Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
Penélope Cruz as Angelica
Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa
Ian McShane as Blackbeard
Sam Claflin as Philip
Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena
Kevin McNally as Gibbs
Richard Griffiths as King George II
Stephen Graham as Scrum
Gemma Ward as Tamara
Keith Richards as Captain Teague
Roger Allam as Henry Pelham
Óscar Jaenada as Spaniard
Greg Ellis as Lieutenant Theodore Groves
Another voyage with Captain Jack Sparrow brings the usual mix of comedy and calamity in this, the fourth Pirates movie, which plays as a passable mash-up between the quest-driven first movie and the villain-centric second.
When we meet up with Jack Sparrow at the beginning of “On Stranger Tides,” he is a Captain without a ship. Once word spreads that an impostor (with a ship) is recruiting a crew for a high-seas adventure, real Jack springs into action, but not before being ‘propositioned by force’ by the King of England, who has learned of Jack’s possessing of a certain circular map last seen at the end of “At World’s End,” to beat the Spanish armada to the secret location of the Fountain of Youth. Here, Jack is also reacquainted with his old nemesis Hector Barbossa, who has surprisingly sold out his pirate heritage for life in the Royal Navy.
Jack escapes the King’s grasp and flushes out the impostor, revealed to be former love interest Angelica (Cruz) and her ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, is the vessel of the pirate all pirates fear, Blackbeard (McShane).
The movie becomes a race to the fountain, but en route, elements of a ritual must be gathered in order to benefit from the water’s power – a pair of silver chalices last known in the possession of Ponce de Leon and a tear of a mermaid.
The film culminates in all parties descending on the fountain each with their own special agendas, some only revealed at the bitter end.
Like many, I was fearful for a fourth Pirates movie after the bloated mess of the third installment. In the end, I concluded that while all of the backstabbing, double-crossing and side-changing didn’t help matters, the root problem with “At World’s End” was a wholly uninteresting villain in the form of the East India Trading Co.’s weasely Cutler Beckett. The promise of Blackbeard in the fourth movie was a welcomed sign.
“On Stranger Tides” takes the best parts of the first film – some straight lifts such as the rafter duel in the Pirate’s Daughter pub that echoes Jack and Will’s duel in the blacksmith’s shop – and the second – a villain with supernatural tendencies and monstrous crew – and pulls together an entertaining adventure. Depp is solid once again as the slightly tweaked Sparrow and Penélope Cruz is a welcome addition to the cast as Angelica – a woman who can take all Sparrow can dish out and give it right back. It is also good to see the others back, including Kevin McNally’s Gibbs. There are a few new pirates that are nice additions as well, including Scrum played by Stephen Graham as a comic foil… kind of a hybrid of qualities from both Pintel and Ragetti from the previous films.
The look of the film is stellar. Anyone overly concerned about the transition of directors – from Gore Verbinski to Rob Marshall – and its potential impact on the setting and tone of the franchise can relax.
The score also is strong. While a good part of it is familiar, the addition of unique Spanish acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela makes the newer, themed material pop.
CAUTION: I’M GOING INTO SPOILER TERRITORY IN THIS REVIEW NOW. YE BE WARNED!
My biggest disappointment with “On Stranger Tides” sadly was my biggest hope going into the movie – Ian McShane’s Blackbeard. I was hopeful that he would bring a menacing evil every time he was on screen, and while it is there in spurts, it falls well short of expectations. It takes too long for him to show up in the movie and by the end of the film, he is revealed as a scared old man afraid of a random, and unexplained, prophecy about his own death. While we’re on the subject of background information, I would have also liked a bit of history on his sword, which, beyond his voodoo practices, appeared to be the source of much of his power in the film.
“On Stranger Tides” also suffers a bit from the multi-prong storytelling that has become an unfortunate staple of the franchise. Writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio handle this only a bit better than they did in the last film. The back-and-forth coupled with the hidden agenda hijinks can create severe viewer fatigue over the course of a 137-minute film. Here, we basically have five separate quests going on – Jack’s, Barbossa’s, Angelica’s, Blackbeard’s and the Spanish. And the one with less of a horse in this race is the film’s franchise character – Jack Sparrow. In the end, he seems to be there only to ‘do the right thing.’
While he mentions at the end of “At World’s End” his desire to taste the waters of the Fountain of Youth, once he actually arrives, with water in chalice, he shows no interest in the life-giving nectar at all. He reacts selflessly, as he did with his shot at immortality at the end of “At World’s End,” which begs the question… does he really want to live forever, as he suggests? This question is addressed rather sloppily at the end of “On Stranger Tides.”
The Bottom Line:
In the end, the fourth film in the Pirates series is its third best, beating out the bloated “At World’s End,” but falling short of both “Curse of the Black Pearl,” which remains the high water mark, and “Dead Man’s Chest.” The adventures are to continue with at least two more films, if the industry types are to be believed, so there is still time to right the ship… so to speak. “On Stranger Tides” is a wind shift in the right direction, but there is still many days journey ahead. If only we had Jack’s trusty compass to help point Disney and the film team in the direction of what our hearts desire most… a great Pirates film.