With Hollywood franchises, especially something with a decade long shelf life like Pirates of the Caribbean, you’d expect its fourth installment to be all at sea. After all, there’s only so much pirate-y dialogue, swashbuckling, and rum chugging you can stomach before it’s milked dry and the gags get old.
And that is why On Stranger Tides is strangely refreshing. With a new director (Rob Marshall, who did Chicago and Memoirs of A Geisha) at the helm, it baulks doing more of the same, injecting a fair dose of plot, some great character development, and *gasp* enough adventure into this tired ship’s sails to keep it seaworthy.
Picking up where Pirates 3: At World’s End left off, 4 opens in London, with the series’ iconic pirate Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, of course) traipsing through courtrooms, swinging from chandeliers, staring down royalty (well, King George), and generally careening from disaster to disaster before he gets shanghaied into joining the crew of Blackbeard’s ship, and suborned into leading the notorious pirate to the fabled Fountain of Youth.
Of course, it’s not much of an adventure if there’s nobody else after the macguffin right? That’s why we’ve got the Spanish armada, and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, powdered wig and all) after it too, resulting in more than a few hairy moments and roguish antics.
Depp’s performance this time is no less animated than in his previous forays. Cap’n Jack is still a scoundrel through and through, though there’s also a certain maturity, and a fair bit of tension with the introduction of love interest Angelica (played by Penelope Cruz). There’s a bit of sauciness going on between the two of them, and while things don’t ever get racy (thanks to this being a Disney production), naughty things are implied, making it the cheekiest Pirates yet.
Ian McShane, who played the black hearted Blackbeard, made for an intense villain, while Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey wasn’t half bad as a mermaid with some actual lines.
The movie had its flaws, but these came in the way of choreography and the overall presentation. The swashbuckling scenes were decent, but not stellar (and in fact, it was the chase at the very beginning that only really appealed to me), and the melee scenes, whether between Blackbeard’s crew and the mermaids, or the three corner fight at the climax, were cluttered and chaotic. Rob Marshall demonstrated better control with scenes involving fewer actors though, and his framing of tight close ups proved impressive.
The score was, as usual, impressive. Hans Zimmer had a hand in it, of course, so hey, whaddya expect? The script, adapted from a novel with the same title, proved fairly pedestrian, but then again, Pirates isn’t all about script. It’s about spectacle, and that’s what it manages to deliver.
Overall, Pirates 4 proved a mostly entertaining film. It tickled my geek sensibilities, and if you’ve sat through all three Pirates movies and didn’t mind them, you’ll probably enjoy this one.
Also, if you’re starved for fantasy or period fare till Your Highness comes out next week, Pirates 4 makes for something to tide you over.