By Hannah A Papasin
What else can you do with a flagging franchise?
Throw in mermaids, an Indiana Jones subplot, and a romantic foil for a pirate that had girls all over the world drooling.
Um… not quite.
What we have instead is the most anaemic of all Pirates movies, which makes me think Gore Verbinski is not as lousy as we thought he was. The man responsible for such classic turds as Mouse Hunt and The Mexican at least gave us a fairly decent Pirates film (I’m talking about the first one – and it was all downhill from there, with the third movie just incomprehensibly atrocious).
Things were supposed to be promising when the franchise was turned over to Rob Marshall, the man who proved critics wrong when he gave us a show-stopping cinematic version of Chicago, a delicious confection of intrigue, murder and our predilection towards notoriety set against the backdrop of jazz numbers.
So, what happened, Mr Marshall? Where was the tight story-telling, the interesting characters, the heart-stopping numbers that so defined your award-winning film? And where, oh, where is a good cinematographer when you need one?
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a strange hybrid – much like the arachnid (is that web shooting from their wrists?)-vampire mermaid that the CG creators envision the water creatures to be. It wants to be everything at once – an adventure yarn, a romance story, and a familial drama. The result: a half-baked romantic -adventure film that tries too hard to please and instead goes in all directions, you would suspect the scriptwriters were trying to finish the whole story because they a) were threatened under gun-point; b) badly need the money to pay for their mortgage, c) were too lazy to come up with a coherent script, so they handed the writing to their pet monkeys with a bad case of ADHD, or d)all of the above.
Somehow, we knew they should have stopped at three.
Anyway, PoTC4 tells us about the legendary Fountain of Youth and the three-way-chase involved to get there. Here, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) was shanghaied into the Queen Anne’s Revenge by former flame, pirate’s daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz – who is 10 times hotter and more than able to fill in the skinny shoes of Keira Knightley). The pirate here is Edward Teach aka Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who is also out to look for the Fountain but is trying to dance around the prophecy about him being killed by a one-legged man.
Also involved in the chase were Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has since been allied with the Royal Navy so that he can have his revenge on the Revenge’s Captain who took the Black Pearl, and the man simply named The Spaniard whose motives are not quite clear.
In the midst of it all, they are also looking for the chalices of Juan Ponce de Leon and a mermaid’s tear, which together with the Fountain of Youth and a little hocus pocus, can add life to anybody who can drink from it.
Trust me, I’ve made it as simple as I can. I even left out the shifting loyalties and endless guesswork (“It’s Sparrow-vs.-Barbossa. Nah… they’ve teamed up. So that makes Blackbeard the ultimate bad guy. And what of Angelica? Blah-blah-blah. Wow, that mermaid is HOT. And what about that Spaniard? Why didn’t the idiot destroy the chalices when he had the chance?”) Under Marshall’s direction, we get instead an overblown Dora the Explorer crossed with a PG-13 Little Mermaid plus a little Indy Jones and the Last Crusade vibe.
The acting at least is generally solid although Depp’s drunken pirate rock star shtick is getting a bit old. Rush and McShane, extremely talented both, were not given much to do — not as much anyway as Stellan Skarsgǻrd or Bill Nighy whose Bootstrap Bill and Davey Jones respectively in the two previous films had a heartbreaking resonance that practically bleeds through their SFX makeup.
The best work is turned in by the tremendously talented Cruz, who injects Angelica with equal parts steely determination, vulnerability and luminosity that practically leaps off the screen. When she spars wits and swords with Jack Sparrow, you know deep down why she’s the delicious rogue’s equal in all respects.
The absence of Orlando Bloom and Knightley is unlamented. To make up for their absence, this movie has a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) and missionary (Sam Claflin) subplot that provided the romantic angle for the (mostly) pulse-less film. However poignant the love angle was though, it could hardly pull together the largely incoherent, disjointed film.
The best part of the film was the chase scene towards the start when Jack Sparrow was trying to escape from prison; the mermaids were another thing, pretty little things who turned nasty under the moonlight. Too bad the cinematography does not allow us to appreciate the CG effects – much of the film was shot under heavy fog (we wonder why).
All said, the film is really two-hours-and-a-half too long. And to think that this was already a “streamlined” version. You call this streamlined? There were parts that would have been left on the cutting room floor – honestly, that Spaniard bit does not make any sense.
With the movies getting really expensive, it’s best to sit this one out. Unless of course you want to waste two-and-a-half hours of your life and watch hot models in fishtails. If you want to watch a Pirates film, rent the first one and watch it all over again.
Believe me, that is a much more satisfying experience.
Notes while watching Pirates
- Did Spider-Man, Dyesebel and Edward Cullen engage in a three-way? How else can you explain mermaids that shoot webbings from their wrists, grow fangs under the moonlight and (sort of) sparkle under sunlight?
- Dame Judi Dench had a cameo in the chase scene at the start of the film. Great cameo, wrong movie to appear a cameo in. Still, I love that woman!
- Between preaching the Bible and living a Spartan life among the indigenous peoples, missionaries have time to work out. How else can you explain the muscles on the missionary in the film? Or maybe, he lifts a 150-pound Bible…
- Please Mr Depp, stay away from films that have the words “Pirates” and “Caribbean” on them. They are ruining your resume. (But I think The Tourist had already done that, so no biggie.)
- Mermaids. Fountain of Youth. Johnny Depp. Adventure. Then why am I yawning 30 minutes into the film?
- If this was already “streamlined”, then I’d hate to see the Director’s Cut.
- There’s a naked girl among them, yet the pirate scums did not even think of the word “rape”. Ah, Disney. Home of lobotomized entertainment.
- Did anybody tell Ian McShane he should channel Al Pacino?
- Keith Richards appeared as Jack Sparrow’s father. In Pirates 5 , Keith Richards’ wax double appears as Jack Sparrow’s father.
- The post-credits scene hints of a sequel. *GROAN* Call me if Rob Marshall is NOT on it.