It wouldn't be summer without a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie, or at least that's what Disney would like us to think. Personally, I could have done without the fourth and latest installment, On Stranger Tides.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides focuses on the quest for the Fountain of Youth, made concurrently by a mission financed by the King of Spain, a rival mission from the King of England and captained by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and a ship captained by the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) himself. Blackbeard's ship is accompanied by none other than Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Blackbeard's alleged daughter, the beautiful but deceitful Angelica (Penelope Cruz). In pursuit of the Fountain of Youth, Angelica is trying to save her father from a prophesy that has foretold his immanent death and Barbossa is keen on revenge on Blackbeard for sinking the Black Pearl. As you'll remember, that's Jack Sparrow's ship. Sparrow would mostly like to get his ship back, but also has to grapple with "stirrings" for Angelica.
My biggest complaint about On Stranger Tides is that the plot just does not function very well. There are many moving parts, which could have been interesting, but mostly the story felt disjointed. The introduction of Blackbeard, a huge pirate character, is anti-climactic and the various crossings of loyalties throughout the journey to the Fountain of Youth are clunky and confusing. As I kicked back, just taking it all in, I found myself bored. Further, there are numerous subplots that never get fully worked through. For example, the missionary onboard Blackbeard's ship falls for a mermaid. That's the stuff of bad romance novels, which is bad enough, but their plot ends on a completely confusing (and trite) note. As with the other Pirates films there's also supernatural elements that don't really make sense. In these moments, the story seems like nothing but a vehicle for CGI, which, to me, is a mortal sin in filmmaking.
Johnny Depp gives a great performance, but by this point in the series, he has the character so well embodied that the bad dialogue makes it seem like he's just going through the movements. Yes, it's fun to see his prancing run and Keith Richards-inspired cadences, but so many of his lines are so bad it is actively distracting. He and Penelope Cruz don't really have much chemistry, although Cruz herself gives a fun performance. Her character's unclear relationship with Blackbeard, however, undermines the clarity of her acting. The bond doesn't make much sense, so it's hard to believe Angelica, even when we're actually supposed to.
Mostly, On Stranger Tides feels like a money-maker without any heart. The franchise seems tired and shopworn to me. There are genuinely fun moments in the movie and die-hard Pirates fans will probably enjoy it, but in terms of storytelling and all-around quality, this film disappoints.
Basically, for me the most entertaining part of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was trying to decide if Johnny Depp or Penelope Cruz had the better pirate makeup. 2.5/5 stars
Pirates of the Caribban: On Stranger Tides was written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, inspired by the novel by Tim Powers and directed by Rob Marshall. It runs 137 minutes and is rated PG-13.