Pirates Drown in High ‘Tides’
“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”
Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane
Directed by Rob Marshall
How is it possible that a movie can make more than a billion dollars worldwide, even after getting slammed with bad reviews from film critics and poor word-of-mouth from moviegoers? Unfortunately, it happens all the time in Hollywood, as the major studios spend hundreds of millions of dollars producing and marketing popcorn-minded “event” films during the warm summer months that people feel like they have to see no matter what.
How else to explain the success of the second installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise, “Dead Man’s Chest,” which grossed $1.07 billion over the summer of 2006, despite the fact that it received a mediocre 54% approval rating from critics on the popular movie review database Rotten Tomatoes? Its follow-up, 2007’s “At World’s End,” fared even worse with just 45% from critics, yet it still grossed a whopping $958 million worldwide.
Perhaps sensing this backlash – especially after the 2003 original, “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” got better reviews than a movie based on a Disney theme park ride had any right to get (Rotten Tomatoes rating: 78%) – the filmmakers decided to batten down the hatches in an effort to make the series fresh, fun and exciting again. But despite the presence of a different director at the helm and new cast members on deck, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” still sails into the same choppy waters that marred its two muddled predecessors.
Since the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley disembarked from the series after the last adventure, “On Stranger Tides” focuses squarely on Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow as he searches for the mythic Fountain of Youth. But with a feisty female pirate named Angelica (Penelope Cruz), her evil father Blackbeard (Ian McShane), and an army of killer mermaids standing in his way, Sparrow has no choice but to team up with his former nemesis, Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), if he wants to live to pirate another day.
With Gore Verbinski bowing out from “On Stranger Tides” after directing the first three “Pirates” installments, Disney stood to benefit from having a new director reinvigorate the series. Enter Rob Marshall, who directed 2002’s Oscar-winning musical “Chicago,” and whose choreography background should have served him well during the fight scenes. But if you’ve seen one swordfight, you’ve seen them all, and the convoluted screenplay (written by series writers Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) makes the whole overlong affair feel like more of the same.
At least Johnny Depp is never dull, thanks to his highly entertaining performance as the swashbuckling Captain Jack Sparrow – the role that got him his first Oscar nomination (in the 2003 original). But the screenplay is so dense that Penelope Cruz feels underutilized as the pirate with whom Depp’s character has a romantic history, Ian McShane fails to turn his deadly Blackbeard into a fully realized villain and the love story between a missionary and a mermaid (played by newcomers Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey, respectively) barely registers at all.
The last act bears more than passing resemblance to 1989’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” and more often than not, the movie is shot so dark that the 3-D effect is rendered ineffective. So the odds are that “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” will meet with the same poor critical reception that greeted its two predecessors, but it also means that it will probably make another killing at the worldwide box office (thereby ensuring “Pirates 5”). But that shouldn’t come as a surprise – after all, it happens all the time in Hollywood.
Verdict: SKIP IT!
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