20 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Johnny Depp portrays Captain Jack Sparrow, left, and Geoffrey Rush portrays Hector Barbossa in a scene from "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
You know the old saying “less is more?” I present to you exhibit A: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”

Of course, it’s only within the context of this franchise that anything about this, the fourth movie inspired by the Disney theme park ride, could be considered “less.”

“On Stranger Tides” is nearly wall-to-wall action, with swashbuckling aplenty; daring escapes and rescues; zombie pirates; vicious mermaids; the British navy; the Spanish navy; and the Fountain of Youth.

But while parts two (“Dead Man’s Chest,” 2006) and three (“At World’s End,” 2007) were bloated, convoluted messes drowning in special effects, “On Stranger Tides” gets back to what made the franchise such a hit in the first place: Johnny Depp as the outrageous, flamboyant pirate Captain Jack Sparrow and action scenes powered more by impressive stunt work than computers.

Though nothing will quite match the experience of seeing Depp in the iconic role for the first time in “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003), he is in top form here, the screenplay by returning writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio allowing him to seem more like a person than the cartoon character he had become.

Jack has been a significant part of popular culture for the better part of a decade, but it’s still a delight to see Depp swishing and swaying his way through a movie. Whereas he seemed to be going through the motions at times in the previous sequels (or maybe he was just confused by impenetrable plot), Depp seems reinvigorated by the smaller scale and more straightforward story of “On Stranger Tides.”

The Fountain of Youth is the objective. The Spanish are after it. So are the British, and they’re led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, still reveling in bringing every pirate cliche to life), now sporting a peg leg. Throwing in with respectable sorts goes against the grain for the old buccaneer. He’s clearly playing an angle, because in these movies, everyone is.

The infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane, who strangely comes across as tired more than menacing), he of the ability to “zombify” his crew and shoot flames from his boat, seeks the fountain, as well. That’s where Jack comes in. Seems he’s acquired a map indicating the fountain’s location. A chance encounter with a former associate, Angelica (Penelope Cruz, holding her own with Depp even with a somewhat underwritten role), for whom he might have had—gasp!—feelings, leads to his imprisonment aboard Blackbeard’s ship. Oh yeah, Angelica is Blackbeard’s daughter.

Throw in the young priest (Sam Clafin) who falls for a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), and that’s about it for the plot. Most of the movie consists of shifting the various players around the board in often thrilling encounters.

Rob Marshall, owner of an Oscar for “Chicago” (2002) but also the man behind the 2009 musical flop “Nine,” injects fresh blood by taking over for director Gore Verbinski. That, and dropping the dead weight of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, brings a new energy to the screen, resulting in a leaner adventure. At 128 minutes, “On Stranger Tides” is the shortest “Pirates” film to date (“At World’s End” stretched to an unmanageable 169 minutes).

Parts five and six are already in the works, and while they surely will be as unnecessary as the past three installments have been, “On Stranger Tides,” far from perfect as it is, at least appears to have set the series back on the right track.

Greg’s Grade: B

(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo. 128 minutes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good review! I thought POTC I was nearly the perfect adventure... it spare and tight, there wasn't a wasted moment and enough changes in mood and direction to keep your mind fully occupied, perfect balance of humor... wonderful sudden wit... terrific characters, fantastic fantasy... great movie. II & III... "bloated" is the perfect word, ponderous with excessive detail and wandering aimless bits of story... not awful, still managed to be worth while but, in spite of the clutter, the personalities and wit carried it, dragging it through the clutter. Look forward to seeing IV...