Saturday, 21 May 2011

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides (2011)

I remember watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean film and being totally blown out of the water by it (pun intended); it had sea-faring adventure, pirates, comedy, adventure and a neat supernatural twist. What wasn't to love. So I was very keen to see the rest as they came out and am one of the few that seems to have enjoyed At World's End (I liked the weird convoluted plot - though I freely admit it was unnecessarily twisty in places). But even so, as each film came out I had a little welling of disappointment, with none coming close to capturing the fun and adventure of the first one. So with Stranger Tides, I hoped we would see a return to the tale of old, this time just with Jack Sparrow and no Will or Elizabeth. Sadly Stranger Tides is more like At World's End, which for me wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, if it weren't for some poor decisions made on the script and story level.

There is a great chase scene in London, with carriages. And a manure cart.
This fourth outing begins with Sparrow in London, with no ship and being arrested by the crown. Hauled before King George he is told he will show the King's choice of Captain the way to the Fountain of Youth. And this Captain happens to be none other than Barbossa himself, looking decidedly unwell in his wig and makeup. Of course this is Sparrow so he doesn't exactly play along and escapes. He then discovers that someone is getting a crew together and is pretending to be him. Upon tracking down this doppelganger he meets his long lost (or rather previously abandoned) love, played by the feisty Penelope Cruz. Turns out she is first mate on the ship of the notorious Blackbeard, who can control the rigging with a magic sword and turns troublesome crew into zombies. He too is after the Fountain of Youth so our Jack is keelhauled and forced to lead them to it. Oh, and the Spanish are also after the fountain. It never rains but it pours. So a race ensues to see who will get there first. There's also a whole thing about catching a mermaid, as one of their tears is needed to get to the fountain, combined with an unlikely love story and much buckling of swash.

Nice hat.
The plot is, to be kind, messy. A lot is inferred and never explained, and people's motivations are never entirely clear, including Jack's decision to play along and help find the Fountain of Youth. The biggest problem I had with the film was that the script seemed to have been cut in parts, leaving out explanations for what's going on and instead rushing to the next set piece. For example it's never explained where Blackbeard got his abilities from or his sword that has telekinetic abilities. He's an interesting character but Ian McShane never quite has enough power on screen to get across how mighty this pirate captain is and he's never given enough in the script to make more of him. His life remains a total mystery throughout, which was disappointing. Don't get me wrong, I like mysterious characters; but when they are this important to the plot it seems odd to not have any back story for them at all. And in fact this is true of almost all of the new characters added to the mix, as none really have much of a back story. Compared to the first film, where we learn where Will and Elizabeth come from very early on, we learn who Barbossa is and his history with Jack, along with the explanation of how the gold ended up being cursed, this one is very limited on character or story background, which means it is a lot harder to like or support anyone other than Jack Sparrow. And even he isn't exactly like he was in the other films.
One of those annoying "3D" shots. And where in blazes did he get that sword?!
Jack, for me, was the saving grace in the film. Mr. Depp could likely play him in his sleep but I never felt that he was putting in an half performance, as some have said in other reviews. He is funny throughout, and has some great lines as usual. It's just a shame that everyone else he's playing against are so one dimensional. However this Jack Sparrow is definitely a lot less drunk than he seemed in the others, though he's no less fun for it, allowing him to drive the story onwards. The other strong aspects to the film are the visuals, as the first half an hour is great to watch, and is very reminiscent of the first film, and the mermaid attack is amazing. The other person that must be mentioned is Geoffrey Rush, who is fantastic as Barbossa. He and Depp are clearly having a lot of fun in their scenes together, and in these moments you see the relationship these two would likely have had as Captain and first mate in the glory days of the Black Pearl, bringing some much needed connection to the other stories already told.
They're like an old married couple. In a totally platonic way. So exactly like a married couple.
On Stranger Tides is not an awful film, but I can understand why some will feel it is. There is plenty of action and comedy here, but it suffers in comparison to the others (yes, even the troubled third one). It's a shame too, as it could have been easily fixed had the script been tighter and more specific, rather than wandering around aimlessly at times, while Sparrow does something amusing. I suspect this is the beginning of a new trilogy for Sparrow and company. We can only hope they learn from the errors made in this one to make the follow ups just as exciting but with more depth, purpose and explanation of what is going on.

(This review is of the 2D version. I've read in reviews from the 3D version that it's difficult to see and very dark. I didn't notice this in the 2D showing. Yet another reason that I'm not a fan of 3D yet...)

1 comment:

  1. Probably wont see this as I've tried about 3 times to get through the soporific third instalment without success. And as for 3D - a poor technical fad, which merely separates you from the screen, and doesn't connect you to it. Humbug!

    But it's breaking box office records in the US, so how is that encouraging risks in movies? Discuss.

    A nice review Alexa! Now, let's move on to that 26.7% ... :)