It’s been a couple years since Captain Jack Sparrow drunkenly swasbuckled his way to World’s End but he’s back and on a quest for the Fountain of Youth.
In typical Pirates fashion, the plot of On Stranger Tides is full of side plots and double crosses. A pair of Spanish fisherman find a man in a net who has a map and information about the fabled Fountain of Youth. The King of Spain dispatches his men to find it and King George, catching wind of this, prepares his own expedition with the now privateering Captain Barbossa leading the way. Jack has been searching for the Fountain for his own reasons and is almost forced into helping Barbossa before escaping. Jack then, through a series of mishaps, ends up on Blackbeard’s legendary pirate ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge. All three parties are then in a race to reach the Fountain first.
I know there are tons of people out there who absolutely love Jack Sparrow and I really like the character, but he can be a bit much, especially now that he’s the main character. He does have his usual great one liners and we get to see more of his escape prowess and scheming than in the previous couple Pirates movies. He also seems less drunk and vaguely effeminate than in the previous couple movies. On the other hand, I can never get enough Barbossa and Geoffrey Rush brings it as usual and Barbossa is even more surly and pissed off this time around since he lost a leg sometime between World’s End and now. Equally as great is newcomer Ian McShane as Blackbeard, a piece of casting perfection not seen since possibly Sean Connery as Henry Jones Sr. The only peculiar thing about the character is that the movie makes Blackbeard an incredibly supernatural force. He’s able to create zombies, practices voodoo and is able to control his ship with his sword. It’s never explained how he’s able to do any of this and I think maybe they felt like they needed a supernatural captain like the previous films. Blackbeard is already one of the most awesome and interesting persons in history and I’m sure it would have been fine without all the magic and shit. Rounding out the cast is Penelope Cruz, who holds her own against the men of the movie and has a couple of fun moments (like impersonating Jack to gather a crew).
One of the main problems of the two previous Pirates movies is that they got so bloated with plots, betrayals, double, triple, even quadruple crosses that you needed a flow chart just to keep track of everything. On Stranger Tides is more streamlined but still is way too complicated for it’s own good. The Spanish could have been completely cut from the movie and it wouldn’t have lost anything. You never learn why they are after the fountain and when they do show up at the end, they do something that is completely out of left field and makes no sense. Just focusing on Barbossa and his crew and Blackbeard and his crew would have provided enough twists, especially with Jack playing both sides against each other. There’s also a completely useless romantic subplot with missionary Phillip and mermaid Serena that is completely uninteresting and possibly ends horribly for Phillip.
One thing that the previous movies had, even if they were bloated, was absolutely epic set pieces from the three way rolling wheel sword battle and Kraken in Dead Man’s Chest to the final whirlpool battle in World’s End. On Stranger Tides has some fun action but it all feels kind of underwhelming compared to what’s come before. There’s a great escape/chase through London in the beginning of the movie where Jack is jumping between carriages and the mermaid scene is fantastic as well. The mermaids are seemingly gorgeous creatures who quickly turn vicious and rip unwitting men to death and actually destroy an entire ship later in the movie. Pirates is also still the gold standard for modern sword fighting.
If you’re a fan of the Pirates movies then you’ll definitely have a good time with On Stranger Tides. It has everything you loved about the previous movies, but with a less convuleted plot. The downside of that is that it doesn’t feature as much epic action as the previous movies. Curse of the Black Pearl is far and away still the best movie in the franchise but On Stranger Tides is a fun, if a little underwhelming, entry in the franchise.
3.5 out of 5