Directed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” may have a new director and several new characters, but it’s the same familiar formula: there is a mystical item everyone wants to find, Captain Jack Sparrow is clever and dashing and charmingly amoral, and there are lots of fights and explosions. It’s getting a little threadbare, but it still works if your primary reason for going to the theater is to see Sparrow in action.
The plot is fairly silly and convoluted, and involves a quest for the Fountain of Youth, with side quests for the necessary items for the ritual required to activate the Fountain’s powers. Allegiances shift and change, and once again Sparrow finds himself working with his one-time nemesis, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). It’s all very ridiculous, but you don’t go to a Pirates of the Caribbean movie to see a realistic and thought-provoking story.
While it’s a pity that more of the other characters from past films don’t appear, the new central characters will make up for it for all but the hardcore fans of the missing. The dastardly Blackbeard (Ian McShane) makes for a fine villain, and we have a new love-interest-and-possible-antagonist in the beautiful Angelica (Penélope Cruz), who has bone to pick with Jack and has been taken in by Blackbeard, who believes her to be his long-lost daughter. McShane could play this part in his sleep, but brings a glint to the malevolent pirate’s eyes that is engaging. He also has good fatherly chemistry with Cruz, who makes for an excellent piratical femme fatale.
The film’s biggest weakness is that it lacks the freshness and excitement of the first film. Depp often seems to almost be going through the motions as the iconic Captain Jack, and while Rush clearly relishes playing the dastardly Barbossa, it’s not enough to beat back the feeling that we’re treading a familiar path. The frisson of excitement the first film offered by providing something new has been lost in the sequels, and this one is no exception.
On the bright side, the special effects are as eye-popping as we’ve come to expect from the franchise. The stunningly beautiful mermaids’ iridescent scales and long tails vanish and reappear as they move in and out of the water, and Blackbeard has perfect control over his ship, including its rigging — which moves like snakes under his command. So, even if the content of the film isn’t all that thrilling, the visuals are.
Whether or not you’ll enjoy “On Stranger Tides” depends on how much you love the characters and how high your expectations are. If you’re hoping for the magic of the first one, you’ll likely be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you just want to kick back and watch some beautiful people interact with beautiful special effects and have awesome swordfights, you’re in for a good time.