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

I'll start with full disclosure here: I did not like the original Pirates of the Caribbean. I didn't like the second or third film, either. I felt like there were major pacing problems and the film would suffer when Johnny Depp's compelling Captain Jack Sparrow wasn't present in the action. A lot of the humor fell flat for me and the action sequences--though impressive--felt superfluous to whatever greater narrative arc the films were trying to tell. In a word, I found them boring. Then why did I see the new film Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides? Because my brother wanted to go and I like Rob Marshall films.

Did I enjoy the new Pirates film? Yes I did.

Captain Jack Sparrow is back to go on a new adventure. He's set his mind on finding the Fountain of Youth but keeps running into more adversaries who want to find it themselves. There's his jilted lover Angelica Malon (a strong turn by Penelope Cruz), adversary and sometimes ally Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush who has never been better in the series) who is now working for the King, Angelica's father Blackbeard (a menacing Ian McShane), and a whole fleet of Spanish sailors seemingly sailing off just to beat the British. Captain Jack Sparrow knows where the Fountain of Youth is, but he doesn't know how to use it. Everyone else knows how to use it but not how to find it.

The approach taken by Rob Marshall is a bit more traditional for an adventure film. On Stranger Tides almost plays like a video game, with short expository scenes leading to slapstick action sequences spanning widespread locals and involving many obstacles. One sequence sees Captain Jack Sparrow stepping from carriage to carriage to wooden plank carried by sailors on the street to escape the British. Another sees a swarm of deadly mermaids ruthlessly ensnaring fleeing sailors in their ropes as the try to escape. These action sequences work because there is an assured flow and rhythm to the scene. There are highlights and lowlights, pauses and crescendos, all set to a good use of the re-orchestrated score from Klaus Bedet's original score.

The expository moments rarely feel like a story is being told to you. For example, when Captain Jack Sparrow finds out how to complete the Fountain of Youth ritual from Angelica Malon early in the film, they have a natural sounding conversation for adversaries turning ally. The characters don't give up pertinent information easily. Actual answers require charm, cunning, and wit to draw out. It's a whole lot more engaging than someone saying right away "you need to find x, y, and z to meet your goal" as so many adventure films do.

You could do a lot worse in choosing a summer blockbuster than Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It's fun, funny, and filled with action. The visuals are clear and never confusing and the film always adds something fresh to even the most derivative plot devices.

Rating: 6/10

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