Movie Review Monday: Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides

Mike Finkelstein was drinking in a bar one night, when he passed out and woke up on a pirate ship.  There, he met a strange, feminine fellow named Jack, and they walked a lot.  Here is his review of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”.

PLOT: After being kidnapped by a former love (Penelope Cruz), Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is forced to lead the evil pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) to the Fountain of Youth.  Hot on their tail is Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a worker for the English monarchy, who has his own debt to settle with Blackbeard.

Check out the trailer:

MIKE’S REVIEW: The last time we saw Captain Jack Sparrow, he was floating away on a little dingy boat toward the Fountain of Youth.  Sounds like it could be a hell of an adventure for us, no?  Well when you have your main character fight the undead and the most evil pirate known to man, then die at the hands (or mouth) of the Kraken, only to come back to life after his friends travel to the end of the world to get him…how do you expect to top it?

You really can’t.  But despite all this and the fact that Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly didn’t want to do another PIRATES movie, Captain Jack Sparrow is a name Disney wasn’t ready to let go of.  (Something about too many cash registers going off?)  The execs decided they could do another trilogy of adventures with Jacky Poo…just tone down the storyline and focus on developing some new characters for us to invest our souls in.  Simple enough, right?

In comes Director Rob Marshall to replace Gore Verbinski, and I have to say, for someone who has directed musicals and smaller scale movies in the past, he did a pretty good job of taking on Verbinski’s universe, giving us a great feel and beautiful cinematography.  Story wise, however, what we get is something that seems almost too basic.

Yes, it’s a swashbuckling pirates adventure, and for anyone who wants their fill of that, this is the movie to see.  A PIRATES OF THE Caribbean movie, this is not.  The action sequences are few and far between, replaced by a load of walking to get to the fountain of youth.  At 147 minutes, it almost felt like I was waiting for the pages of a book to turn.  And besides a few moments here and there where he’s allowed to take the lead (mutiny!), Captain Jack actually takes a back seat most of the time.

On that note, I go back to my earlier point: When you get killed, come back from the dead and defeat Davy Jones, you can’t expect to top it.  I had conflicting feelings: on one end, I was waiting for Jack to do something, and nothing ever happened.  All the big moments went to other characters, including the final fight (Barbossa?!).  On the other end, anything that ever did happen with Jack almost seemed too rehearsed, or like we’ve seen it before (kind of like DEAD MAN’S CHEST, which was filled with Jack-isms just for the sake of having them sound funny).

Speaking of which, it also didn’t help that there were parts in this film that mirrored the first three films…kind of like when you smell cologne that makes you think of your dad or grandpa or that uncle you don’t really like.  You could almost trace the lineage of the trilogy here.  The first mano-a-mano sword fight reeked of the first fight between Will and Jack.  When one of Blackbeard’s zombies walked into the moonlight, there was a flash of bone, like he was going to be a ghost from Barbossa’s cursed ship.  And on that long walk that lasts about 75% of the movie, they go from a cave (BLACK PEARL) to a forest of green (DEAD MAN’S CHEST) to the beach (AT WORLD’S END).  Familiar much?

But with all this familiarity, we did get a group of new, pretty fun characters.  Ian McShane was just plain cool as Blackbeard (“I’m a bad man…”), and I could see why he was considered one of the most evil pirates alive.  I didn’t see him anywhere near Davy Jones, and I kept thinking that if Jack was able to take on Jones so easily, what the hell is so scary about Blackbeard?  But overall, as a villain, he stole the show.  Penelope Cruz added some much needed sex appeal (for the guys at least) as Angelica.  Besides looking absolutely gorgeous (damn…), it was fun to watch her play off Depp, and the two of them had some great back and forth jabs. (If it weren’t for her, Depp would probably barely be in the movie…)  Both were great additions to the PIRATES universe.  Even Barbossa was a sight for sore eyes, as you see him at odds, going between his old pirates ways and the rules of being a “king’s man”.

The only new characters that had no purpose were Sam Claffin’s Philip and Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s mermaid (Syrena).  Maybe the writers were trying to mirror Will and Elizabeth, but the storyline went nowhere and ended on the strangest note.  The whole thing could have easily been completely removed from the film and no one would have known the difference.

Overall, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES was a good movie for anyone who wants a swashbuckling pirate adventure, but as a PIRATES movie, it is forgettable.  The pace was slower, the risk wasn’t there, and Jack Sparrow took a back seat in a movie that was supposed to focus on him.  There will obviously be a second and third chapter in this new trilogy (cha ching!), and to be honest, I welcome them.  It’d be sad to see the characters go out on such a low note, and I challenge the writers to regroup and make something a little more memorable next time around.

GRADE: B-

Mike’s LIKES:

1) BLACKBEARD: Ian McShane was just fun in this movie.  He fit into the Pirates universe without a problem.  I wouldn’t say he’s as bad as Davy Jones, but he made a worthy villain.

2) PENELOPE CRUZ: This movie was in dire need of some sexy appeal (for guys at least…I know you girls got Depp…), and Cruz took the cake.  Too many lines to choose from, but she was sure fun to look at…

3) “A WHOLE FLEET”: Great little line right there that made me pump my fist.  And with that…

4) SCENE AFTER THE CREDITS: Obviously, you have to stay after the credits, and this one didn’t disappoint.  Hopefully, with this and number three, we’ll get an epic fifth and sixth movies.

Mike’s DISLIKES:

1) PHILIP/MERMAID SUBPLOT: This entire subplot could have disappeared from the film, and no one would have known the difference.  You think maybe it’s because they needed a romance story to replace Will and Elizabeth, but if so, then why not use it at all in any advertisements? Pointless

2) CAPTAIN JACK SITTING BACK: This is supposed to be Jack Sparrow’s movie.  And yet, it feels like he’s along for the ride with us more times than actually leading it.  Take control, Captain Jack.

3) BY THE BOOKS: It almost seemed like this movie was playing it safe after DEAD MAN’S CHEST and AT WORLD’S END.  You need to do something original after three movies…not have your heroes walking for hours.

EXTRA FACTS:

1) This film is loosely based on the 1988 pirate novel ‘On Stranger Tides’, by Tim Powers.

2) Penélope Cruz was pregnant throughout production. As the baby bump grew, it caused difficulties in wardrobe, so the producers had Cruz’s younger sister, Mónica, double for her in any long-distance scenes.

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