Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,
directed by Rob Marshall (Walt Disney, 2011)

WARNING: The following synopsis does not contain spoilers, but it is completely pointless because the story's outcome is merely a bridge to yet another Pirates movie. Most characters and events which take place will not matter come the fifth film.

In this fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, On Stranger Tides, the Fountain of Youth is the treasure of choice.

Overall, this is how the plot seems to work: the Spanish and the English are both vying to claim the Fountain -- the English have slyly hired the newly ex-pirate Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) for the job. All the while the famous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz) -- or is she his daughter? -- are determined to find and use the magical waters in order to thwart a prophecy of Blackbeard's death. And as it turns out, Blackbeard is now in possession of Captain Jack Sparrow's (Johnny Depp's) beloved Black Pearl pirate ship -- we've watched him chase after this boat for three films now -- and Angelica just happens to have a romantic history with Jack. So naturally he goes along for the ride.

On Stranger Tides has a plot with an abundance of superfluous side stories (yes, there are actually more tangles to the matted mess described above) and it becomes difficult to remember the point of the film mid-viewing (oh wait, it has something to do with a six-film contract and Depp's soul signed over to Disney). But at least it's in the spirit of The Curse of the Black Pearl. It could have easily turned into another dreary, nautical soap opera like Dead Man's Chest and At World's End.

Instead, the humor is lighter and even bolder than before. You won't have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of jokes poking fun and even possibly criticizing religion in the film. The humor is not out of place, because Angelica turns out to be an ex-nun (guess who "exed" her???) and a handsome missionary named Philip (Sam Claflin), a prisoner on Blackbeard's ship, is an acute target for such blasphemous comedy -- when Philip exclaims "I'm neither with you nor against you!" a pirate turns to Jack and asks, "Can he do that?" Jack's reply: "He's religious, I believe that's required."

The comedic chemistry between Depp and Cruz forms the foundation for the film's biting humor and their repartee helps slightly anchor (no pun intended, I swear) the audience's focus. Casting director Lucy Bevan was spot on with Cruz given that she already has on-screen history with Depp in Blow.

Also, speaking of casting gold, McShane as Blackbeard is brilliantly cruel and ruthless. Little children will most likely tremble when their innocent eyes watch him burn a man alive. He's one of the first Pirates franchise "bad guys" to be truly ... bad.

Adding new mythological territory to the series, mermaids make their debut in this film and, while it's entrancing to watch the fantastic special effects of a raging mermaid attack on bumbling mortal men, this leads to a side story romance between Philip and a mermaid. The film could have easily been entertaining without it -- maybe more so.

To his credit, director Rob Marshall provided audiences with an entertaining film and managed to hush the majority of negative predictions prior to On Stranger Tides release. However, it's not worthy of a movie ticket purchase. You won't need the big screen to enjoy the jokes scattered throughout the film -- which are the best part -- but it's definitely worth a rental fee or Netflix queue slot.

review by
Molly Ebert

4 June 2011

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