Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is quite a strange entity, in that it is continuing a film saga that feels kind of dead. Despite Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow always stealing the show, the original three films were based around the characters of Jack, Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann. Now that the latter two have jumped ship it feels awfully strange to be continuing, no matter how entertaining the exploits of Jack Sparrow may be. But continued they have, and we’re dropped right back into the convoluted world of pirates, the British Empire and all kinds of ocean fantasy madness.
For the first time in the series we are introduced to our characters in gloomy London town. Jack, shipless and crewless, is looking for a vessel to nab so that he can get on with his search for the Fountain of Youth. As is the usual scenario with the Pirates films, we are given a long, over-extended fight sequence to kick us off, following the unexplained trial of Jack’s first mate Gibbs, by non-other than Jack himself. By the time you’ve watched Jack get captured by the British, get introduced to Richard Griffiths’ ludicrous King George and discover the evil Captain Barbossa has turned all goody-goody and joined the British Navy, you’re already feeling a little sea-sick, like what you’re about to watch will be a stomach churning mish-mash of betrayal, red herrings and, most importantly, vacant plot lines.
Actually, the writers of On Stranger Tides have done pretty well to create an overall plot that at first glance seems relatively straight forward. It’s a race between three fleets to the fountain of youth; the first being the British, led by Barbossa; the second being Jack, on board Blackbeard’s (McShane) and Angelica’s (Cruz) ship; and, randomly, the Spanish. It’s a shame, then, that all of the bits along the way are just a little too turgid, uninteresting and messy to warrant this film being anything more than a crazy piece of action fluff.
What I have come to realise about the Pirates films, is that the fighting is truly pointless. Very rarely does anybody die in the films, and the majority of the sword play is simply empty gestures for the purpose of action, more often than not ending with the fighters sheathing their weapons and moving on to something else. When Jack first meets Cruz, for instance, a fight ensues that sees the shadowed face of Cruz in Sparrow drag go five whole minutes with Jack. We know no-one will get hurt so it is completely uninteresting, and we’ve seen that kind of fight sequence a hundred times before. Cruz and Depp do have a few nice rallies of flirty tête-à-tête throughout the film, however, which is a welcome touch in place of the lost Will and Elizabeth love story.
Despite a more focussed attempt at making this film a little more like the first in simplicity and plot, On Stranger Tides still manages be overly complicated and falls in line behind At World’s End as the saga’s poorest attempt. Rob Marshall does well to inject a few lovely comedic moments, and has done wonders in choreographing an excellent action set piece in the mermaid sequence, but overall the film has reached a point of existing for the point of existing, and as such has lost any of its spark and brilliance. Depp is exactly as good as he’s always been in the role, even if we all might be getting bored by it now, and Rush, McShane and Stephen Graham’s funny little deckhand Scrum certainly fill their boots well throughout. But Pirates had its treasures looted a while ago now and it’s time to abandon the sinking ship.