Sunday, May 29, 2011


Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...Captain Jack Sparrow is BACK!!! Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth installment in Disney's "Pirates" film franchise. Although 2007's "At World's End" was supposed to be the end of what would have been a perfect trilogy, Disney couldn't help but bring Jack Sparrow back for even more outrageous adventures. It seemed impossible that this film could EVER top the swashbuckling action and final battle with Davy Jones and Beckett, but they tried...and failed! I'm going to say this now and get it out of the way: I LOVE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN! It has been one of my favorite Disney rides (next to "Haunted Mansion") since I was a kid. When the first movie ("Curse of the Black Pearl") came out in 2003, both me and millions of others were hooked, ready and willing to follow the adventures of the eccentric Capt. Jack Sparrow. The first movie is the greatest and still my favorite. "Dead Man's Chest (2006) and "At World's End" (2007) are equally great, made more so because of the tentacle-faced Davy Jones! The new "prize" in On Stranger Tides is in fact the fabled "Fountain of Youth"! We knew it was only a matter of time before they included the fountain as hinted in the epilogue in the last movie but we had no idea the extent to which they would take it...
With On Stranger Tides, we find Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) without a ship and crew (as usual). Now in London, England, helping Gibbs (Kevin McNally) escape imprisonment only to fall back into custody and be reunited with none other than Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Barbosa just happens to now be a respected Imperial Naval Captain; however peg-legged, having lost his leg when the Black Pearl sank! (What?) Soon Jack escapes (again!) and finds Angelica Malon ( Penélope Cruz), a former love-interest. Jack finds himself aboard the infamous Queen Anne's Revenge, under the command of the most feared pirate of the seas: "Blackbeard", a.k.a. Edward Teach (Ian McShane), who apparently possess some sort of supernatural power?!  We soon find out that not only is it going to be difficult to find the fountain but, in order to take advantage of it's youth granting gifts they need to embark on a seemingly pointless quest to recover two silver chalices from the original ship of Ponce de Leon and also the tear of a mermaid!? As we realize this is a Disney movie after all and as Blackbeard's crew try to find a mermaid, we half expect Ariel from Disney's animated The Little Mermaid (1989) to pop out of the water at anytime, but instead we get beautiful, exotic, golden-tailed mermaids...that turn into ravenous, fanged, monsters! Now the race has begun as three different groups set sail in search for the "Fountain of Youth": Blackbeard, Barbossa, AND The Spanish? However, the Spanish do not seem to present much of a threat to our heroes for most of the movie.
This movie is surprisingly very different from the other "Pirates" movies. Possibly the biggest change is the choice of director, that being Rob Marshall (Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Chicago (2002)) and NOT Gore Verbinski, who directed the last three "Pirates" movies. While the other Pirates movies had very original stories and characters; this movie has by far the weakest of all! The most bizarre aspect of this story is that it is not entirely "Disney", as the movie gives credit to the 1987 novel On Stranger Tides written by Tim Powers, for which it is "loosely" based.  The original novel is about John "Jack Shandy" Chandagnac, the son of a puppeteer who travels to the New World only to be attacked by pirates and ends up joining a pirate crew to save a damsel. The novel and movie have many differences in plot and characters, the only similarities are Blackbeard and The Fountain of Youth! You would think Disney had tons of writers at their disposal to come up with an original story but NO, instead they have to "borrow" from a novel from 25 years ago to which they now own the rights!
Despite the weak story, On Stranger Tides has some interesting elements such as the "Fountain of Youth", mermaids and zombies, but if the film's producers where expecting Blackbeard to be a worthy successor to Davy Jones (they even went so far as to include him in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride at DisneyLand and DisneyWorld!), but he remains a very unimposing and non-threatening villain, even boring at sometimes. When we first see Blackbeard, he appears very menacing with his trademark glowing wicks in his beard but later, he comes off as just being...grumpy? McShane's very lazy approach to one of the most "evil" men is embodied in his admitting very casually to being a "a bad man". Even Capt. Barbossa had enough creepy, bad-ass qualities to be a successful villain in the first film and later to become part of the ensemble cast. In Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, Davy Jones, made an even more impressive and frightening villain with his face full of tentacles and his half-human/half-fish crew. Even this movie's "love-interest (Cruz) seems very mediocre, although trying to add a little Latin spice to the movie, she becomes simply annoying, almost like a female Ricky Ricardo (I Love Lucy) as she curses at Jack in Spanish in one scene! We get more drama and emotion from the interaction between the young mermaid, Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisby) and her would-be protector Philip (Sam Claflin), which is still only a sub-plot. Although at times On Stranger Tides has all the "piratey" trappings we have come to love in the "Pirates" movies: such as the over-the-top swashbuckling action, daring escapes, beloved characters and supernatural elements; this movie just seems to be trying too hard! We all love Jack Sparrow, but how many times can we watch him find new and more outlandish ways to escape from a situation. The movie tries to present the audience with new and exciting stories, characters and villains but after four films, it gets (dare I say it) OLD? Overall, the movie has a very Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) feel to it, even with the ending.
I'm a fan of the "Pirates" movies and some part of me awaited the release of this movie with joy, while another part would have been more than happy to have settled with the original trilogy. Like many film franchises, when will enough be enough. Rumors are already stirring about two more Pirates movies after this one...when will it end? Until movie audiences are finally fed up with seeing the same old thing or the franchise becomes unprofitable...when will the billion-dollar Pirates ship sink and who's career will go down with the ship? Bloom and Knightly are already out of the picture and before Depp is at risk of being type-cast as the effeminate pirate for life!
"Yo-ho, yo-ho, a pirates' life for me...?"