Avast! You Be in Pirate Waters Now Matey
By Henry Gale
I want to preface this review by saying that I loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. While some complained that Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were overly complicated, I enjoyed the tightly woven plots steeped in pirate mythos. The stories of destiny, romance and redemption truly helped to enhance the tale of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, with Jack Sparrow as more of a side character that steals the show. In my opinion it was these side characters that made the first Pirate’s trilogy wonderful. Barbosa’s over-the-top treachery and Geoffrey Rush’s brilliant performance, the ever-loyal Gibbs, the bumbling Ragetti and Pintel, the jilted Davy Jones the vile Cutler Beckett and even Jack the monkey all helped to shape a fantastically gritty ensemble cast.
On Stranger Tide was well done and a fun movie. It was refreshing to see the return of Jack Sparrow along with his usual, mumbling antics. Johnny Depp has become this character, I half expect him to walk around his house with the Sparrow swagger and mannerisms. I wouldn’t blame him, Sparrow is both fun and charismatic and in my opinion one of the most well developed characters in modern movies. He is the ultimate opportunist and acts solely on impulse and personal desire, hence making his magic compass the perfect guide in life.
Having said this, I feel as though On Stranger Tide has made Jack a caricature of himself. As with the 4th Indiana Jones film (Crystal Skull), they have reduced the main character into what you expect to see rather than a developed, complex character. I felt as though Jack was very two-dimensional this time around. His escapes were virtually cliché at this point and I never felt any real sense of danger for our lead character. And perhaps that is the problem: Jack was never designed to be the lead. Elizabeth and Will drove the story of the last film while Jack simply steered that plot into entertaining situations. This film had Jack at the helm for the entire duration. They made the man who isn’t meant to be heroic into the hero. Depp’s performance was perfect as usual, so without revealing too much about the movie it was vexing seeing Sparrow care about something more than his own blind personal ambition.
I think one thing many Pirates fans will walk away saying is that Geoffrey Rush stole the show. The character of Hector Barbosa was once again up to his old tricks but in a whole new get-up. Privateer Barbosa, now pirating under the protection of the British crown, was written as a layered character that demonstrated growth and motive.
I have never been a fan of Penelope Cruz but found her to be an impressive addition to the cast. Her character wasn’t too bad as a female foil for Captain Jack and had real chemistry with Depp. I have a feeling when we get our sequel we learn even more about Angelica’s past with Sparrow.
Ian McShane’s ferocious Blackbeard significantly added to the film. Although his ability to use mystical powers like the Rasputin of the sea is slightly confusing. In past Pirates movies the mystical elements were present but never left unexplained (the crew of the Black Pearl was cursed because of Aztec Gold, Davy Jones was deformed due to crossing Calypso etc). Blackbeard had a crew of zombie-like pirates (from where?), his ship, The Queen Ann’s Revenge could be steered by his sword (how?), he could also “use the force” to control his ships rigging (why?). They never told why Blackbeard, a feared pirate and our stories villain, became this way.
While the Turner/Swann love story was believable and some would argue an overly prominent part of the original trilogy’s plot, the love story between the clergyman (Phillip) and the mermaid (Syrena) was forced. It’s almost like the writers said, “oh wow, we really need to add something for the people hoping to see a straight up love story and who only watched the last three for Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley.” But the truth of the matter is the Sparrow/Angelica story was enough for those who like a good “shipper” tale.
There were certain elements of the story I really did like. The mermaid scene was visually appealing and creative! The Fountain of Youth plot and trek through the jungle was also nicely done. I was also very impressed with the horse and buggy chase scene through the streets of London. Who says you can’t have Ye Olde Michael Bay-like explosions in the 18th century!
One element I did miss was the side characters. We really didn’t have a Ragetti and Pintel for comic relief or even a Mr. Cotton and his parrot, Marty the midget or Weatherby Swann to lighten the mood. This film felt a little too clean to me as well. The last three movies were gritty, dirty and real. This time around the clumsiness that made the first three movies fun was missing and it seemed too polished. We need to feel like the characters are in danger to care about them! Watching the pirate crews get picked off really didn’t have any emotional toll for the audience.
I would rate On Stranger Tides a solid B. Seeing Captain Jack back on the big screen was wonderful don’t get me wrong but it didn’t FEEL like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Readers should note that this film was based on (or as the credits said “suggested by”) a novel by the same title (On Stranger Tide) and perhaps this could explain what was missing. We know there may be two more films on the horizon so I would hope that the plot will become a bit more involved and the characters a little more developed.
PS: ye be warned, those who leave before the last credit rolls will be missin’ somethin’.