Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Here is the pattern: The first film is an unexpected hit. It wows audiences with its freshness and originality. Studios, eager to cash in, put a sequel into the works immediately. They ramp up the action, and, often making the incorrect assumption that we like the characters to an inordinate degree, bog up the story with backstory and soap opera dynamics. Despite this, the second film can still be fun and amazing, and reach that ramped-up point. The second was also successful, so a third film is put into production – we are, after all, hung up on the world “trilogy” for some reason (not even the concept of a trilogy. Just the word). Now, however, to outdo the second, the filmmakers either have to ramp up the action even further – to a delirious degree – or they have to take the story in a new direction. It’s usually around here that franchises begin to fall apart. The third film is over-the-top and strange. If a fourth film ever comes out, it serves as a course correction, trying to get things back on track.
Except if many years have passed, then the fourth film is a grab at the nostalgia dollar.
Rob Marshall‘s new “Pirates” movie (the fourth in the franchise) is fun and adventurous enough, I suppose, but I find myself hard pressed to work up any enthusiasm about it. I can say this for sure: it’s not bogged down with useless exposition and indecipherable plotlines like the previous two films. It doesn’t have an artificially weighted focus on the bland breeding couple characters (previously played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley), and it doesn’t have a fever pitch tone. It doesn’t have a story so complicated that you cannot follow it, and the visuals are not so overblown and confusing that you can, at the very least, tell what’s going on at all times. It’s kind of sad, though, that mere understandability is considered a virtue in summer blockbusters.
I’m tempted to review this film in how it works as a product rather than a film. It’s well-orchestrated by Disney. As a film, it’s not so impressive.
Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow, and while Depp has said in interviews that he’s a little tired of playing the drunken mumbler, he still manages to give a lot to the role. He escapes from King George (the very game Richard Griffiths), who would have him hung for piracy, and proceeds on his quest to find the fountain of MacGuffin. I mean Youth. There is some rigmarole at the film’s beginning about Jack Sparrow’s imposter, a magical map, and assembling a crew, so it’s not until about halfway through the film that the story really gets going in earnest.
So we have several parties looking for The Fountain of Youth. There’s Blackbeard (a lip-smacking sinister Ian McShane) who fears he will be cut down in a fortnight, and who can control the ropes on his ship like trained snakes). There’s his would-be daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz, who looks great in a bodice), there’s the ex-pirate Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now serving in the Royal Navy, who has a peg leg and pockmarked skin, and actually seems to be having the most fun. And there’s a mysterious cadre of Spaniards. Once they arrive on the island where The Fountain is located, the story picks up, and we can tell where everyone is. Competence.
There’s also a subplot involving a cleric named Philip (Sam Claflin), who is righteous and pure and as bland as can be. He falls in love with a kidnapped mermaid (superhot Spanish model Astrid Berges-Frisbey), and there’s some halfway interesting ideas in him trying to provide her salvation. A priest on a pirate ship is a neat idea. It’s too bad the characters and dialogue are nearly free of interest.
And that’s about it. It’s an efficient, vaguely entertaining machine. If you find yourself itching to go, please see it in 2-D. I saw it in 3-D at my screening, and it’s was such a dizzying experience, I had to catch my balance after the film. Like I encouraged in my review for “Sanctum,” I encourage you to contruct your own pair of 2-D glasses by removing one lens from one pair of glasses, and putting it in the opposite side frame of another. If you have two right lenses or two left lenses, you can cancel out the 3-D effect.