Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides

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Pirates of the Caribbe-gone

(Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Rob Marshall, US, 2011, 137 mins)

“Up Is Down” and “One Day” are two of my favourite songs from The World’s End soundtrack, the third addition to the franchise that was criticised for being too long and full of repetitive deceitful acts to keep the narrative flowing. In the first few scenes of On Stranger Tides, the familiar drums and orchestral rhythms bring a grin to my face, as Hans Zimmer has literally created his own remix of all three previous films’ soundtracks with the help of Rodrigo y Gabriela. The music may be habitual for my everyday listening, but the narrative – well, we couldn’t be further from home.

The one characteristic that makes Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) so loveable is his mystery, and therefore having an entire film about him dissolves that illusion. His traits are all there; the nervous eyes, his waving arms, the black eyeliner, but there is so much of it that it almost ruins his magnetism, which only pushes us away. On Stranger Tides is the fourth film of the Pirates of the Caribbean collection, and almost ten years since Curse of the Black Pearl, it could be argued that this addition was not a necessity. It links in from the end of the third film, where Jack Sparrow had stolen the middle of a map – which is thrown about and discarded like it was insignificant – to make his journey to the Fountain of Youth. In Stranger Tides we follow his hectic voyage from London, where he begins the film by rescuing his old faithful mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally), only one of the very few characters from the old films. However, Sparrow is not the only one in search of the fountain, as he discovers when captured and taken to King George II (Keith Richards), who demands that Sparrow help him find the fountain before the Spanish with the help of one Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is now a privateer for his majesty. This would not be a typical Jerry Bruckheimer production – with writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio tagging along – if there weren’t more complications.

Taking up a very convincing disguise as another Jack Sparrow is Angelica (Penelope Cruz), Sparrow’s first lover and daughter of Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Blackbeard describes himself as “a bad man”, but his merciless actions are not as menacing as first expected, and his soft side creeps out a little too often. Despite this, audiences may want to keep an eye on the younger viewers as there are a couple of jumpy parts. The new introduction of mermaids bring along with them some spectacular CGI work, as well as a new love story between mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges Frisbey) and Philip (Sam Claflin), a strong believer in religion who has been held captive aboard Blackbeard’s ship. Even with this refreshing cast, audiences may not be able to help dwelling on the lack of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, whose absence becomes a prevalent thought throughout, particularly in the moments when Barbossa, Sparrow and Gibbs are together, and we feel on more familiar land.

Depp and Cruz are frivolous together, but their moments just don’t feel as tense or sexy as the risky instants with Knightley, despite a bundle of scenes in which Cruz’s cleavage clearly dominates. It is still enlivening to have a new female among the crew, and Cruz does it well with her provocative Spanishness and natural ability to instruct, which will win over anyone. The characters overall are just as deceiving as before, which personally I prefer as you can’t always see who’s going to backstab who, and it chops up the narrative absolutely everywhere. In spite of that, the audience are still left with questions unanswered at the end, as the story is abandoned, leaving it open once again for another director to take the helm. The 3D experience does not add much to the viewing pleasure at all, and having seen the rest in 2D, would suggest giving yourself some continuity.

Rob Marshall, director of Nine (2009) and Chicago (2002) has done exceedingly well to direct in such a similar way to Verbinski, despite appearing to be an odd choice having specialised in musicals. Perhaps it was his touch that made me feel at a loss; there is no upside down Pearl, no kraken, and no CGI whirlpools to really get my blood flowing. Therefore, I think we should be grateful for Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski -who has worked on all four films now – as he really emphasises the landscape, and has done wonders with the layout of the fountain itself alongside John Myhre, who was in charge of production design. There may be no skeletal pirates lurking in the moonlight, but “It is not the destination, so much as the journey” says Sparrow, and he couldn’t be more right.

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