"Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl" was one of the most surprising movie phenomenons of recent times. Despite the lackluster source material of an amusement park ride, the filmmakers managed to produce a thrilling, humorous and adult entertainment. While the 2006 follow-up, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," was a letdown for some, I regarded the film as one of the most enjoyably over-the-top sequels since "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." Although I marginally recommended the third installment of the series, "At World's End," I'd be lying if I said that the movie wasn't a narrative mess and lacked the freshness of its processors.
I had hoped that "At World's End" would be the finale of the "Pirates" saga. Like all good things in the movie industry though, the studio will not let a winning franchise die until there is absolutely no life left in it. So now we get "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" and, as much as I hate to admit it, I think the ship has finally sailed with this series. Granted, the film does provide a couple of exciting action sequences, a few amusing one-liners, and Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow is always a delight to see. But "On Stranger Tides" ultimately left me with the under whelming feeling of been there, done that.
This time around, good-old Capt. Jack finds himself caught up in a race to the Fountain of Youth. Through a series of events, Jack ends up on a ship with a former fling named Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz. Running the vessel is Ian McShane as the merciless Black Beard. It took him long enough to finally show up in one of these "Pirate" movies. Also searching for the fountain is Geoffrey Rush's Capt. Barbossa, who has somehow gone from a notorious pirate to a respected privateer of the Royal Navy. The Spanish Empire is also in the mix but none of them are ever really developed.
The quest seems simple enough: Track down the Fountain of Youth and drink from it. But the screenwriters make matters far more complex than they have to be. Much of the film gets bogged down by endless scenes of the characters attempting to explain what's going on. These sequences are so jumbled that they actually make some of the more incoherent strings of dialog in "Inception" appear understandable.
To get the full effect of the Fountain of Youth, our heroes must acquire two sacred grails and a mermaid's tear. Unlike the friendly mermaids we're accustomed to in most Disney entertainments, these are seductive creatures with vampire fangs, can conveniently grow legs when on dry land, and always go topless. You know, for kids.
To compensate for the absence of Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swan, a new young couple is thrown into "On Stranger Tides." Sam Claflin plays Phillip, a missionary who believes that even Black Beard's soul can be saved, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey is Syrena, a mermaid that Black Beard has captured. The bad news is that these two are about as fascinating as the animatronics on the original "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride. I was amazed by just how monumentally boring these two characters were, especially seeing how one of them is a mermaid. By the film's conclusion, you're left pondering what purpose they really served to the plot and wish they had been excluded from the film altogether.
This is the first "Pirates" picture not to be directed by Gore Verbinski, who hands the torch over to Rob Marshall, director of "Chicago" and "Nine." Marshall brings much of his visual gifts to the table and stays true to the tone of the first three movies. But he fails to incorporate the innovation that "On Stranger Tides" needed to distinguish itself from previous installments. The screenplay by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott is all over the place and packs in too many subplots that the audience just doesn't care about. For a movie with so much going on, the end result feels incredibly uneventful.
As for Depp, he's clearly having a lot of fun here and his creation of Capt. Jack Sparrow remains one of the most iconic 21st century movie characters. But after four films, even Jack has become all too familiar. He now lacks the unpredictability and wit that earned Depp an Oscar nomination, and what should have been a win, for his work in the first film.
Despite everything I've just said, I'm sure that countless millions will still go see "On Stranger Tides." For diehard fans of the series, there's a good chance that they might overlook the routine nature of the film and have a good time. While there's nothing I can do to prevent them from seeing the picture, I can strongly advise them from seeing it in 3D. A majority of the film is shot during nighttime, which only looks murkier in 3D. If you don't regret throwing away $10 on the movie itself, you'll certainly regret spending an additional $5 on those 3D glasses.