I often feel that many movie franchises should never have gone beyond their first instalment, especially when that first film is a really good one. The Pirates Of The Caribbean series is one of them.
Going against the original vision of Gore Verbinski, who directed the epic first three films of the series, Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney have produced a fourth adventure (with Rob Marshall taking over the helm) for Johnny Depp‘s caricature of Jack Sparrow. One of the most entertaining, amusing and genius character creations of the last decade, Jack Sparrow was the sole reason I was hyped about watching this in cinema, and I can’t imagine I’m much of a minority in this.
As expected, it was Captain Sparrow who kept this film afloat, having almost none of the swashbuckling intrigue of The Curse Of The Black Pearl, the daunting mystery of Dead Man’s Chest or the large-scale action of At World’s End. With many key actors from the first three movies having either run aground or jumped overboard, the Stranger Tides were absent of the Monty Python-esque comic relief of the duos Pintel & Ragetti and Murtogg & Mullroy (and to a lesser extent, Giselle & Scarlett), the prevailing romance between William Turner and Elizabeth Swann, the tragedies that were Bootstrap Bill and Commodore Norrington, the touch of non-human humour from Jack the Monkey and Cotton’s macaw and the genuinely ominous threats provided by Cutler Beckett, Davy Jones, the Kraken, and the cursed version of Captain Barbossa and his crew.
Particularly in the absence of very many subplots (light-hearted, romantic or otherwise), was Mr Verbinski’s direction truly missed, as Rob Marshall ditched what I consider one of the bigger triumphs of the first film and parts of the second and third films in favour of a more streamlined (read: one-dimensional) approach. Much was piled on Johnny Depp’s shoulders to steer the story arc while helping develop other characters and inject humour, which, by now, has grown just that teensy bit stale. Barbossa was a shadow of his former self, undecided about whether to be evil, selfish, noble or to just go along for the ride. Joshamee Gibbs, the sole representative of Sparrow’s allies from the previous escapades, seemed more grim than before. Blackbeard was ho-hum, and while he did have his elements every now and then, didn’t make nearly as much of an impression as the villains of the first trilogy. His zombie cohort was interesting, yet confusing at the same time, and will not be as memorable or frightening as Bo’Sun and the cursed pirates of the first film or of Davy Jones’s crew from the second and third. Anjelica was rubbish and I completely didn’t like what was going on between Syrena the mermaid and Phillip the missionary, which was boring, predictable a mile off and seemed like it belonged in a cheesy romance novel or on a weekday afternoon soap opera, if not soft-core pornography.
Plot-wise, the script tread on murky waters, and many times throughout the movie I found myself trying to re-justify and re-think why it was that Jack, Blackbeard and Barbossa made some of the decisions they did, as many parts of the story seemed to defy logic (even when you give allowance for that logic to be partially tainted by rum and blind ambition). While I felt a little inclination this way about the second and third films, it seemed like the fourth took what were just a few small holes in the sail and ripped them all up into bigger ones that brought much attention to the lack of clear direction on the vessel.
If Johnny Depp is the true captain of this slowly sinking ship, his first mate would be Hans Zimmer, the only other crewman who applied himself well on this voyage, returning with a magnificent musical underscore that will linger in audiences’ minds as the very best takeaway from all the action sequences on the way to the Fountain Of Youth.
Director: Rob Marshall
Producer: Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenwriters: Terry Rossio & Ted Elliot
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally