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.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End

You’re still with me? Good. I was afraid I’d lost you all after the complicated plot twists of the last film.  Those paths of prose are windy indeed and one is liable to get lost if one isn’t careful. Fortunately, they leave out a few little breadcrumbs of coherency so you can follow along in the right direction. At any rate, we’re back for another swashbuckling adventure in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. No, the world doesn’t end. It’s not a movie about any sort of apocalypse. It’s about voyaging to the ends of the world in search of truth, justice. . .oh, who am I kidding? Where’s the rum?

At the end of the last movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) had received a kiss of death and a one way ticket to Davy Jones’ Locker through a dubiously consensual act of vore, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) had made a promise he intended to keep, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) was filled with guilt over her part in Jack’s death, Norrington (Jack Davenport) betrayed them all, and Tia Dalma (Naomie Harris) brought Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) back from the dead so they could rescue Jack. Yeah. It’s complicated. This seems to be a trend with these films.

In any event, the plot is more complex and more convoluted this time around. Everyone wants something. For Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander), it’s complete control of the waves and, by extension, the world. This runs against everything that pirates and their ilk stand for: life, happiness, and freedom.  This calls for gathering all of the nine Pirate Lords together in order to have a violent staff meeting to decide where to go from here. Fortunately, this side-trip into piratical diplomacy ends up introducing us to Captain Sao Feng (Chow Yun-Fat) and Jack Sparrow’s father, Captain Teague (Keith Richards).

There are more magical elements,  a goddess imprisoned in a fleshy body, and at least one unfortunate death by deep-throated tentacle. There are sea battles and inspirational speeches. There’s a quick wedding, a sudden death, and fulfilled destinies. Sure, it gets a little bit crazy, but that’s what I signed on for when I went to see it.

In writing these reviews, I’ve realized that I’m in the minority as I am one of the few in my circle who actually enjoyed these movies. Sure, they’re on a sliding scale of quality. The best was the first, the second was just a stepping stone to get us to the third. Still, though, I love them anyway. They’re not Oscar-worthy, but they’re fun for an afternoon of popcorn and laughter on the high seas.

One last note, though, before you go. Just remember: Calypso, the sea goddess, doesn't have a raging case of crabs - she is a raging case of crabs. Food for thought.