Movie piracy – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and Geoffrey Rush. Directed by Rob Marshall. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides feels a little bit like Captain Jack Sparrow fan fiction, although if it really were fan fiction I suspect we’d see a lot more of star Johnny Depp shirtless; bedding fair maidens on land and at sea. The character has been unshackled from the burdens of the original Pirates trilogy, specifically Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and a plot that became so horrendously incomprehensible it seemed as if the screenplays were being written exclusively under the influence of rum. This latest instalment – complete with new captain Rob Marshall replacing Gore Verbinski at the helm – refocuses its attention on that which made The Curse of the Black Pearl such a surprise hit in the first place: Johnny Depp’s endlessly charismatic lead performance (this is the most screen time he’s had in any Pirates film), and a number of thrilling action sequences. Captain Jack may not be as fresh as he used to be, and the franchise as a whole is a little worse for wear, On Stranger Tides is the best attempt to recapture the spirit of the first flick we’ve seen yet.

Now, I’m not sure if On Stranger Tides takes place before or after the previous films. Perhaps, like the best fanfic, it’s non-canonical. This implies we could one day see a Captain Jack vs. Indiana Jones mashup – get writing Hollywood! It opens in London (which makes sense because Jack has always seemed like the Camden sort), with a Jack Sparrow-impersonator recruiting seamen for a voyage to the Fountain of Youth. When the real Jack Sparrow gets word of this deception, he’s intent on putting the copycat in his place. After much double-talk and evasion of royal guards, he discovers the impersonator is actually a ‘she’, and not just any she; Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former nun-in-waiting corrupted by Jackie boy once upon a time. Sparrow winds up on Angelica’s ship – run by her father, the vicious Blackbeard (Ian McShane) – and is forced to go on a quest for eternal life. Sigh, a pirate’s life for he.

Series’ screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio have adapted On Stranger Tides from Tim Powers’ 1987 book of the same name (although in the credits, the film is said to be “suggested by” the novel, which is a new one). Jack and co. have been crowbarred into Powers’ tale, and it mostly works. Of course, don’t let that seemingly straightforward source fool you; being a Pirates of the Caribbean film, the plot has to be convoluted. I’ve not even mentioned yet the reappearance of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), the undead pirate who is now working as a privateer for England (it’s nice to see they don’t have discriminatory hiring policies). Also complicating matters for Captain Jack is a fleet of Spaniards equally hell-bent on finding the Fountain before Blackbeard, and a bunch of sexy/terrifying mermaids that threaten to wipe out our heroes in the film’s most heart-stopping action set-piece.

Marshall is no Verbinski (a truly underrated action director who fell victim to script and shooting issues on Pirates 2 and 3), but he does his best to step into his shoes and delivers a more-than-adequate actioner. Depp and Rush are fun as always; it’s a shame they don’t spend much of the picture bouncing off of one another, because when they do, the movie comes alive. Cruz and McShane are welcome additions to the crew, but considering their immense talent, they feel somewhat wasted here (McShane isn’t allowed the opportunity to chew much scenery, or even be particularly villainous). And although the film is more streamlined than previous Pirates, the machinations of the plot do get twisted rather early on, and chug a little too mechanically. Considering this picture should be a fun adventure unencumbered by an obscene number of characters and countless moving pieces, there’s really no excuse. I wouldn’t necessarily call On Stranger Tides a comeback for the Pirates saga; more like a good-will reunion tour. It’s a reward for all the fans who stuck with the series through thick and thin. Considering the Keith Richards connection, it’s fitting that the series would return for one more go around, this time just playing the hits.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens across Australia May 19, 2011.

7 Responses to “Movie piracy – Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides review”

  1. Simon, I think you’ve missed the point of fan fiction.

    “although if it really were fan fiction I suspect we’d see a lot more of star Johnny Depp shirtless; bedding fair maidens on land and at sea”

    Not so, if this were fan fiction we’d see a lot more of a shirtless Johnny Depp bedding Captain Barbosa, and even Davy Jones, possibly even Jack the monkey (who isn’t mentioned in your review, but can’t not return… surely).

    • I think we’re wandering into the realm of Slashfiction now!

      But yes, that would have been great to watch also.

      (P.S. The monkey does make a brief appearance. And no, that’s not a euphemism.)

  2. I’m not going to use this as a review. I understood (and loved) the originally trilogy.
    I think you may have missed a few things as well, fr’instance, isn’t the Black Pearl back as well, under the command of Blackbeard (spoiler, but this is from the trailers).

  3. I so wanted to enjoy the Pirates movies. On paper I should have but each one has left me cold and have not sat through any of them to completion. Depp is the only good thing – a severely edited version of each with just him would be an improvement!. Simon appreciate your honest reviews – they’re not the PR nonsense a lot of other reviewers churn out.

  4. “Now, I’m not sure if On Stranger Tides takes place before or after the previous films.”

    After, surely. At the end of 3, Captain Jack sets out with a map to the Fountain of Youth. At the beginning of this one he still has the map and everybody wants to know if he found it.

  5. it obviously takes place after, due to the fact that they not only have the map from the previous film, but also Barbossa has a peg leg which he does not have in the previous films.

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