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Total Crap32.43%

4 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
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by Erik Childress

"More Euthanized Than Youth-anized"
2 stars

When the first Pirates of the Caribbean film was released in 2003, audiences and critics alike lowered their expectations to the level appropriate of a narrative based on a theme park ride. When it actually turned out to be a handsomely-mounted production full of action and magic with a performance for the ages by Johnny Depp, skepticism was left behind. As Gore Verbinski and writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio expanded upon the mythology and actually treated this seemingly throwaway money-grab with a sense of epic scope and allegorical history, the tide slowly turned again. Too long. Too much plot. Too serious. How dare those people whom we once mocked for using a Disneyland ride as inspiration? Hopefully those same people will be happy with the continuation of the adventures of Jack Sparrow. Strip down the complications, make it much more straightforward, bring in poor substitutes for original characters and deliver something that may fit more into their idea of a Saturday matinee picture, although one not exactly worth a matinee price.

In an unspecified amount of time that has passed since we were At World's End, evidence of the Fountain of Youth has been found. At least, more people seem to have it now. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has a map, but he is not the one gathering a crew to go find it. Someone else is using his name and King George wants him to keep the Spanish armada from finding it. The impostor turns out to be Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a long-ago flame of Sparrow's and the daughter of the famed Blackbeard (Ian MacShane), or so she claims. He is responsible for taking the Black Pearl away from Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is now in the King's employment and on the hunt for the famed Fountain as well.

From there it is actually rather shocking that there are barely enough words to construct a second paragraph describing its plot. Hardly as a result of there being a number of intricate turns and big surprises around the corner. Moreso it is the lack of intricacy surrounding these characters and their motivations that make discussing their next step so lackluster. Once everyone's singular driving force is established, it is on to securing a mermaid that will produce the necessary tear to jumpstart the Fountain's power. This sets up the film's best sequence; a sprawling mermaid attack that subjugates all memory of the sweetness of Disney's Ariel and Splash. But it also allows the film a side relationship between the captured fishwoman, Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and doofus priest, Philip (Sam Claflin), who see the kindness in each other's eyes while we see nothing but obvious dopplegangers for Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner.

Orlando Bloom may have been as whitebread as they come, but his character was in the same vein as Cary Elwes' Wesley from The Princess Bride, and he came with a history that produced a growing arc within himself and his partnerships with Jack and Elizabeth. Philip represents in many ways the kind of lost potential in the spiritual implications of the Fountain of Youth that would have been explored at least as an interesting aside in the previous films. His naysaying qualities about the word of God vs. whatever pagan magic might exist in this world opens the door to a potentially interesting arc in his beliefs amidst a cadre of scoundrels only interested in the glory rather than the meaning. Instead he is reduced to a goo-goo eyed distraction that gives Rob Marshall something to cut to when he's not interested in sticking with the action.

Marshall's hiring raised more than a few eyebrows. Gore Verbinski was hardly an established action director when he signed on, but proved himself adept at adapting the old swashbuckling ways to what could have been just a special effects extravaganza. Marshall, on the other hand, directs and cuts his action scenes like a dance rehearsal; the kind where the numbered footprints are still on the floor. You might find yourself counting a lot of action scenes in On Stranger Tides, but the beats always seem a step behind and without the necessary stimulus between the swordplay, it's all just a lot of clanking minus someone counting off the moves.

Depp's inspired creation of the Jack Sparrow character is the one thing that does not appear to have worn thin and is still a pleasure to watch. What has been lost though is the sense of conflicted moral certitude that kept the Captain as off-balance as the drunken tightrope walk Depp created for him. The underlying deviousness of Sparrow for the greater good of himself and occasionally others is completely lost the fourth time around. The cheekiness is still there, but he is more of a good guy than ever. And that appears to have worn off on everyone around him. Cruz's Angelica is woefully underwritten as a potential feminine match for him; rather shocking considering how much she lit up Marshall's lackluster adaptation of Broadway's Nine. Barbossa has lost a leg and all of his backstabbing prowess. Worst of all, Ian MacShane's Blackbeard could go down as one of the softest villains this side of the comic book ones who has a crisis of conscience just before dying. Apart from torching one poor bloke in a dinghy, there is a lot of mercy and half-assed hard-assery from our chief antagonist. In no way helped by the writing, MacShane still plays Blackbeard like Al Swearengen's bored, older brother who would sooner sleep and drink than do any actual pirating.

After the release of Dead Man's Chest with its grandiose set pieces and nods to the seafaring monsters of Disney's past, it was easy to announce the series as a new generation's version of Indiana Jones (pre-Crystal Skull.) Little did we expect that such winks would subside to full-blown lifts of the original Spielberg series that some feel should have remained a trilogy. Angelica is supposed to be Sparrow's Marion Ravenwood (also deflowered by our hero), there is worry about a superpower obtaining the power of immortality and the flat finale has a distinct Last Crusade ring to it minus the stakes, booby traps and tension of choosing the right cup. On Stranger Tides severely suffers from simplicity trying to blanket the brain cramps experienced by those who chose not to keep up with many of the unappreciated intricacies of its predecessors, regressing the franchise to a level where no Smartwater can make you remember that you actually saw a fourth film.

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originally posted: 05/20/11 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Festival de Cannes For more in the 2011 Festival de Cannes series, click here.

User Comments

2/24/13 Cockycook Very good 5 stars
5/06/12 Charles Tatum Why does the cast seem so distracted? 3 stars
12/24/11 debbie hodgdon love the mermaid parts!!! 5 stars
7/22/11 Brian so-so addition to the great original trilogy. 3 stars
6/12/11 Rich Boring! 2 stars
6/02/11 Chris White Prefer the first 3. But this one wasn't all bad. 3 stars
6/01/11 sreekiran just a bit boring and predictable screenplay 2 stars
5/28/11 Shaun A I'll buck the trend and say I thoroughly enjoyed this adventure. 4 stars
5/25/11 Aaron S Better than the first 2 sequels. But should be the end for the franchise. A great end note. 5 stars
5/23/11 Ming The story is boring..Its stupid to continue this great epci 2 stars
5/22/11 palmer555 I totally agree. I found myself checking the time more than once during the film. 2 stars
5/21/11 Quigley A prime example of a missed chance. Not terrible, but the series is losing steam. 3 stars
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  20-May-2011 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2011


  DVD: 18-Oct-2011

Directed by
  Rob Marshall

Written by
  Ted Elliott
  Terry Rossio

  Johnny Depp
  Penélope Cruz
  Geoffrey Rush
  Ian McShane
  Gemma Ward
  Judi Dench

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