Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Unlike its predecessors, the fourth installment of the surprisingly successful piratical franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, was inspired by a book. From what I have been able to glean from its Wikipedia page, Tim Powers’ 1987 novel On Stranger Tides appears to have only a few elements in common with the movie that took its name: the Fountain of Youth, daughter issues, Blackbeard, and pirates.

What? Hollywood taking a book, scuttling what doesn’t work for them, and going where they want with it? Outrageous!

All right, who am I kidding? They do it all of the time.

To say that I had high hopes for this movie would be a lie. I’m not expecting Oscar-bait, I just want entertainment. I don’t expect preaching or under-utilizing a fantastic actor. I suppose I ought to explain by going into the typically convoluted plot.

When last we saw Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), he was on a dingy bound for the Fountain of Youth. Now, he’s impersonating a judge in order to free his favorite first mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally). Things don’t go as planned (assuming he ever plans anything) and he is brought before England’s King George II (Richard Griffiths).  His orders? Find the Fountain of Youth before the Spanish. This reunites Jack with his old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a state-sanctioned privateer who is sporting a stylish peg leg. Jack declines and escapes only to run into Angelica (Penélope Cruise), an old flame and apparent daughter of Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

Jack ends up on Blackbeard’s ship where we meet boring missionary Philip Swift (Sam Claflin). Blackbeard is a formidable pirate captain with a magic sword that makes a ship’s ropes turn into, for lack of a better word, tentacles. Honestly, I think that was a silly gimmick. He seems like the kind of guy who could do that just with a well-placed glare (if he needed to do that at all!). Hell, the guy is played by Ian McShane. That man is a god among men who makes you feel all freaked out and melty at the same time when he says that he’s a bad man (maybe that’s just me). It’s a damn shame that they gave him so little to work with. It’s a freakin’ crime against nature!

Speaking of crimes against nature, I get that Disney felt it necessary to include a love plot. Did they have to pick random missionary guy as their male romantic lead? He preached, got shirtless, and bored me to tears. I didn’t even remember that his character had a name until I looked it up. When I actually want your romantic lead to die, you’ve failed. I did appreciate the sexy mermaid Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey), though, and look forward to seeing her grace other films. So, there’s a win.

All in all, as fun as it was, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides lacked energy and the sparkle that made the other films so fun. I hope, if they plan to continue the franchise, that they take a break, think about what made the first three so fun, and try to make a movie worthy of their legacy.

Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The

At the start of  Jon Turteltaub's The Sorcerer's Apprentice, legend tells us (in Ian McShane’s uncredited dulcet tones) that there was a great Sorcerer’s War back in the day.  The good guys were led by Merlin (of course).  He had three apprentices: Veronica (Monica Belucci), Balthazar (Nicholas Cage), and Horvath (Alfred Molina). For plotty reasons, Horvath betrays his comrades and joins with Morgana Le Fay (Alice Krige).  It’s the Borg Queen, so why resist?  Besides, all she wants to do is raise the dead and unleash untold horrors upon mankind.

What’s sexier than world domination?

Through a bit of luck and sacrifice, Morgana is imprisoned inside the body of Veronica and a dying Merlin sends Balthazar on the quest for the Prime Merlinian (not to be confused with the Prime Meridian, though that’s what I kept hearing).  A montage shows his centuries’ long search, testing children all over the world.  Then, we leave Balthazar be and focus on the movie’s hero.

Now, imagine you’re ten years-old and on a school trip.  Imagine that you’ve been trying to impress the cute girl in your class for ages.  You finally give her one of those: “Do you want to be my girlfriend: ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” type of letters.  Before you get a response, it’s blown off into the street and, finally, into creepy-looking shop where you run into a crazy man.  The man then hands you an awesome ring and tells you you’re a sorcerer.  That’d be pretty cool, right?  Either that or it’d be grounds for years of therapy.  Unfortunately for Dave (Jake Cherry), it’s the latter after a magical battle royale between old frenemies Balthazar and Horvath leaves him looking like he’d wet himself during a nervous breakdown.

And we fast-forward ten years (to the day) to an older Dave (Jay Baruchel) waking up, grabbing the obligatory nerd breakfast of Mountain Dew, and getting lectured by his friend and roommate about not participating in life.  Friends really need to stop giving these lectures in movies.  People tend to get hurt.  Lucky for Dave, this is a Disney movie.  Otherwise, he’d be totally screwed.  As it would happen, he runs into the girl he’d adored when he was ten, Becky (Teresa Palmer), and decides to give it another go.  Again, it’s Disney.  This is entirely plausible.  Then, Balthazar catches up with him and tells him that he's taking Dave on as his apprentice as they try to save the world from Horvath and Morgana.

Some highlights of the rest of the very Disney movie include Nicholas Cage finally embracing the insanity that actually makes him fun to watch and Alfred Molina chewing up every scene he’s in like it’s delicious candy.  Oh, did I mention the neat Tesla Coil effects?  There are Tesla Coils!  There’s also a nice homage to the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” short from Disney’s Fantasia.

Disney’s lucky that my inner child and I are the best of friends and that we’re both easily amused.  Otherwise, I might have started on a tirade about how the three female roles boil down to simple stereotypes: bitch, damsel in distress, and self-sacrificing beauty who just wants to be normal.  Or I could have gone into how the more interesting characters didn’t get as much screen time as they deserved.  As it was, I enjoyed it for the fluff it was and try not to think about how awesome it could have been.