PotC: On Stranger Tides (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
21May/110

PotC: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Andrew DISLIKEThere's an interesting undercurrent to the Pirates films that a better director, cast, crew and production team might capitalize on.  All of the films, to this date, have been predicated somewhat on the idea that it is necessary that everything needs to die.  There is no pleasure in living forever, so sayeth the franchise, and there's an interesting tie-in for any adventure movie that wants to take the plunge. 

This, however, is the fourth film in the lumbering behemoth of a franchise that has quickly become Jerry Bruckheimer's consistently winning lottery ticket.  The fat is supposedly leaned off and, if we look at the cast, it certainly appears that they have trimmed the series down to it's bare essentials.  Now it's just a pair of pirates, joined by another pair of pirates, slowly duking it out toward the Fountain of Youth.

I admit, I was a bit sad that the film wasn't willing to create another semi-original ultimate treasure for everyone to bicker after.  Instead the plot is based on a young-adult adventure novel of the same subtitle (On Stranger Tides) with everyone's favorite bumbling pirate in place of the lead.  But this is the fourth movie, literary inspiration has assisted any number of films in the past, and doesn't automatically spell the doom of creativity.

Jackie Chan performed a similar routine in Shanghai Knights and remembered to leave the camera on and stationary the entire time.

However, the opening shenanigans with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) remind us quickly that the well has run dry.  Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Sparrow's exceedingly patient first-mate, has been mistaken for Captain himself and is standing trial.  So Sparrow goes into disguise to help him get life in prison, only to have that not matter and everyone be privy to the plot anyway, only to have that not matter and have the English government try and enlist Sparrow, only to have that not matter and Sparrow escape to join in the search for the Fountain anyway (even though he really doesn't want to).  The general gist of the plot is, it doesn't matter what's happening, because it'll all be forgotten and removed in a few minutes.

Sparrow's old nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is also in the mix to the Fountain after selling out as a privateer.  So is Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Sparrow's old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and a Spaniard (Oscar Jaenada).  The involvement of the Spanish is mostly to provide padding by way of cheap jokes against Catholics and mostly off-screen shenanigans that only serve as a plot annoyance.  Sadly, On Stranger Tides did not learn the lesson taught by the third film in trimming down the bloat.

This is sadly evident during a number of dialogue exchanges throughout the film.  The Pirates franchise isn't exactly known for it's sparkling wit, but things are rarely spelled out as directly as "We are going to the Fountain", "The Fountain?", "Yes the Fountain", "The Fountain of Youth?", "Yes the Fountain of Youth".  Everyone in the movie has the exact same destination, need we be reminded of it time and time again?

There isn't even a striking image to make the visual experience worthwhile.  As bad as the third film was, seeing Jack and Davy Jones clashing swords in the middle of a whirlpool was a suitably epic image.  But the action scenes here are held in such a tight frame that it's difficult to see what's going on, let alone get a sense of the spectacle taking place.

Yes, there will be a fifth Pirates movie. The cliffhanger told me so.

Then I realized something, if we were to pull back during quite a few of the sequences we'd see just how silly they are.  This is especially true in Jack's opening escape scene.  He runs away by stumbling on a table which, if the camera pulls back just a tad, we would see is directly in front of a large number of armed guards.  But our hero has to live, and it takes them several minutes to figure out they can shoot at him again (conveniently enough when he's riding on a pile of coal).

The one good sequence in the film is completely ruined by this reliance on dumb and tightly-framed action.  Everyone needs the tears of a mermaid in order to get the Fountain to work properly (because why not?)  and the scene with the aquatic lovelies starts amazingly.  It has a perfect balance of creepiness, sensuality and humor until they reveal their fangs, the camera starts cutting away repeatedly, and the mermaids are revealed to have web shooters not unlike Spider-Man.

To the acting, I can at least say that it's functional bordering on tiresome.  I've never been the hugest fan of Depp's schtick as Sparrow so it's just more of the same.  Cruz is supposed to smolder but is circumvented by the layer of grime over everything else.  Then McShane and Rush occupy mostly the same rugged role in contrast to Depp's vaguely metro-sexual pirate.

It's like a modern-day Ishtar.  Let's get some Oscar winners together, stick them in a high-concept adventure blender, and pray the results aren't hideous.  It was foolish to think so then, it remains foolish to this day.

PotC: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Directed by Rob Marshall.
Screenplay by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott.
Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane.

Posted by Andrew

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