REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Johnny Depp earns his paycheck in the fourth, most mediocre film in the franchise.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Nothing happens during the closing credits of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. (Well, you should stay after them for a final scene). It’s just a list of craftspeople who worked on the production with a terminally bombastic score from Hans Zimmer. But as I watched them I realized that they represented a microcosm of the film itself: nothing of consequence, but a lot of people got to work on it and it’s very, very loud. After two borderline incomprehensible sequels to the excellent original film, On Stranger Tides is a mild improvement in that it’s a coherent piece of cinema, but it’s also tedious, pointless and suffering from some of the most eye-straining 3D I’ve had the displeasure of sitting through.

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, who finds himself in search of the Fountain of Youth because… Because the movie needed a plot, apparently. Everyone else has a pretty good motivation. The English want the Fountain of Youth so that the Spanish don’t get their hands on it first. Blackbeard (Ian McShane) wants it because he’s been prophesized to die at the hands of a one-legged man in a fortnight. And Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) wants it because he’s hunting for Blackbeard, the man who took his leg. (BEEP!-PlotPoint-BEEP!-PlotPoint-BEEP!-PlotPoint…) Meanwhile, Penelope Cruz plays Blackbeard’s only child Angelica, who either be a conniving trickster or a loving daughter who just wants to spare her father’s life.

At least we always know what everyone wants and why, which is more than the last two Pirates movies could say for themselves. Rob Marshall of Chicago fame takes over directorial duties here and he does a fine job of making On Stranger Tides feel like part of the franchise, overblown nonsense and all. Depp proves himself once more by keeping the character of Jack Sparrow alive and relevant through four movies, and as usual he’s the best thing about the film. Rush and McShane make fine scurvy dogs themselves, but the rest of the cast is a problem. Cruz is a lovely woman and with great comic timing, but her character’s a complete mess whose constant double-crosses make her difficult to pin down. There’s also Sam Claflin, filling in for Orlando Bloom as the blandest guy in the film. He gets to fall in love with a pretty mermaid, but why exactly he needed to be included in this movie in the first place may prove to be one of cinema’s greatest mysteries. 

There’s just not much to say about Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It’s a little better than the last two movies – easy to follow and full of funny bits and the occasional bravura action sequence – but it also lacks any of the dramatic weight the previous entries in the franchise boasted. New characters we don’t know or particularly care about are placed in peril, while Jack, Barbossa and everyone else we’re actually invested in are either safe and sound, gliding through the movie like the invincible genre icons that they are, or placed in situations infinitely less threatening than those we’ve seen them conquer before. There’s just not much suspense, and the film feels like its just spinning its wheels as a result.

And then there’s the 3D. Look Hollywood, we’re sick of bitching about this and you’re probably sick of hearing it, but either learn how to shoot a 3D movie properly or just knock this crap off. On Stranger Tides is so visually cluttered that all the scenes that were clearly designed to be mind-blowing in extra dimensions are just confusing and painful. You can’t overload a frame with detail and expect us to absorb it all in a few seconds when we’re also distracted by the illusion of space, particularly when it’s an enormous shift in space from the previous shot. You can’t cut an action-sequence into little bits, cloud it in darkness or have little things whizzing about the screen. It’s a difficult film to look at in 3D, and more so than many other 3D productions – like Thor for example – it’s a convincing argument against the gimmick, or at least against delivering that gimmick using traditional storytelling techniques. Either step up your game or step away from the camera, damn it.

On Stranger Tides is an okay movie. You could do worse. But you could do a lot better and I highly recommend doing that instead. If you’re not obsessed with Captain Jack Sparrow (which admittedly many of us are), there’s no reason to support this merely adequate sequel.

Crave Online Rating: 6/10