Director: Rob Marshall
Writers: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, Tim Powers
Stars: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
SYNOPSIS: Captains Jack Sparrow and Barbosa quest for the elusive Fountain of Youth, only to discover that the notorious pirate Blackbeard and a Spanish armada are after its secrets too.
Johnny Depp single-handedly ignited the enduring Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. But to early chagrin of Disney's brass, Jack Sparrow may not have existed at all. But the first film surged forward with sails full to create a winning pirate experience with the coloned Curse of the Black Pearl. Where the first film was substance and frivolity with a wisp of renegade rogue, Dead Man's Chest and At World's End became simple spectacles and forced along a story that for some reason needed to be told and wrapped up.
Now, Rob Marshall, director of Nine, Chicago and, most importantly, the period film Memoirs of a Geisha, comes in with an original new direction concept from the Tim Powers novel "On Stranger Tides". Gone, somewhat for the better are Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and much of the swash-buckling original trilogy cast, allowing for Captain Jack Sparrow to spread his wings again. Of course, former nemesis Barbosa is back, but they both face a greater threat in Ian McShane's Blackbeard and Penelope Cruz' sexy and exotic Angelica, Blackbeard's daughter and Sparrow interest.
As always, Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow brings an unfurled physical presence to the film. From the beginning, as he impersonates a London judge with robes and powdered wig in order to break Gibbs (Kevin McNally) out of a trip to the gallows, my hopes for On Stranger Tides were as high as the Black Pearl's crow's nest. And with the reintroduction of a now-peg legged Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) working as a privateer for King George and Sparrow's daring escape from the King's palace through the streets of London, I spied a hint of the Pirates of the Caribbean roots.
In keeping with the themes of piracy, swashbuckling sword fights, mystical artifacts and exotic locations, On Stranger Tides has everything going for it. But one glaring omission from the original trilogy is the levity that the supporting cast brought to the helm. From Ragetti and Pintel to the King's bumbling Redcoats, the first film made us laugh in all the right spots, allowing Jack Sparrow to be hilarious with just his presence, muddled speech and quirky demeanor. In On Stranger Tides, Johnny Depp is the center of the film again, but is weighed down with the anchor of responsibility to entertain us, make us laugh, and more. Even the unflappable Captain Jack Sparrow may not be up for that challenge.
Angelica (Penelope Cruz) is an interesting foil for Sparrow, both keeping him at bay and keeping him docked near her. At the end of it all, you never get a sense of his feelings for her - but maybe that is the mystery that is Jack Sparrow. Better is the relationship between the mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and the cleric Philip (Sam Claflin), a man, like Orlando Bloom's Will Turner, struggling to keep the righteous path while trying to save Syrena at all costs. Ian McShane's Blackbeard is slated as the ultimate evil pirate, but other than one instance of killing a man so that the rest of the crew remembers that he is not to be trifled with, he seems more a haunted, selfish man in search of youth than a bastion of carnage and chaos.
The 3D is beautiful, both used to great effect for deepening every scene and used for a few classic 3D sight gags. The scenes where Blackbeard's men attempt to capture a mermaid includes gorgeous finned women and a great action sequence. Marshall flies us through the exotic lush locales, bringing a vibrancy that the earlier films had eventually forgotten in favor of darker, wetter, salty fare. On Stranger Tides takes the franchise in a new direction, for better or worse, working the Fountain of Youth storyline well into the Jack Sparrow fabric. Sometimes its all about the journey, as Jack Sparrow says. But the journey is a little long and the pirates' booty at the end of the dashed path is really only half-full.
WORTH: Matinee and Blu-Ray (for the diehard fan)