Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides


I’ve never really been one to complain about inferior sequels taking the sheen of a glowing original, but I really have to think that the legacy of infamous trickster pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, would have been better served if he had continued sailing off into that horizon rather than dropping anchor into two diverting but flawed sequels.
Sure, Dead Man’s Chest was fun and had an impressive villain, but it aimlessly sailed around in circles for most of its cluttered story – and as for At World’s End, well, it ended up getting sucked into the whirlpool of it’s own convoluted storyline until it drove itself into the ocean floor like that shark at the end of The Shallows.
Still, both of those sequels seem cooler than a Kraken’s codpiece when stacked against 2011’s On Stranger Tides, a stunningly forgettable attempt to unwisely shove Sparrow to the forefront of the story.


Seventeen years have passed after the events of At World’s End and everyone looks exactly the same except having all the quality of living the 18th century provides and we find Jack Sparrow still bereft of his beloved ship the Black Pearl and ambling around London trying to clumsily liberate his first mate, Gibbs, from the hang man’s noose, only to be brought before King George II and given a peculiar quest. He is to mount an expedition and locate the fabled Fountain Of Youth before the fleet of King Ferdinand of Spain finds it first, with ex-pirate turned privateer, Captain Barbossa, providing the transport.
After declining in his usual fashion of swinging on chandeliers and falling out of windows, Jack discovers that someone disguised as himself has been also been trying to gather a crew for the same quest and the culprit turns out to be an old flame by the name of Angelica who also turns out to be the daughter of feared pirate Blackbeard to seeks the fountain in order to defy his prophesied death. Finding himself as part of the crew on Blackbeard’s funky, possessed ship, Sparrow goes through his usual array of tricks and fake outs to manuever his way around proceedings, but on his tail is Barbossa who demands vengence of the tyrannical pirate as it was Blackbeard who magically shrunk the Pearl down to be part of a mystical collection and cost the privateer his leg.
As all parties race to obtain the various trinkets needed to perform the ritual of eternal life (the franchise does love its macguffins), they’ll have to face various dangers, but none more lethal than trying to obtain a tear from the vicious underwater sirens known as the mermaid.


While I haven’t done my homework to check if this record still stands, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the most expensive movie ever made when it sailed into multiplexes back in 2011. It proves to be something of a stunning achievement if for no other reason that it’s quite possibly the most forgettable blockbuster made in the last fifteen years. Don’t believe me? Ask someone if they like Captain Jack Sparrow and if they reply yes then ask them to give you a vague round up of the plot of the fourth movie and prepare to see their eyes glaze over. It’s quite worrying that a film that cost $379 million and grossed $1.046 billion turned out to have such an amnesia inducing effect on anyone who saw it but watching again, years later, feels like that bit in Finding Nemo when Dory gets total recall. But all the sudden recollections of mermaids, zombies and a wooden ship armed with a flame thrower all pale into insignificance when you realise that there’s a very good reason why you can’t recall much of Sparrow’s fourth voyage and that’s because it’s shockingly fucking boring.


Taking over from previous trilogy helmer Gore Verbinski, Rob Marshall, most famous for mounting musicals than win Oscars (Chicago) and Musicals that don’t (Into The Woods), requests permission to come about and turns in an overlong movie that isn’t especially funny or exciting for any long period of time. The main problem is that the franchise has curiously forgotten the best way to present its main draw and instead, unwisely makes Johnny Depp’s wavy-armed trickster the centre of attention instead of him being a chaotic wild card. He worked so well in the past primarily this slurring ruffian would randonly wander in and amusingly fuck the plot up for the actual protagonists – namely game straight men Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan. However, when you make such a disruptive being the centre of the plot, you find you have nowhere else for the movie to go, with almost the entirety of the remaining cast suprisingly left adrift. Yes, its wise to bring back Geoffrey Rush’s ever more crusty Barbossa and the mighty mutton chops of Kevin J. McNally’s Gibbs (surely the franchise’s most underappreciated gem), but nothing they do is particularly very interesting. Still, they fare a damn sight better than any of the newcomers, with Penelope Cruz’s Angelica being far less interesting than a pirate played by Penelope Cruz has any right to be and Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey species-crossed lovers blend into the background so such they might as well be part chameleon. However, the biggest disapointment proves to be Ian McShane who’s annoyingly subdued Blackbeard turns in the weakest villain in Pirates’ rich history of supernatural sea faring bastards and despite looking freaking awesome as he strides around his living ship, flanked by zombified members of his senior crew, McShane just looks kinda bored and his line readings feel suspiciously like they were done in one take and then off to the trailer. It’s certainly no match for the more spectacular visuals we’ve come to expect from the series’ other baddies.


Still, it’s not all bad. Rising from a string of huge but empty set pieces, the genuinely intimidating mermaid sequence finally nails the correct pace and tone as the fish-taled frame fatales seduce, pounce and snag screaming men to their watery rooms and Stephen Graham’s half-witted Scrum is rare new character who actually read the brief.
However, the fact of the matter remains that despite the ungodly amount of box office it managed to keel haul out of still willing audiences, theres the very real sense that Sparrow is starting to drift out beyond his sell by date and giving him more screen time and plot responsibility certainly doesn’t help.
At this rate, those pirates had better start eyeing up the Caribbean as a potential retirement home, because the rum’s gone stale.


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