Film Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

by Jason LeRoy on May 20, 2011

Johnny Depp and Penélope Cruz in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

starring: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths

written by: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

directed by: Rob Marshall

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo

At least it has a sense of humor…?

This is one of the only kind notes I took after watching On Stranger Tides, the latest installment in the inexplicably lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean series. I have never understood people’s enthusiasm for these films, so I have to invoke my NASCAR clause: I don’t get it, but I accept that it somehow has a massive audience. And yet…seriously, why do people like these movies? Are Johnny Depp’s flamboyant comedic gymnastics enough of a draw to compensate for how exhausting, tedious, dull, overlong, unnecessarily convoluted, and just generally interminable they are? Well, are they? You there! I’m talking to you!

Anyway, the plot of On Stranger Tides involves a race to find the Fountain of Youth. There are several different ships in pursuit. One is run by the villainous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter, Angelica (Penélope Cruz). Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) somehow finds himself on this ship. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also has a ship. And there’s some other ship with Spaniards or something like that. There are also mermaids, which this film reinterprets as sexily vulnerable vampires of the sea.

And that’s about it. Everything else is filler. And we are talking about 137 minutes of filter. 137 minutes! That’s how long this movie is! You know what else is that long? The Tree of Life! And that movie manages to tell the story of the birth of the universe AND a young boy’s coming of age in 1950s Texas! Hmph.

The film’s only saving grace is Depp’s consistently entertaining performance as Captain Jack. It is truly a testament to Depp’s talent and the comic strength of this character that, four films in, he is still able to generate big laughs without reeking of tiresome schtick. Although perhaps he just seems more entertaining in comparison to the drudgery around him. Rush and McShane also have good scenery-chewing fun with their cartoonish supporting roles. Cruz is brazenly slumming for a paycheck; she turned down Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia to do this film, which is admittedly starting to seem like a good idea.

While the first three Pirates films were directed by Gore Verbinski, this time the reins have been taken by Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Nine). I was hoping he’d liven things up by bringing his natural theatrical flair to the proceedings, but given the incredibly disappointing stagnance of Nine, perhaps it isn’t surprising that his Pirates is just as limp as its predecessors. But if you enjoyed the last two sequels, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one too. And if you last till the end of the film, be sure to stick around for a surprise scene at the end of the credits. As if the movie wasn’t long enough already.

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