Pirates of the Caribbean on stranger tides is the first film without its long-serving director at the helm, Verbinski, instead taking his place is Rob Marshall, best known for Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. Marshall’s vision of Captain Jack Sparrow drops all the confusion that made the second and third editions of the series so heavily condemned and starts a fresh. As a series film POTC is an example of ever diminishing returns, with the fourth film they have returned to the origins that made curse of the black pearl so popular.
The latest entry into the Disney staple follows the perilous quest to find the fountain of youth. The film kicks off in London where Jack is at trial for piracy (as in pirates, not selling bootlegs DVDs out of a car boot). In escaping he finds out that somebody posing as Captain Jack Sparrow is gathering a crew for the feared and iconic real world pirate, (Edward Teach) Blackbeard who has been told by soothsayers that he will only live for a further two weeks when he will be killed by a one-legged man. As per course one of these films there is more to it than the central arc. True to the series convoluted beginnings there are many other story arcs which include the former flame of Jack Sparrow, the return of Barbossa, the relationship between a cleric and a mermaid, the retrieval of the Black Pearl all this while competing with the Spaniards to reach the fountain first. All of this while subtextually commenting on the varying faces of faith. If anything this is a film with an overtly complex narrative.
These side arc definitely have their ugly side which is represented through the love story between a cleric and mermaid, they both have their role in the development of the story. But to focus the films gaze on their story in such depth felt like nothing more than a tacked on extra intended to launch the careers of the actors involved, and not a necessary arc. On top of that it was very awkward to watch, not just because it has no value but also because it was badly acted and realised, just bad.
Thanks to all these plot strings and the trademark convolution the film starts to become problematic. In trying to complete these arcs the film becomes too long. Admittedly it’s nowhere near as long as the third instalment, but that doesn’t change the fact that on stranger tides drags on far too long. Not only does the film become boring, there are many occasions that the film really does try your patience. While the party led by Blackbeard is pursuing the fountain they approach a crossing where the rope bridge has been cut, someone needs to jump down the cliff face and the back and forth’s could have been done in one or 2 minutes than 5 plus minutes we are subject to in the film. If the editor did a good job, I would be talking about a good 100 minute film and not a messy 137 minute one.
Another defining feature of the series that has won fans and plaudits alike is Johnny Depp. He is as good as Jack Sparrow as he has ever been, but after four films the act isn’t quite as hilarious and enjoyable to watch as it was back in 2003, it’s feels a little lacklustre. I don’t feel that is entirely bad news as it allows other characters to steal the spotlight. Many people try their best to steal the limelight with Ian McShane at his villainous best as Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz as the love interest in Angelica. The whole cast is as brilliant as you expect for people as accomplished and experienced but there is no antagonist. The worst the film offers in the villainy stakes is a lot of arguing between McShane, Cruz and Depp. While all this was happening it allowed Geoffrey Rush in one of the only returning roles as Hector Barbossa to steal the show.
Barbossa returns not as a pirate but as an officer in the king’s navy charged with finding the fountain of youth before those pesky Spaniards. As far as characterisation and development goes, Geoffrey Rush has the king’s share. From Rush’s beginnings in the series he has developed into a anti-hero and where having too much of a good thing ending up courting disinterest in Jack Sparrow, Barbossa has developed from a secondary character to someone who we see revel in their role. Here, Rush is a joy to watch as he becomes the comic book pirate with a charisma that is the antithesis to what this series has celebrated to this point.
Another staple for the series is the action set pieces and the film doesn’t disappoint. The stand out action sequences are plentiful, but at the same time not plentiful enough. In the good we have the opening 10 or so minutes, the violent introduction of mermaids who are a cross between Sirens and vampires and an exchange between Jack Sparrow and Barbossa whilst trying to balance a precariously balanced boat. Other than those few stand outs the action set pieces go for the scale over execution and many films know how to do this sort of thing much better than that which is displayed here.
On stranger tides may very well be the best entry to the series since the first film, but at the same time I had too many problems with the film for it to be considered anything over than a poor film. When I want to watch a film of this nature I want to be embroiled in the excitement and at the end of the day all I was really left with was fatigue. Paying attention to and enjoying a film of this nature shouldn’t be such hard work.