Movie Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
May 31, 2011 Leave a comment
Oh boy, another summer movie season means another pirates movie. Now don’t get me wrong, Pirates are cool, in some instances. I rather enjoy swashbuckling movies about high seas antics and man-o-war style ship battles. You got to love the clairvoyance and swagger that pirates have when they gallivant about the open seas causing havoc where ever they go. The Pirates movies for me, wore out their welcome, lets us say around the end of the 2nd movie. So the review might be biased as I think that movie got weighed down by crappy side stories, stilted love triangles, and far too much focus on Johnny Depp sashaying his arms around while he runs and screams in every scene.
But with a new director, dropping dead weight characters, and introducing another mythical artifact to search, maybe the Pirates film franchise has some new wind in their sail.
Well we start out the movie with a small scene setting up the overall race to find a sacred artifact. Some fishermen off the coast of Spain find a man in their fishing nets and bring them to the King where we says utters something about the “Fountain of Youth”. This sparks the King to send men after the fabled fountain, far before Britain gets wind. Now we jump London where we find Jack’s first mate Gibbs being tried as Jack Sparrow in a case of mistaken identity. Jack breaks him out but ended up being crossed by the driver and he is brought in front of the King. He requests Jacks help in securing the fabled “Fountain of Youth” before the Spanish get there first. Jack is introduced to the King’s captain, Barbossa, who joined the British Navy after losing the Pearl at sea. So after making a dramatic and ridiculous escape, Jack finds his way to the bar where the Jack Sparrow imposter has been using his name to recruit a crew for a quest to the Fountain of Youth. (side note: how the fuck does everyone just so happen to be putting together crews to find the fountain, honestly) Anyways, we find that the imposter is an old flame of Jack’s by the name of Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and after a short sword battle, she knocks Jack out and brings him aboard the ship.
Jack’s awake to find himself aboard the ship of one of the most feared pirates on the seas, Black Beard (Ian McShane). He is on a quest for immortality and needs the help of Jack to track down the Fountain. With three different parties set on a their quest, they will eventually meet headlong on their adventure for the Fountain of Youth.
I am going to come right out and say this, I am glad that they dropped both Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom’s characters from the franchise, thanks to the third movie. I never felt connected to either one of their characters and the whole back and forth love triangle between the two and Depp’s Sparrow character was just this cluttered mess of a love story that was stilted and didn’t add any substance at all.
Depp’s Jack Sparrow is getting tired and essentially not interesting at all. We find this character seemingly evading trap and capture and luckily out witting his counterparts at every turn. I understand that is what is supposed to make this character interesting, but there is only so much screaming and arm flailing that I can take as a viewer. The clairvoyant nature of his character is nice factor, since he isn’t all grunts and sword swinging. There has to be some way to tone down the obvious character traits of Sparrow to not make it so annoying at times. In this movie they try to humanize the character by introducing a past love interest with Penelope Cruz as Angelica. Again another failed attempt at introducing a love interest. Penelope did her job well though, which is be utterly beautiful and look spectacular in a corset, which was wonderful. But there was no attempt at giving her a full back story or even having her part expanded. I guess we will have to wait for the inevitable sequel of this franchise to make its way to the big screen to see if her character gets more screen time and story.
There is one thing that I truly love about the series is their secondary characters, particularly with Barbossa and Black Beard. I have always said that if the series wanted to do a spin-off with another character, Barbossa is the person to do it on. Geoffery Rush honestly looks like he is having a great time playing the scurvy pirate captain Barbossa. He was the best part of the first and third movie where he bring his stellar acting chops to the screen and is convincing as a pirate captain. Her was far more of a pirate than Sparrow is and I find that odd since Barbossa is a secondary character. Give him more screen time and let Geoffery Rush chew the scenery up.
Last but not least is Ian McShane as Black Beard. It is sad that this character did not get developed as much as I would have liked and considering he is the villain, there is no excuse for that misstep. Other than knowing he is the most feared pirate on the seas, what else makes him bad? What makes him a bigger threat than say England who wants the powers that the Fountain holds? Yeah the dude has zombies under his control, but I mean with no back story, no real fleshing out his character other than a bad ass, fire-breathing ship, I just can’t find why he is much bigger threat than the expanding Spanish and British empire. Ian McShane was wasted in his role and, much like Barbossa, I love the scenery chewing and gravitas that McShane brought to an under utilized villain.
You know, the story and trek for the Fountain of Youth was a fun ride. Looking past some of the acting and character arcs, this is more of an Indian Jones on the high seas adventure feel. I liked the essence of the story, centering on mythical artifacts that we hear in stories and history and that fuels the adventure. Compared to the previous movies, this is far more entertaining since it was tied to this over arching trilogy story. I think that is where the series suffered as the second movie was setting up the third and it lost steam on the way. As a stand alone, On Stranger Tides was better written (to a degree) and brought together a tight pacing story line. It was trying to cram everything under the sun into the story as Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End did.
Bringing in a new director gave the movie some new life with a different set of eyes and directing style. Rob Marshall has a more theater driven filmography, but he did a great job in making a fun movie to watch. The character development could have used more focus, but that could have been a problem of the script and more so making Jack Sparrow a caricature of his previous movies.
Hans Zimmer brings his usual stellar track record and composition skills to another pirates movie and the score was enjoyable. I really enjoy listening to his orchestral scores and soundtracks since they work effectively in evoking emotion and setting the pace and tone of the movie.
Now I saw the movie in 3D, so my perception and criticism of the visuals is all about the 3D. While 3D can be useful, this movie didn’t need 3D. There was nothing in the movie where I was like, “You know it would be awesome if I can see more sword pointing at me from the screen”. That is all it was useful for, making sword seem more sword like. When the movie also has numerous scenes taking place at night, it is just darker and harder to follow what’s happening. Still, the idea of seeing massive ships cutting through the water, seeing mermaids turn into ravenous beasts and costumes all work effectively in putting you into the movie. I enjoy seeing all these elements come together and creating something unique and interesting.
While this movie had a huge marketing blitz, the whole marketing campaigns were not exciting to look at. I mean the posters weren’t interesting (just single profile shots) and the trailer featured more of the same. So if I wasn’t already acclimated with the series, I probably wouldn’t want to watch the movie. This is a shame since the movie is better than the previous two in the series, but the first is by far the best. There were strides in making the movie great, one was ditching the dead weight characters of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (we have the third movie to thank for that), but also bringing back Barbossa to reprise his role. I wish that Black Beard would have gotten a more fleshed out story and next time, drop the love interests all together, they did nothing for the movie.
For summer popcorn movie, you can’t go wrong with On Stranger Tides. I would skip the 3D version of the movie since you are getting nothing for your money.