On Stranger Tides is a strong installment to the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy which ended with At World’s End. This fourth chapter to the adventures of the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow is a standalone story which deals with a new cast of characters — his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), her long lost father and the meanest pirate captain in the seven seas, Blackbeard (Ian MacShane), as well as returning familiar faces — Sparrow’s rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his first mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally). At the helm of this project is director Rob Marshall, who takes over the franchise from Gore Verbinski who directed the highly successful Pirates trilogy.
On Stranger Tides finds Jack Sparrow once again in the middle of a quest to find the Fountain of Youth which is the target of three different expeditions. The first fleet belongs to the Spaniards, who find out about the fountain because of a map provided by a castaway rescued by sailors. The second quest is helmed by Sparrow’s arch nemesis Barbossa for the British royalty and secretly to take revenge on Blackbeard, who stole the Black Pearl from him. The last ship, to which Sparrow unfortunately belongs, is under the control of Blackbeard, who seeks the powers of the fountain to prevent his death by the hands of a one legged man in a fortnight’s time.
The quest is fraught with dangers as the fountain’s magic comes with a price. There is no octopus faced ghost ship captain or a giant squid to block the journey this time. Rather, there are zombies and serpentine mermaids who hate men and prey on hapless sailors who fall for their charms and magical voices — sort of like the Sirens of Greek mythology. Adding to these obstacles, the fountain does not give endless youth unconditionally, but rather robs another person — a sacrifice — of his remaining time from which the seeker of youth benefits. And those who seek the fountain’s powers who are not aware of the ritual are also doomed — one which requires two sacred chalis, and the tear of a mermaid to access the powers of the fountain’s water.
Stranger Tides is not lacking in the swashbuckling action which was legendary in its predecessors and also lots of laughs courtesy of the witty dialogue of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow. The film also benefited from the strong dynamics among its stars. Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz complement each other very well, although most of their romantic scenes end in jest. Barbossa and Gibb were like old friends and turned up solid performances, and their rapport with Captain Jack was what gave the movie the consistency it needed with the first three films although this was a separate story. Barbossa and Sparrow always make the best reluctant partners since they know each other’s tricks so well.Their banter is always a pleasure to watch on screen.
While the beginning and the end parts were action packed, there was a slight lull at the middle of the film when it significantly slowed down and focused on betrayal, connivances and subplots and a lot of talking. And after each lull, Captain Jack spurs into action, acting like a defibrilator, giving the scenes a much needed jolt when it was needed the most. In my opinion, the movie was overly long and could have benefited from some much needed cuts towards the middle. It lasted for two and a half hours, when it might have been just as good if it stuck to the average two hours. The effects were flawless as usual but did not reach the same magnitude or grandiose as the second and third sequels with the giant whirlpool and the battle with the Kraken, and this year’s villain (Blackbeard) was neither endearing like Barbossa or amazing like Davy Jones. The difference, I think, is that there is nothing identifiable about Blackbeard. He is mean and he is selfish, and he uses his power to punish and intimidate. Never in any occasion did he connect with anyone on the film on a deeper level, aside from drawing the wrath of Barbossa.
It is no secret that the lifeblood of this franchise has always been Johnny Depp and his character Jack Sparrow, a role which only he can fill. One cannot help but love Jack Sparrow and throughout the franchise — he has proven his mettle again and again with every scrape. His resourcefulness, his presence of mind in the direst circumstance and his devil may care ways. The franchise may have come full circle with Jack and Gibb’s recovery of the Black Pearl, but who knows, the ocean is deep and vast, Jack and his crew may yet pull another quest from their butts.
On Stranger Tides suffers in comparison with the other sequels, but in consolation, it is a pretty decent standalone movie, enjoyable and entertaining, and typical Disney.