Stick a cutlass in them, Captain Jack and company are done.


I’ve never tried to hide my affection for the Pirates of the Caribbean films.  In fact, I thought the two sequels were even better than the
original, with At World’s End being a particularly inventive adventure and an excellent conclusion to the story.

But as is custom in Hollywood (And understandably so considering this is a business), there was simply too much money left on the table to
allow this series to sail off into the sunset.

The problem is that, artistically, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a needless sequel and merely a shadow of this franchise’s
previous glory.

Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s characters are neither seen nor mentioned, the budget has been severely scaled back and director
Gore Verbinski is sorely missed.

Verbinski is a vastly underrated director who supplied the series with phenomenal action sequences and a keen understanding of comic
timing.  Perhaps to a fault, Verbinski was incredibly ambitious, pushing not just the scale of the story, but its complexity.  The sequels
developed a mythology and featured an almost dizzying number of subplots.  I really admired that the series went in that direction when it
could have turned into a Jack Sparrow blooper reel.

On Stranger Tides never stoops to that level, but, in comparison to its predecessors, it just feels dead in the water.

Writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott’s screenplay occasionally gets in a good gag (courtesy of the film’s excellent cast), but for the most part
they seem to have lost the energy and creativity that fueled the trilogy.

Director Rob Marshall is certainly competent, but just doesn’t have the eye for action set pieces that Verbinski does.

As you would expect, the film is even more Jack Sparrow heavy with the departure of Bloom and Knightley.  And the character wears out his
welcome a bit.  Johnny Depp is good enough to pull it off, but without the straight-laced Will Turner and Elizabeth Swan, Sparrow is just a
goofy character playing against a goofy background.  With this type of character, it’s as much about the reaction as it is the joke and their
presence is sorely missed in balancing out the humor.

It’s great to see Geoffrey Rush back as Barbossa and Kevin R. McNally returning as Gibbs, but the screenplay fumbles them awkwardly.  
Some of my favorite sequences from the previous films involved the interplay between Rush and Depp.  So why does the film keep them
separate for so much of its running time?

At least Rush has a strong presence on his own.  McNally is just kind of there most of the time and doesn’t really get much to work with.

The same can be said about the film’s most underdeveloped idea, a plot involving a captured mermaid and her human lover.

I really liked the mermaid concept in the film, and it’s too bad that it simply serves as a sidebar to the less interesting quest for the fountain
of youth.  The sequence where a group of sailors are attacked by an army of mermaids is one of the best in the film.

The most notable newcomers are Penelope Cruz as a former love interest of Sparrow and Ian McShane as the villainous Blackbeard.

Cruz has some good moments and McShane makes a more than serviceable baddie, but neither is particularly memorable.  Knightley’s
alternating admiration for and disgust of Sparrow and Bill Nighy’s brilliantly distinct Davy Jones worked far better in similar places.

But despite these shortcomings, On Stranger Tides never really embarrasses itself and is still watchable and occasionally enjoyable.  While
it’s not completely lazy, it does feel uninspired and forced.

The laziness is provided by composer Hans Zimmer, whose score is the very definition of a mindless rehash.  Themes and cues are
recycled from the previous films with little thought or relevance.  What a disappointing follow-up to the rousing score that At World’s End
received.

Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is a good as ever and the art direction is good once again.

The visual effects work is sound, but the scaled back screenplay calls for nothing as spectacular as undead pirates, kraken attacks,
maelstroms or Davy Jones (The best computer generated character to this date).

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a disappointment any way you slice it.  The story, action and humor all lag behind its
predecessors.  The spectacle of the Verbinski films has been replaced by routine sword fights and the great sense of humor that blended
goofiness and wit is just plain goofy.  It might not be a disaster, but it is a dull, generic picture that only pulls itself out of the crushing
depths thanks to its cast and the occasional chuckle.

* *
(out of four)
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:
ON STRANGER TIDES

Directed by: Rob Marshall

Written by: Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio

Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush,
Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Clafin

Cinematography by: Dariusz Wolski

Music by: Hans Zimmer

Released: May 20, 2011; 137 Minutes