'Pirates Of The Caribbean' started off as a single, surprisingly good, film. With the addition of two poor sequels, it became an embarrassing franchise. Part 4 has a new story, mostly new characters, and barely a reference to parts 2 and 3. Clearly, it tries to distance itself from past mistakes – only it doesn’t get very far.
'On Stranger Tides' sees Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) looking for the Fountain of Youth. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) has the same idea - as do the English, the Spanish, and new villain Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Oh, and Penelope Cruz. There is no real reason for all the sudden interest in this mystical fountain - it is merely an excuse to kick-start the Caribbean Wacky Races.
On paper, this film should have worked. It features the legendary Blackbeard. There are mermaids and zombies. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are nowhere to be seen, leaving more room for Depp and Rush to antagonise each other. Despite all of this, the experience is surprisingly boring.
One of the film’s biggest problems is that it mistakes action for entertainment. Swords are unsheathed every few minutes, which leads to a gratuitous amount of swashbuckling. All of it is chaotic - none of it is memorable. There is never a sense of purpose or consequence, so there is never any tension. Boredom should never be an appropriate response to a swordfight and yet, in Pirates 4, it is inevitable.
Slapstick humour is given the same more-is-better approach as the action and becomes just as much of a farce. In one scene, for example, several characters all try to capture a glass vial and it ends up as a painfully unfunny game of Pirates Hot Potato. After eight years, relying on this sort of gag is nothing short of desperate.
Do not expect Jack Sparrow to save this film. Johnny Depp does an impressive job, as always, but strangely there is not enough his of character. The film is more about Barbossa than it is about Jack. Barbossa has always been a deeper, more interesting character, but it is nonetheless disappointing that the star of the film becomes an accessory.
Then there are the newcomers. Ian McShane is great to watch as Blackbeard. He has great presence, and is menacing enough without resorting to saying “arrrrrr”. Unfortunately, his character is severely underdeveloped. He is given no backstory and it is never explained how he possesses supernatural powers. He also doesn’t have much to do, which undermines his reputation as “the pirates that all pirates fear”.
Penelope Cruz plays Blackbeard’s daughter in an entirely pointless role. Her cleavage, the main focus of several shots, has more presence than her character. As Jack Sparrow’s old flame she has the potential to make him a deeper character, but nothing comes of this apart from a few laboured innuendos.
The mermaids are refreshingly creepy and their 10-minute segment is genuinely entertaining. Blackbeard’s ship is very impressive; it is run by voodoo and can be remote-controlled by a sword. So it’s not all bad, but when these are the film’s highlights, something is seriously wrong.
It is difficult to say if the film is any worse than parts 2 and 3, but it is certainly no better. 'On Stranger Tides' is not as fun or as epic as it tries to be, and fails to salvage this soulless wreck of a franchise. Sadly, that won’t stop Disney from trying to make another sequel. Please, don’t encourage them.
Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' is on wide release throughout UK cinemas now.