Friday, May 27, 2011

Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

So some of you may have been made aware by reading some of my past posts that I am a massive fan of Johnny Depp. Some of you may likewise be aware that I am also a massive fan of Geoffrey Rush. It should come as little surprise to you then, my dear readers, that the Pirates of the Caribbean series is one that I hold very dear to my heart. I make a point to rewatch the movies at least once a year and often more. The Pirates of the Caribbean series (it feels so strange that I can't call it a trilogy anymore) is something that appeals to me on just about every level.

The acting in general hovers between acceptable to excellent, with the former performances belonging to the roles of William Turner and Elizabeth Swan, and the latter going to... well, just about everyone else who walks on screen. It's no surprise that the role of Captain Jack Sparrow has become a role that has in many ways defined Johnny Depp's already enviable career, and the character of Captain Hector Barbossa is often remembered as one of the many gems of the series. Strap those actors with those performances onto a plot that kept me engaged and entertained throughout the series, add a dash of references to old seafarer's legends and historical references, and you come up with a series of films that I consider to be gold.

Though the gold might be cursed.

That said, I have to hold Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to the rather daunting standard of its three predecessors. Admittedly, when I first heard about the movie back in 2009, I was deeply concerned. As far as I cared, Pirates of the Caribbean could have very easily remained a trilogy. Everything important had been wrapped up, and everything that was left open were so inconsequential to the main plot that it could have easily been left to our imagination. Yes, there was that teaser at the end of the third film about Jack Sparrow going off to find the Fountain of Youth, but that was something that could have been left to the audience's mind.

However, when I started hearing a bit more about the plans for the film, my concern quickly turned to excitement. I never particularly liked the characters of Will or Elizabeth, and always would have preferred if they had nothing to do with the movie in the first place. Then I learned that while Rush and Depp would be returning in Stranger Tides, Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly would not be. I realized then that this was the Pirates of the Caribbean movie I had always wanted but never thought I could have - The Adventures of Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa.

It's great when movies realize just how good they have it.

So it was with all those thoughts in mind that I went into the theater. I was hoping for something wonderful, but fearing that it could be just another instance where a new director tries to cash in on a successful series with a crappy sequel.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides does start more or less where At World's End left off - the balance between government and piracy in the Caribbean restored and Jack Sparrow left without a ship, searching for the legendary Fountain of Youth. We discover fairly early on that both the British Empire and the Spanish are likewise seeking the Fountain, and that Captain Barbossa has turned privateer for the former. We learn that he has lost the Black Pearl - along with his leg - some time ago, but we do not learn exactly how this happened until later. In the process, Sparrow ends up getting shanghaied by the ruthless Captain Edward Teach - more commonly known as Blackbeard - who is also racing to find his way to the Fountain before the others.

And to be honest, that's all the details that I am going to reveal, because I want people to go out and see this movie. While the first act of the film is ponderous and aggravating at times, by the time we get aboard Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, the film takes a decided turn for the better. Depp and Rush, as always, deliver wonderful performances in this film, bringing us back to the relationship between the two old comrades that we only ever had a small amount of time to appreciate in the other three films. At times the movie almost plays like a buddy cop film between these two, and they have such excellent chemistry that it's really a shame that the previous three films didn't take as much time as they could have to develop that relationship.

I also want to make special mention to one of the newcomers to the Pirates of the Caribbean mythos: Ian McShane as Captain Blackbeard. Before the movie came out, I heard a lot of people wondering why they would use a character like Blackbeard - a character who already is very well known from our own history - as opposed to an original antagonist. However, just about every moment McShane is onscreen seems like it should be given a title reading: "Right here? This is why." McShane delivers a fantastic performance, bringing just enough of the historical character in to the portrayal to be recognizable to history buffs like myself, while also adding enough new material to create a distinct and deliciously evil villain.

All in all, On Stranger Tides delivers a genuine Pirates of the Caribbean experience. The acting is great, the story is engaging, and the characters are delightful as always. It does, as could only be expected, offer opportunities for a fifth film in the franchise. I have to say that if we can use On Stranger Tides as a template for what new director Rob Marshall might bring us in the future, then we definitely have something to look forward to. It might not have been as good overall as Curse of the Black Pearl, but I think it can stand proudly as a Pirates film alongside Dead Man's Chest and At World's End. In summation, if you liked the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, you'll probably like On Stranger Tides as well, and I would definitely suggest that you go out and see it.

Final Grade: B