Film Review: ‘On Stranger Tides’ Not Strange Enough

review

Note: as part of Throwback Thursday, I’m posting this piece I wrote May 24, 2011, for my LiveJournal blog. I am planning to slowly move over anything of substance from LiveJournal to this one, with plans on turning the LiveJournal into something else.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio; directed by Rob Marshall. Copyright 2011: seen May 20, 2011. Buy on Amazon.com.

Like all good love affairs, I actually didn’t care for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl movie the first time I saw it. I didn’t think it was a bad movie, I just wasn’t impressed by it for the most part. I hated the fact that Will Turner actually wasn’t an up-and-up hero (double-crossing Jack more than once), and the only reason I felt it was worth watching was for Captain Jack Sparrow (and the monkey, but that’s a whole different story!) – as he was really the only honest character out of the main characters. Yes, he was a devious bastard and was only concerned with himself and his ship, but he was honest about it and never acted like he was anything but.

And that’s what made me fall in love with the movie, making it one of my many guilty-pleasure films. Johnny Depp played Captain Jack with so much fun, it was hard not to enjoy the movie for that alone. And the chemistry he had with both Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley both made me had some great ideas of what an adult version of this tale could ensue. (What can I say? I’m a dirty old woman.)

The two sequels (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End) were highly enjoyable for me – probably more so than Curse – as I went in knowing Captain Jack was the only honest character. And Depp continued taking the character up to eleven, making me breathless with anticipation as to how ‘out there’ he could keep going.

Which makes On Stranger Tides that much more of a disappointment. The basic plot of the search for the fountain of youth barely holds the movie together, but loose plots have never stopped me from enjoying a good guilty-pleasure film before, as long as the characters are engaging.

The introduction of Phillip, the missionary, and the mermaid Syrena (and to an extent the character of Penélope Cruz’s Angelica as well), however, is a too-obvious attempt of replacing Bloom and Knightley, the first two in the romance angle and Angelica in the banter that Sparrow had at times with both characters. Ian McShane, however, does an excellent Blackbeard (although I kept on giggling, waiting for his character from Deadwood to show up in the dialogue), and the movie has one of the best cameos ever – and I’m not talking Keith Richards.

But the bulk of the movie is dependent on Captain Jack (and to a lesser extent Barbossa) and this is where I go ‘meh’. Depp’s performance felt like he was just going through the motions, that he just showed up for the paycheck. I also got the impression that someone in the hierarchy (whether it was director or further up at Disney) told him to dial his performance back, that they didn’t want to ‘scare the straights’, so to speak.

I did like the mermaids and the concept that they’re not good creatures, although I was a little miffed that Disney does a movie that has mermaids where the way you attract them is by singing and there’s not one Little Mermaid joke? They don’t start humming “Fathoms Below” or “Part of Your World” until someone says, “No, not that song”? It’s not like they had to worry about getting the rights!

While not a bad movie, it was a disappointment in that it could have been so much more. Yes, they had to deal with not having two of the three major players, but they should have countered it with having Jack go even farther than he had, not have him dial it back. If you’re a fan of the first three, you’ll want to watch it, but I’d recommend waiting until it’s out on DVD to do so, and just renting it instead.