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Pirates loot another sequel opportunity

Latest in series is lighter but less funny

POSTED: May 19, 2011 1:00 a.m.
/Disney

Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

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It makes perfect sense that “On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, would be in 3D. After all, 3D is little more than Hollywood’s way of pillaging and plundering audiences’ hard-earned money, so the format is appropriate for a movie about pirates.

I’ll admit up front that I’m going to sound like a crabby old man in this review. Johnny Depp is one of the most bankable stars in the world, many of you are still enamored with Captain Jack Sparrow, and anticipation for POTC 4 is extremely high. Which means a negative review is going to make me seem like a killjoy.

But occasionally the job of a critic is to say unpopular things. So here goes.

“On Stranger Tides” is not very funny, it talks more than an annoying parrot, and the action sequences are forced and tired.

On the bright side, if all you want is to see more of Captain Jack, you should be happy, because this movie is built mostly around him.

Jack seeks the Fountain of Youth. Not for any compelling reason, only because the movie needed to be about something, so that’s his next conquest.

One of Jack’s past conquests, Angelica (Penélope Cruz), has teamed with the legendary Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who may or may not be her father, and is also searching for the fountain. So are the Spanish Armada and our old friend/foe Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

Once again we have a handful of pirates vying for a well-known treasure, which is again just an excuse for elaborate chase scenes and lots of mugging from Depp.

The original “Pirates of the Caribbean” was a treasure chest of quirky characters and witty sight gags. It was great fun watching Sparrow and his crew pull off one narrow escape after another.

Sequels two and three were even heavier on fascinating characters, but they were also, well, heavy. They were too long and complicated.

For “On Stranger Tides,” Rob Marshall takes over for Gore Verbinski as director, and Marshall made one very wise decision by scaling back. This movie tops out at around two hours, and while that was still a tad long, it’s nowhere near as cumbersome and exhausting as the last two movies.

What goes wrong begins with the characters. McShane is completely believable and menacing as Blackbeard, but he plays it too straight. The other actors who have played villains in this series — Rush as Barbossa, Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, Jack Davenport as Norrington, etc. — understood that the POTC movies are, at their hearts, comedies. The villains offer endearing winks along with the evil. McShane never plays his role as if he is in on the joke.

Nor does the romantic subplot in “On Stranger Tides” work. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) provided the heart for the original trilogy, but they are not in this movie.

To replace them, the writers concocted a love story between a fire-and-brimstone clergyman (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

There’s no logical reason for this shrill, pedantic preacher to even be in the first half of the movie. Then he encounters a lovely mermaid, the only one who isn’t a bloodthirsty killer, and they fall in love. It just doesn’t inspire the same romance as the forbidden love between a downtrodden blacksmith and a noble daughter of a governor.

If you think back, the first POTC movie was a huge surprise. Pirates were not cool in 2003, and the idea of a movie based on an amusement park ride seemed silly.

Now, pirates are a cultural craze — as evidenced by the two dozen or so cosplay pirates who attended our screening — and I fear many are sticking with this franchise not because the movies are still good, but for the pop culture phenomenon they have inspired.

Maybe the faithful will enjoy “On Stranger Tides” more than I did.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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