Philip is in love with her because mermaids are kinda seductive, so that’s not real love. Also, because mermaids are things and not people, plus she’s kinda enslaved to the pirates at this point, Philip, being the whitest and most well spoken of the group, decides to give her a name. He doesn’t ask her her name, he just decides she’s called Syrena. The pirates pretend to kill Phil, which doesn’t make the mermaid cry, but when he comes back (cos he was only poisoned) she cries a single tear of joy. She loved him already you see, but now she thinks he fooled her. Later he comes back to her where she was left tied up and he frees her and then they swim away. Philip is all good and stuff and the mermaid is a face for him to eventually kiss. That is the entirety of their romance. This all takes place over the course of a few hours. Ugh.
Can’t believe it took such a long paragraph to explain all that. This is the trouble though. The romance is a series of events with no signs of chemistry or sexual tension. It’s things happening because there needs to be a romance and Penelope Cruz’s character is too deceitful to be a solid romance character for Jack Sparrow. Now there could have been a dichotomy between Jack and Penelope Cruz (Her character is called Angelica by the way, I just don’t care though) where they don’t know if they can allow themselves to trust each other with their feelings, sorry Jack I meant stirrings. Instead they just flip flop from being aligned to not being aligned with little reason other than her daddy, Blackbeard, being more important to her. Little is made of the potential tragedy of a love interest that is devoted to a destructive father to the point where she’ll sacrifice any potential love for him. Jack makes a handful of attempts to sway her away from Blackbeard’s grasp, even being willing to put himself in danger for her, but very soon everything has reverted to the same cycle of love hate with no actual development. Again, the film is more concerned with things happening than actual development of character or story.
This all comes down to the film’s central issue. Jack Sparrow isn’t a main protagonist. He’s a protagonist, sure, but he’s also comic relief and serves the purpose in the first film of being the character that can do the things Will could not. As the first film progressed Will learned to be a hero and to win the heart of Elizabeth. Jack has no straight man character to play off of here. No-one is his foil, no-one is his opposite. He’s too self centred a character to ever be a true heroic character, he’s more of the reluctant hero. Whilst he will commit to heroic situations it’s often when no other path is possible or when the result of the action will directly benefit him. I’m not saying Jack is a bad character, but he is a deeply flawed person and only works when placed next to another character with opposing flaws. Here’s a slightly harsh analogy. Remember when Real Ghostbusters was an awesome cartoon and everyone loved Slimer? Remember the Slimer solo cartoon? Yeah, it was terrible, because Slimer is not the main character. Same thing here.
That horrible irony I mentioned regarding the film’s plot from earlier is basically this. The Pirates of the Caribbean series is living way past it’s natural life. The film involves a search for the fountain of youth. In the film when a person uses the fountain of youth another must sacrifice their remaining life for the other. This film has sacrificed the life of Will and Elizabeth, by removing any normal characters for the audience to follow, in order to preserve the life of Jack Sparrow. This is because without Jack the film series goes nowhere. What Rob Marshall and everyone involved seemed to have forgotten is that without the opposite of jack Sparrow you have a withered husk of a film that is missing the heart needed to keep on. Eventually the series will die because of this. Well, you’d think it would but this film took over $1billion worldwide, so I guess quality isn’t a concern for most people now. Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides is a soulless shambling mess of a movie that could have been saved with a few carefully thought out changes. Instead it’s a bloated, over produced piece of design by market research that fails to leave any sort of decent impression. Somehow, it is the worst in the series.