Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011 movie) review…

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011 movie) review after the break…

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011 movie) review…

A writing professor once told me (not an exact quote), “Beware the rogue in your story for if he is too prominent, you’ll find your story going rogue.” If only he were advising the Walt Disney company.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is the 4th (yes, fourth) film in the unexpectedly popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. It features Johnny Depp as the somewhat effeminate, somewhat drunk pirate Jack Sparrow who also happens to be somewhat effective with a sword and using various surrounding props to his tactical advantage. The film is almost a soft reboot of the franchise, having ditched the earlier grand arcing story that entailed fellow stars Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley for Penepole Cruz as Depp’s female equivalent, Astrid Berges-Frisbey as an unexpectedly non-carnivorous mermaid and Kevin McNally as the righteous (and unashamedly sculpted) Joshamee Gibbs who suddenly finds an interest in marine biology.

The original Pirates of the Caribbean movie (PotC for short) was soft, fluffy and relatively free of the overly-dense melodrama that has since plagued the franchise. Like the Matrix franchise, someone thought it a good idea to load the sequels with as much dense plotting as possible, thinking it a fine substitute for an actual storyline. Unfortunately, someone forgot to mention that quantity doesn’t equal quality and simply because you can juggle six balls at once does not equal juggling three chainsaws at once.

In this latest incarnation of the Disney cash cow, Jack Sparrow escapes London in a three-way race to the mythical Fountain of Youth. Hot on Sparrow’s heels is his old nemesis (Barbossa, now relieved of one of his legs) who now works for the King of England and the nameless Spanish, for whom England has no love lost. Sparrow is not entirely unburdened of complication, forced into servitude by none other then the legendary pirate captain Blackbeard who wants the fountain for his own wishes.

The Fountain of Youth, at least in this iteration, isn’t as simple as turning on a faucet or drinking from a river or even choosing which cup to drink from. This time around, the Fountain of Youth feels more like a reality TV show challenge then anything else, involving the use of mermaid tears and a sacrificial lamb of sorts, since the Fountain doesn’t directly give one renewed life but merely exchanges it for the loss from another.

To write that “On Stranger Tides” is an improvement over the previous sequels would be damning the film with faint praise but it would also be accurate. To be perfectly fair to the film, the film improves on some aspects where previous sequels went astray. Gone, for instance, is the burdensome, worn-out-it’s-welcome storyline of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley. The mood of the film is also somewhat lighter in comparison to the prior sequels which, in turn, allows for a more comfortable viewing. The mostly-absent pirate ship “The Black Pearl” (along with it’s monkey mascot) is also refreshing, restricted to a few bizarre cameos. Tastes are always subjective but, on a strictly “eye candy” basis, Penepole Cruz is an unqualified upgrade over Kiera Knightley. In fact, “On Stranger Tides” offers two new females, the aforementioned Cruz and the more innocent-looking Berges-Frisbey, meaning that the old threesome of Depp, Bloom and Knightley is now a new foursome (Cruz, Depp, Berges-Frisbey and McNally).

Yet to write that “On Stranger Tides” is an outright improvement over the prior sequels would also be an outright lie. The new film is less dense but still dense with overstuffed sequences that serve little if any purpose but to display special effects wizardry, reducing the movie to little else then a visual roller coaster. An early scene of Sparrow deftly navigating the roofs of carriages and wagons in London does little to advance the film; Indeed, several such light-action sequences pose little actual merit to the film’s overall storyline. An entire portion of the film, the Spaniards, has such a hollow pay-off that one can’t help but intellectually laugh out loud in cold bitterness. Seriously, they travel all that way simply to destroy the fountain and then exit, stage left? For a moment, I thought that John Cleese was going to emerge and exclaim, “No one expected the Spanish Inquisition!” and then a giant foot suddenly appears and stomps everyone.

Also, why the big dust-up about the mermaid actresses needing to have natural (non-silicone implant) breasts? You can’t see anything anyway! That would be the equivalent of demanding the casting department hire only right-handed actors but never once showing them actually writing a single word with either hand! I found the mermaid-preacher romance sub-plot superfluous at best and needlessly distracting at worst. Yes, it would have been ridiculous to have shoehorned Bloom and Knightley back into the franchise but does the franchise really need a “sweet, innocent romance” sub-plot anymore? Really? In fact, the other shoehorned existing characters from prior movies are ill-fitted into this movie – Was Barbossa really needed? What about Jack’s first mate? Or Jack’s father (who, literally, disappears suddenly)? None of them make a serious contribution to the plot other then being familiar faces.

The most painful gaff the movie makes, though, is making the rogue into the main character. Say what you will of George Lucas and “Jar Jar-gate” but Han Solo never stole the intended spotlight from the duel between father and son Skywalker. Like wanting a kiss from a mermaid, Hollywood powers-that-be always seem to feel the need to promote the rogue to lead for no other reason because “audiences like them.” “TRON: Legacy,” for instance, ditched Boxleitner’s Alan Bradley to concentrate on ol’ lovable rogue Kevin Flynn.

The problem with this strategy is that the rogue is never intended to be the hero – The rogue is the salt of the meal, the butter on the potato but never the meal itself. The rogue is intended to reflect the impulse of the main hero, the chaotic good nature of our youth that needs saving more then it saves, that teaches more what not to do then what to do by example.

“On Stranger Tides” is a visual roller coaster with no thrills and a story with so little actual plot as to defy description. Does Sparrow grow as a character? Or Barbossa? Does anyone in this film significantly change their perception of the world around them? Do they learn anything… At all? the story is so shallow that the Fountain of Youth may as well have been substituted for any variety of mythical places with little alteration – It may as well have been a massive treasure trove.

“On Stranger Tides” is far more style then substance. Unfortunately, substance doesn’t fill seats in this day-and-age of “What have you shown me lately?” mentality of today’s moviegoers.

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