Honestly, I don’t know if Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is any better than the last two disappointing entries of the franchise or I simply don’t have it in me to care about what happens to these characters anymore. Even though the film did its best to remove the only thing I really liked from Dead Man’s Chest and World’s End (namely Keira Knightley), this one is certainly no worse the wear.
The story opens with Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), once again without a boat or crew, on the search for the Fountain of Youth. And he’s not the only one. Others looking for the prize include the Spanish Armada, the British Navy under the command of Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the nefarious Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
What follows is a mismatched tale which is part treasure hunt and part wacky reunion as Jack is forced to confront his feelings for an old flame (Penélope Cruz) who just happens to be Blackbeard’s daughter.
The film isn’t without its flaws. It takes far too long for the story to get going and the first act is overflowing with long, tedious exposition. The action scenes also seem to suffer this time around, especially early on. The first time Captain Jack springs into action the franchise score jumps into high gear… and everything feels far less epic and fun than it should. With only one or two possible exceptions the entire film seems to be going through the motions without any hope or promise of something more.
Penélope Cruz is does a fine job, but her character isn’t as useful Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann. One of the consistent mistakes with each one of the sequels was to center the story around Jack instead of letting him play off the main characters. The first, and really only successful, movie of the franchise, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was built not around Jack, but the relationship between Elizabeth and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, who is also smart enough not to return).
Cruz’s character is far too much a wild card, and this movie already has plenty of those. What we need is a character to ground the film. The closest we’re given is the minor character of a captured priest (Sam Claflin) whose storyline involving his love for a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is far too ridiculous to go into here.
McShane is cast in the mostly thankless role as the film’s villain who keeps getting upstaged by everyone else around him. He’s having some fun with the role, but he’s actually not all that important to the plot. The movie would probably work just as well without him.
The thrill is long gone out of this franchise. Although I didn’t hate this latest entry (as I did with the Dead Man’s Chest) the entire effort felt weak and tired. It might be an okay distraction for some on a hot summer day, but I’ll stick with the original. The rest of these films can rest at the bottom of Davy Jones’ locker as far as I’m concerned.