TMP Reviews: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

THE SETUP

He’s Captain Jack Sparrow.  Savvy?

Whence we left the clear waters of the Caribbean four years ago, the intrepid pirate Captain Jack Sparrow was sailing off towards the horizon in lukewarm pursuit of the nefarious Captain Barbossa who had for a third time, made off with Jack’s beloved ship, The Black Pearl.  On route to the legendary Fountain of Youth, audiences were left to wonder on the fate of Jack and his fellow miscreants.

Having caught up with the last remaining pirate menace, Jack, bereft of ship, crew, and fortunes finds himself suddenly caught between the machinations of the newly privatized Captain Barbossa, former flame Angelica, and her infamously evil father Edward Teach, a.k.a. Blackbeard.

Now in a mad race for the Fountain of Youth, swords and fates will come to bear as England, Spain, and the Pirates clash head on over the greatest power in the known world; the ability to live forever.

Cast: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Gemma Ward, Judy Dench

Written by: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Tim Powers

Directed: Rob Marshall

THE GOOD

Any grumblings that ever existed regarding the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise should be put to rest immediately.  Stepping into the large shoes left by Gore Verbinski, director Rob Marshall is astounding, bringing incredible energy, wit, humor, and action to this newest venture on the high seas.

Many feared that the movie would collapse under the weight of its own presumption but such is not the case.  The film immediately feels just like what it posits: a fresh new adventure for the characters we have grown to love since we first met them in 2003.  Brilliantly directed, Marshall combines his love of fast paced action and deft choreography to bring even more to the series.

Of terrific note is the pulse-pounding action.  Marshall opts to avoid the commonplace ship-to-ship combat for more intricate face-to-face showdowns.  Swords sing with a deadly precision that was not seen in the previous entries.  Chase scenes, from the cobblestone streets of London to the sandy shores of long-lost isles are fantastically constructed, chock full of sharp improvisation and gut-busting humor.

On that note, the laughs are also stepped up to the next level.  Under the studious direction of Marshall, the deftly capable cast delivers non-stop laughs that are both inspired and balanced, never becoming forced or untimely.

And what can be said of the cast themselves?  The usual suspects are all here, bringing every ounce of their prowess to their roles.  Depp and Rush are fantastic, combining every original facet of their characters with the new pathos brought on by the years since the fall of Davy Jones. Depp’s increased fight prowess is fantastically displayed.  When improvisation and ingenuity won’t get the job done, we finally get to see just how impressively capable Sparrow is when he stands his ground.

Also of note is how profoundly awesome Rush is as Barbossa: The Loyal Privateer, now humbled and handicapped.  You can practically taste the seething contempt he holds underneath that powdered wig.  And don’t let that leg fool you.  The mutinous Captain hasn’t lost any of his previous edge, in fact, he’s honed it down even sharper.

Like the Al Swearengen of the sea (sans the prolific cursing) franchise newcomer Ian McShane brings every ounce his usual darkness to the role of Blackbeard and it serves him well, as his evil goes beyond motive or reason.  He simply kills as he desires without remorse or pity.  Truly scary is the villain that does not fumble with the impractical emotions behind his evil deeds.

Also look for one of the most hysterical Dame Judi Dench cameos I’ve ever seen.

The astounding visuals of the film also deserve mention.  But despite the brilliant sea vistas, the incredible power of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and the breathtakingly reconstructed 1750 London, it is the lovely mermaids that take the prize.

As nerve-jangling as the cursed crew of the Flying Dutchman were, the mermaids are awe-striking in their sheer beauty, presence, and terror.  Streaking through the sea with a splendid moonlit grace, striking with viscous precision, dragging their prey to the murky depths to feed, these are the sirens of legend, luring sailors to their gruesome deaths with their seductive and sultry song.

And while newcomer Astrid Berges-Frisbey shines as the mermaid Syrena, it is the collective group that truly stands out.

Capping everything off is yet another amazing score by Hans Zimmer as he brings more gravity and edginess to the original Pirates scoring.  Every scene is given its appropriate musical companion which never overbears nor abandons the moments at hand.  Classic Zimmer at its best.


THE BAD

Unfortunately, there are some missteps in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and even all the incredible aspects of the film can’t overshadow the few glaring mistakes pockmarking the story like a pirate’s scraggly face.

Firstly, is the incredible underuse of Ian McShane.  A phenomenal actor capable of both captivating and terrifying audiences, it is a shame to see such a brilliantly designed Blackbeard go to such waste.  McShane makes an impressive splash when he appears the reports of his death at the hands of the English armada greatly exaggerated.

The legendary pirate manifests everything we’ve ever learned in history books (smoking beard and all) and commands supernatural powers that would make the cursed crew of The Black Pearl’s bones rattle in fear.  But soon after his arrival he is sadly leashed, never truly rising to the villainous heights we so anticipated.  The performance left me desperately wanting more, which may be the entire point Marshall was desiring to make, and considering how the film ends, we may not have seen the last of the nefarious Blackbeard.

The largest weak point however is Blackbeard’s treacherous daughter Angelica, portrayed by the usually strong Penelope Cruz.  It has become widespread knowledge the Cruz was pregnant during filming and that as her condition steadily progressed it caused severe difficulties for the crew.  This however should in no way be an excuse for the lackluster and often phoned-in performance given.  Whether disinterested with the part, fatigued by her pregnancy, or just plain unprepared for the role, Cruz was seriously miscast and hopefully we will have seen the last of her with the end of the credits.

Also detracting slightly from the film is the loss of series regulars Lee Arenburg, Mackenzie Crook, David Bailey, and Martin Klebba as crewmates Pintel, Ragetti, Cotton, and Marty respectively.  Their combined energy was sorely missed and ill-replaced by the press-ganged and zombified crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

Lastly is the completely unnecessary use of 3-D.  While it may have worked for Avatar and Resident Evil: Afterlife and the Disney/Bruckheimer intros are fantastic in 3-D, the film itself only has some sparse moments when the innovation works to its advantage.  Most of the time though, I barely noticed it.

THE SCORECARD

Acting: Despite the severe underuse of McShane and the terrible miscasting of Cruz, everyone is in fine form bringing everything they’ve got to their respective roles.  Pure entertainment at it’s finest.

Directing: Marshall shows he’s got what it takes to bring as much excitement and energy to the high seas as he does the musical theater.  Top notch, a true feather in his cap and I can’t wait for the next one.

Writing: A solid script greatly inspired by the 1988 pirate novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, the dialogue is witty, intriguing, and captivating.  Despite some mysteries remaining unanswered (We still don’t know what the X below Jack’s right eye means), some questions are answered and it’s enough to sate the appetites of viewers and spark theories on the next installment.

Sound: Scoring and sound editing are pitch perfect.  This is how sword and fist fights are meant to be captured.  Zimmer outdoes himself once again.

Visuals: While every visual aspect of the film is great and in spite of the forgettable 3-D, it’s the mermaids that steal the show.  You could see it just for them.  Captivating and enthralling.

OVERALL

A must see for anyone who enjoyed the first three Pirates films and for anyone interested in what Rob Marshall brings to the table after the departure of Verbinski.  Depp, Rush, McNally, McShane, and all their cohorts breathe excitement, energy, intrigue, and action into every frame.

I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides 8.5 out of 10.

-Jarod