Disney has opted to completely leave the number four off of this latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise almost like they’re begging us to forget about the disaster of a movie that was number three. While it really isn’t all that easy to forget how dreadful the third movie was, it’s relatively easy to slide into Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides expecting a whole new story about the swashbuckling escapades of (Captain) Jack Sparrow.
This franchise has been lumbering along since 2003, sucking up box office dollars. The first film was dark, witty, and fun. The second had a collection of great action scenes, coupled with some stellar special effects that accompanied Davy Jones and his crew of lost souls. The third one became too bloated with numerous storylines going nowhere and a movie that felt like a complete mess. This fourth film takes on a new director and has a slightly different, cartoonier feel to it. This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Even though the franchise slowly started spinning out of control, Gore Verbinski seemed to hold it together with his darkly humorous take on pirates and their lifestyles. With this year’s Rango you’ll be able to see what On Stranger Tides is sorely missing. There’s a wit and charm that has been lost with Rob Marshall taking the helm. Marshall directed the highly overrated Chicago and the cringe-worthy Nine. A man who is known for directing musically themed movies doesn’t seem like the best fit for a series that delves in the weird and bizarre. This directorial change is immediately evident when we realize Jack Sparrow isn’t as witty or charming as he has been in movies past. His weirdness is why we adore him, but Marshall has failed to capture it here. At one point in the movie Sparrow is walking alone on a beach talking to himself. He had just been talking to a group of pirates, but now he’s all alone. After admiring, out loud, about what he’s just found he turns around and says, “Oh yeah. No one’s there.” We know Sparrow is weird, he doesn’t have to spell out the joke for us. All he has to do is turn around and say, “Oh” and we get the joke.
During an action-packed beginning that finds Sparrow eluding capture of the King’s guards, Marshall uses painfully purposeful camera shots of different objects as foreshadowing about Sparrow’s impending escape. Again, we know Sparrow is a resourceful improviser. Let the movie play out rather than showing us exactly how everything is going to happen. It’s almost as if Marshall felt that he had to reintroduce a character that we’ve all known for three movies now.
I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even talked about the plot. That’s simple enough. Sparrow, Barbossa, pirate newcomer Black Beard, and the Spanish are all after one thing: The Fountain of Youth. That’s what the movie is about. Along the way they run into killer mermaids, supernatural feats of nature, and each other. Sword fights ensue and characters exchange pirate (un)pleasantries. Then we wonder where all this is heading. It’s starting to feel like an overwhelming number of characters and subplots just like the third film. There’s a completely useless subplot with a priest that seems to be there just to fill in the scenes that Orlando Bloom would have been in had he been in this movie. Every time we cut back to the priest the movie comes to a grinding halt.
Yes, On Stranger Tides is better than At World’s End, but not by much really. Marshall and the writers mistake walking through the jungle as adventure. Sparrow feels underused, while Barbossa remains a shining beacon in a rather dim movie. Fans of the Pirates films may be happy with this latest installment, but the franchise really hasn’t found any new footing.