The Review: There used to be a few well held and rarely disputed rules about certain genres, including that there’s never really been any good pirate movies (as in movies with pirates, not dodgy market copies of Jurassic Park III filmed on a shakycam and transferred to VHS), and that to make a film based on a theme park attraction was tantamount to insanity. Then in 2003 Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl arrived, got Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination and scared up a huge amount of money. Unsurprisingly, two sequels followed, which raked in even more pirate booty, but there was an inescapable feeling of quality, well, escaping. The third film especially, which starts with child hangings and then proceeds to kill of most of its peripheral characters as an afterthought, really should have killed the franchise stone dead, but it seems that people can’t get enough of Captain Jack Sparrow, so other characters have been cast aside and Captain Jack gets to take centre stage.
He’s not quite on his own; returning alongside Cap’n Jack are Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a little legless and in the Royal Navy; Kevin McNally as loyal sidekick Gibbs, chugging along in much the same manner as the first three films; and Captain Teague (Keith Richards), repeating his cameo as Sparrow Sr. from the last, ill-advised entry. But never fear, there’s a whole host of new characters to make up for the loss of Orlando, Keira et al, including Penélope Cruz as blast from Jack’s past Angelica and Ian McShane as pirate legend Blackbeard. Those paying attention at the end of the last movie will remember some nonsense being spouted about the Fountain of Youth, and that’s where we’re setting sail for this time, picking up more waifs and strays along the way, including a young priest and a feisty mermaid that will make you wonder quite why, salary considerations aside, they got rid of Orlando and Keira in the first place.
Director Rob Marshall replaces Gore Verbinski this time out, and it’s another change that leaves you pining for the original. While the third Pirates might have been offensively bad in places, it was at least never offensively dull, which is more than can be said for this entry. Sparrow, Barbossa, Blackbeard and even some random Spaniards all trek around the high seas looking for a couple of MacGuffins in addition to finding the Fountain of Youth, but since Jack’s been there before there never feels like a significant obstacle to overcome. On top of that, everyone else’s motivations are murky and no one really seems that interested in finding what they’re supposed to be looking for anyway; if the characters can’t invest in the quest at hand, it doesn’t leave much hope for the audience. If this film has achieved anything, it’s that despite lopping over half an hour off the bloated length of At World’s End, this still feels about forty minutes too long.
There’s also a problem with Captain Jack himself. Being odd on the periphery while others drove the plot worked well, but now Jack’s the driving force somehow everything else feels just a little off kilter. It’s not helped by the writers forgetting what made Jack so appealing in the first place, but the joy of lines from the first film such as “I think we’ve all arrived at a very special place. Spiritually, ecumenically, gramatically…” have been replaced by general oddness which might raise the odd chuckle at the time but fails to linger any longer than a few seconds. Suggestions of romantic tension with Cruz fall flat through a lack of both romance and tension and very few others seem to have their heart in it, certainly not McShane or Rush on this occasion. There’s some interest early on before the plot wheels start to grind to a halt, and a couple of the set pieces entertain briefly, but On Stranger Tides is just a little too strange to have lasting appeal. Remember that rule that there’s no good pirate movies? It seems that Curse Of The Black Pearl was just the exception to that rule.
Why see it at the cinema: The mermaid sequence is pretty reasonable and there’s as much impressive scenery as ever, but this feels oddly small in scale compared to previous entries.
Why see it in 3D: My wife watched large parts of the film without the 3D glasses, and other than appearing brighter it made very little difference. Apart from the occasional thrust of a cutlass there’s very little here to justify the higher ticket price.
The Score: 4/10