Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) Review

There's a rule that the second part of a trilogy is generally the bad one of the litter.

After the huge success of the first film, parts two and three were conceived and shot simultaneously. Pirates of the Caribbean 2 was a complete mutt.

Too long, too muddled, far too in love with its own characters to actually give them anything to do, and hamstrung by a notoriously abrupt ending that did nothing but remind the punters that they would have to cough up for another ticket in a year's time.

But the series redeemed itself mightily with the more-or-less terrific Part 3, At World's End. Not that the film was any less muddled or self-satisfied, but it did have something that could pass for a plot if you squinted at it in a flattering light, and the look of the thing was just astonishing.

The scenes of Captain Jack's ship marooned in an endless white-hot desert had a surreal gorgeousness about them that was miles ahead of anything you might normally expect to find in an essentially daft and pointless franchise film.

So much for the trilogy then. A strong opening, an irritatingly cynical and ill-thought-through second act, and a big finish to send us home wide-eyed and happy. That is the natural order.

What you don't do, under any circumstances, is wait a couple of years after your series has finished, then bash out a cut-price, bargain basement "part four" just because you figure it'll make another pile of money, and you don't have the imagination or moxy to find another script that actually is worth making.

Taking over from Gore Verbinski, director Rob Marshall - working with a smaller budget and a leaner shooting schedule - maybe thought himself hamstrung from the start.

But Marshall still had $200 million to spend, which seems like an obscene amount of money to have to make a pirate movie that doesn't feature one single sea battle. Nope, not one.

In fact, there is barely a cannon fired in anger from first frame to last. What we get in place of excitement and spectacle, is a lot of unfunny dialogue, a hopelessly convoluted script, a couple of decent sword fights, and an odd setpiece featuring a school of ravenous mermaids.

Johnny Depp is in every scene, of course, but even knowing he's being paid $50 million can't put the bounce in Depp's step. This Captain Jack just hasn't got the glee and the fireworks of his last incarnations.

Next to Depp, Geoffrey Rush - who usually appears hellishly delighted just to be alive and working - mumbles his way through a couple of scenes with about half his usual gusto and menace, while newcomer Penelope Cruz does her best to lift the energy.

She is fighting a losing battle against a script that can't generate any tension, and a couple of co-stars who look like they're way past caring.

Ian McShane does a lot better with his scenery-chewing Blackbeard, but tentacle-faced Bill Nighy's Davy Jones is still sadly missed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a mess of a film. A lazily generic cut and paste "quest for the fountain of youth" screenplay doesn't give the film-makers any chances to cut loose and have fun with their millions.

And even if they could, Marshall - whose last film was the disjointed musical Nine - hasn't any of the flair and anarchy that Verbinski threw at the screen.

This is stodgy direction, without any flourish or swagger, in the service of a film with nothing on its mind but pulling in the most money for the least expended effort.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Director: Rob Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Penelope Cruz
Rating: M
Time: 137 minutes


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