Good grief. Another one?
Walt Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer have unleashed their fourth entry in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. What has this bloated amusement park ride-based series wrought? Originally a refreshing spin on the swashbuckler genre when the first in the series, “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” sailing into summer waters back in 2003. Gore Verbinski, at the director’s helm steering the first three films, is gone by mutinous delight (landing successfully with his first animated entry “Rango” a few months ago), and Rob Marshall, he of “Chicago” fame, is now behind the wheel. Even though his freshman and sophomore efforts (2005’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” and 2009’s “Nine”) failed to ignite at the box office, there was hope that his distinctive style might lift the waterlogged series into less muddy waters than where it lay when the third installment “At World’s End” landed with a critical thud four years ago. Affectionately called “At Wit’s End,” by critics and other detractors, it didn’t matter to the filmgoing public eager to gobble up Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow and his merry pranksters in their continuing series of pirate pratfalls and lunatic escapades. And so it’s happening again.
I could tell you not to see it (I won’t as you might like it better than I did), and frankly, with all these movies, associated video games, and gazillion assorted tie-ins generating mega-billions in income, my review will not affect the film’s expected blockbuster status. In fact, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” has already sailed into international water with a huge $18.5 opening-day gross in 10 markets, including a record-setting $5 million in Russia.
Oh, yes, I really wanted to like the new film. In truth, it’s not a bad as the last one. There may be enough fun for most of the crowd, but I was looking for more laugh-inducing humor rather than groan-producing dialogue. The more I remember the first film, the greater my belief that there was more ‘funny’ in that movie than in the three sequels combined.
And, to better to part with your doubloons, Disney is breaking the film out on over 4,100 screens here in the U.S. for saturation on every corner. Now in 3-D and in Ay-Ay-Max, too, for a few bucks more.
Depp is back as the black eye-linered rapscallion who gets in all sorts of trouble. At the end of volume 3 we knew Jack was seeking out the Fountain of Youth, and that is exactly where he heads now, racing for the finish line with teams from the Spanish Royalty, the British throne, and an assortment of pirates. Row, Jack, Row!
Geoffrey Rush (Barbossa, now peg legged) and Kevin McNally (Gibbs, with a more sizeable share of the story pie) return, as does Keith Richards in another cameo as Jack’s dad. While Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly have been jettisoned, their replacements include the terrific Ian “Deadwood” McShane as the dastardly Blackbeard and Penélope Cruz (one of Marshall’s stars from his last film) as his first mate and presumed daughter. And yes, that is Judi Dench onto whose lap Depp lands during one of his many too-familiar escapes.
As for the story, it is simplified, but still overblown. After the opening reel’s stressed game show play of “Will the Real Jack Sparrow Please Stand Up,” amid much swordplay, barrel-jumping, donut-munching, and scene-mugging, the show moves to the unruly sea, as all parties follow partial clues moving the action hither and yon. Mermaids, beautiful and dangerous, are lured into the action—a tear drop is needed for unleashing the power of that miraculous fountain—and one persecuted man of god (the pretty Sam Claflin) goes goo-goo eyed for an exotic piece of half-fish tail named Serena (Astrid Berges-Frisby).
Mercifully the running time is down to just over two hours, but the mayhem is just crammed into the shortened running time, with little room for refreshment. On the night they previewed the film here in Washington DC, two sets of pirates lost out. Our local baseball team defeated the Pittsburgh variety at nearby Nationals Park, and at the event I was attending, another nearly lifeless group was being tossed into the waters of mirthless conformity.
I should have gone to the game.