Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane
My history with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is, admittedly, incomplete. I saw The Curse of the Black Pearl during its theatrical run and loved it. I saw Dead Man's Chest when it was out on DVD and remember almost nothing about it except that there was a sword fight that went on for, like, an hour. I never bothered to see At World's End. So what compelled me to see On Stranger Tides? I dunno. Seemed like the thing to do, I guess. Verdict: It was all right. I liked it but I don't feel terribly enthusiastic about it. Nice Judi Dench cameo, though.
On Stranger Tides centers on the search for the Fountain of Youth. Hearing that the Spanish have sent ships to find it, King George II (Richard Griffiths) decides to send out his own expedition under the charge of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and, having heard that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) may have information that's crucial to the finding of the Fountain, he has Sparrow brought before him. As is his habit, Sparrow escapes, but shortly thereafter he's knocked out and wakes on board the ship of the fearsome Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Much to Sparrow's surprise, the ship's first mate is his former lover, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who claims to be Blackbeard's long lost daughter. This crew is also after the Fountain of Youth and intend to use Sparrow to find it.
Because nothing in a Pirates of the Caribbean movie is ever really straight-forward and without complication, it's not enough to simply find the Fountain, you also have to find the two silver chalices of Ponce de Leon and get a mermaid's tear. All of this provides the framework for a number of action sequences, including one in which the fearsome mermaids attack and decimate Blackbeard's crew, and the eventual converging of the three groups at the Fountain for the climactic action sequence.
There are a lot of things that I liked about On Stranger Tides: Depp's portrayal of his now signature character remains wholly enjoyable, and I feel like Cruz is a welcome addition to the series and plays off Depp very well. It doesn't get bogged down in a lot of complicated mythology and instead focuses more on the adventuring aspect of the story, and as a result it feels like a very relaxed venture. Yes, you've seen a lot of this stuff before (and the final reversal at the Fountain of Youth is something that anyone could see coming a mile away), but On Stranger Tides does it well enough that the artistry makes up for whatever is lacking in the creativity department.
As far as what I didn't like, I've never really understood why the Pirates movies always have to be so long. Although On Stranger Tides is the shortest of the series already, you could make it shorter by cutting out the tepid, half-hearted romantic subplot between the missionary (Sam Claflin) and the mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) without it really affecting much of anything else in the plot. I never found the Will-Elizabeth plot of the first three films particularly compelling, but it was at least fairly well integrated into the rest of the story. Here the romantic plot exists more or less in a bubble, between two characters who are never really developed, and about whom it's difficult to care. It just seems like a waste of time in a film that is already filled pretty much to the brim.
On the whole I think that On Stranger Tides is a fun movie, the kind of fleeting and bombastic entertainment you expect during the summer. It isn't going to be one of the defining movies of 2011, but it makes for decent summer fare.