PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES
Review by Gordon Justesen
Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Kevin R. McNally, Geoffrey Rush
Director: Rob Marshall
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 136 Minutes
Release Date: October 18, 2011
“You lied to me by telling me the truth?”
“That's very good. May I use that?”
2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl remains one of the best action/adventure entertainments of the past decade. I revisit it quite often, as it has a huge re-watchable appeal to it. The movie launched one of the most unexpected and hugest movie franchises in recent history, with audiences always eager to return to the high seas with every sequel that has followed.
However, the time has come for me to firmly admit that I'm officially Pirated out. The first movie was great, the second movie (Dead Man's Chest) was very enjoyable, but the third installment (At World's End) was so bloated and way too unengaging to the point that I was pretty much ready to give up on the franchise. My initial review of that one was simply that of a mixed response, but my opinion of it has intensely lowered in the time since.
When a fourth movie was announced, I wasn't much enthusiastic. With the last movie concluding a trilogy, and that last installment being what it was, I wasn't sure if any new direction for this series could bring this franchise back on its feet. But in the end it wouldn't matter how I felt, because it was going to be a certifiable blockbuster.
And while On Stranger Tides does represent a step up in quality following the previous movie, and it has large amounts of entertainment to spare, in the end it just comes across as unnecessary. It doesn't feel so much as a progression of story as it does just a series of outlandish action sequences (none of which hold a candle to any one action scene in the first movie) driving an uninvolving plotline. There are some neat new additions to be found here, but they simply aren't enough to pull this movie out of bland sequel territory.
After successfully escaping the clutches of soldiers in London, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) learns of something even he finds strangely bizarre (think about that for a bit). An impostor has been going around and recruiting crew members and acquiring a vessel in his name. With his reputation at serious risk (what else could matter to him?), Capt. Jack sets a course to track down said impostor.
He does comes across this individual, who turns out to be a former flame named Angelica (Penelope Cruz). Her purpose for doing this was to quickly gather a crew to assist her in the pursuit of the Fountain of Youth. She then takes Jack captive, forcing him aboard the vessel known as the Queen Anne's Revenge, which happens to be ship of the diabolical pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), a cursed pirate in need of the Fountain to save his life, and Jack is believed to know its precise location, hence why he's been kidnapped to begin with.
Also thrown into the mix is Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). He has been ordered by King George to head up a British crew to battle against Blackbeard and his band of Spaniards. And we all know Barbossa is going to be thrilled beyond words once he realizes Jack is involved.
Most of the movie involves the prolonged pursuit of three distinct items needed to successfully access the Fountain upon its discovery. They are two chalices belonging to Ponce de Leon himself and a tear of a mermaid. This leads to the one moment of the movie that is certifiably awesome and took me completely by surprise.
Blackbeard's crew come across a sea of incredibly beautiful mermaids. The twist here is that these mermaids, if provoked, will go flat out medieval on some asses, which is exactly what happens here in a bloody glorious sequence that has to be seen to be believed. It's fair to say that if Ariel herself was to ever come across this footage, she'll more than likely be plenty peeved at her Disney bosses.
And the involvement of the mermaids manages to lead directly to just the very thing this movie was so in need of; a forced romantic subplot. And to make matters worse, it involves perhaps the blandest character of the movie; a young crew member named Philip (Sam Clafin), who is instantly bewitched by the angelic mermaid, Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). Having suffered through the tired romance between the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley (which wasn't so irritating until it was aggravatingly force fed to us in At World's End), why didn't the filmmakers just scrap this unneeded interruption, or for that matter focus a bit more on Capt. Jack and Angelica?
Although On Stranger Tides does offer its share of action spectacle, there seems to be a lack of energy to the proceedings. A lot of that may have to do with the fact that we have a different director for this installment in the form of Rob Marshall, director of Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha. I'm not exactly sure how those projects managed to convince the studio heads that he was capable of helming a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, but surprises are always possible in such cases.
This is Marshall's first crack at an action adventure feature, and it definitely shows. There's a major difference between his handling of this material and that of Gore Verbinski, who directed the previous three. As bad as At World's End was, Verbinski still maintained a high level of energy in the execution, which is simply lacking here.
It's always a grand pleasure to see Johnny Depp once again in one of his most signature roles as Captain Jack Sparrow, as it is Geoffrey Rush as the cackling Captain Barbossa. But even fantastic actors like Depp and Rush can only do so much when trying to save a sinking ship, and even some of the byplay between the two doesn't seem as riveting as it was in the earlier movies.
Penelope Cruz does what she can with a strangely underwritten part, though I will say her cleavage does give a rather magnificent performance. Had the movie devoted more time to her character's history with Capt. Jack, we would have had something her and Cruz would have had a bigger opportunity to shine. But Ian McShane does make a very nice addition to the cast as Blackbeard...in fact, I don't think any other actor could do the look of that character better justice.
The movie, of course, was a huge success, doing even much bigger business internationally. And reportedly, a fifth Pirates movie will soon be in the works (like all the previous movies, there is a bonus scene at the end of the credits). Let's hope that a much more engaging story surfaces, but then again it's questionable whether or not I'll care enough to check it out.
These movies have always looked extraordinarily spectacular on both DVD and Blu-ray, so it should surprise no one that this Blu-ray release from Disney is of pure top of the line quality. As far as productions go, these movies also do a mighty fine job of illustrating that every single penny of the super high budget is up on the screen at every possible turn. And in the 1080p, this large-scale production does look every bit as huge and breathtaking as you could imagine. There's a wide variety of color usage among various set pieces, and both daytime sequences and nighttime sequences (which there are much more of) look magnificent! Various effects work shows off remarkably well, in addition.
Sound-wise, the movies never disappoint on a good home theater system. So it goes without saying that the 7.1 DTS HD sound mix is bit of a showstopper! Everything from Hans Zimmer's thunderous score (overdone, but nonetheless spectacularly sounding), the countless clinging of swords, cannonball fire, rip-roaring explosions and dialogue delivery are captured in pitch-perfect form here.
At first, I was puzzled a bit as to why this release wasn't as packed with extras as the previous Pirates movies. I then realized that full treasure chest of extras were going to be featured only on the 3D Blu-ray release. I hope this doesn't become a growing trend. I hope to have a 3D TV some point in the future, but it's going to be a while.
In the meantime, we have a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack release. Extras-wise, there's a commentary track featuring director Rob Marshall and executive producer John DeLuca. There's also a viewing option called Disney Second Screen, which can allow you to view interactive content while watching the movie, but only on your iPad (what happened to just good old Picture-in-Picture presentations???). There's also a gag reel, titled “Bloopers of the Caribbean” and a Lego Animated Short titled “Jack's Brick Tales”.
The DVD bonus copy includes the blooper reel and the Lego Animated Short only.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is indeed an improvement over the disastrous previous movie. But while this is a magnificent Blu-ray presentation (one of the best of the year, as a matter of fact), and the movie does keep itself busy with action and spectacle, there simply wasn't anything new to pull me in. Then again, it just may be a case of franchise fatigue with me at this point.