When they announced that Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 would be made back to back and that would complete the story arch and bring a close to the franchise, it seemed like a good idea.
Then there was the dreaded news that the film franchise would be revived and Johnny Depp would be donning his hat and boots once again for a fourth installment. This dread was tempered by the fact that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley would not be returning. Great news, but after finding themselves a peg leg, the producers resorted to shooting themselves in the other foot, they replaced Knightley with Penelope Cruz.
At the beginning you can see the director trying to emulate the opening of the first film, the grand appearance of Johnny Depp on a boat that was sinking only for him to step right off the mast and onto dry land, the perfect metaphor that would foreshadow the journey of Capt. Jack Sparrow.
Unfortunately it doesn’t quite come off in On Stranger Tides. It feels forced and although Johnny Depp does his best to make the most out of what is given to him, it falls way short of the previous films. Never let it be said it is Johnny Depp who has carried the franchise and it’s the same story here.
Despite being lumbered with Penelope Cruz, who has the charisma of a damp rag used by a deck hand, Johnny Depp does a good job. But every scene that he shares with Ms Cruz feels out of step. Cruz is a fish out of water and there is a serious lack of chemistry.
Someone who can stand toe to toe with Johnny Depp is Geoffrey Rush, who once again returns as Captain Barbossa. The two have an effortless on screen chemistry, that despite being presented with some sub standard stock situations they eek best out of them and bring some much needed energy and relief.
The big surprise though has to be Blackbeard played by Ian McShane. Once again the writing lets him down but like Depp and Rush, McShane takes the ship by the rudder and makes a good fist of it. He plays the perfect outlaw of the oceans, a flagrant disregard for any morality, willing to sacrifice the life of his own daughter to save his. All encapsulated in his quest for the fountain of youth.
The fountain of youth is what the plot is conceived around. Capt. Jack Sparrow says “It is not the destination so much as the journey,” and this is where the films biggest let down is. The first film had a brilliant plot that had naturally flowing sub plots, a great formula for a scally-wag double cross pirate film. This film tries the same, but this time the central storyline, the quest for the fountain of youth is just too weak that it renders the sub plots useless.
Aside from the narcissistic quest of Blackbeard, you’re left wondering why the others are even involved in the film. The Spanish go to all the trouble to find the fountain of youth only to destroy it because it’s a monument to paganism? Barbossa and Depp are trying to get back the Black Pearl which is bottled up by Blackbeard and Cruz is just there.
In a nutshell the film is fun thanks in a large part thanks to Johnny Depp. When he is given a proper foil to work off; the film shows glimpses of brilliance evident in the first. We see a lot of action sequences and fancy effects akin to the previous two films, but this film falls way short of the first and struggles to match the standards of the second and third as well.