Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Disney) is proof that even in this era of franchise films, CGI effects and $200 million budgets, star power counts. In the diminishing returns of this waterlogged series of films based on a theme park attraction, it’s Johnny Depp and his surefooted portrayal of punch-drunk pirate knave Captain Jack Sparrow that keeps the course.
Much of the original crew jumped ship before this installment and Gore Verbinski surrenders the helm to director Rob Marshall, who stages slapstick like dance choreography and action like a theme park ride. Which I guess is appropriate, but about as engaging as the soggy romantic stand-ins for Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom: Sam Claflin, as a missionary of a sailor, and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, as a captured mermaid (in this film, they are more ferocious mythological harpies than Disney damsels), are young and pretty but hardly make an impression. Geoffrey Rush tries to single-handedly make up for them with his trademark scenery chewing bluster (which, in this case, is welcome) and Ian McShane spins his dark charm as Blackbeard, while Penélope Cruz brings the hot sauce as the tempestuous love interest for Jack while they search for the Fountain of Youth. Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, that’s the goal this time. Like it matters.
“It does, I have to admit, tend to bog down in the seemingly infinite twists and bits of business leading up to the climax, and movie-overfed-critic types are likely to fondly recall the better movies, including “I Walked With a Zombie” and “The Princess Bride,” that this draws inspiration from,” confesses MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who gives the film more of a pass than I do. “(T)he “Pirates” movies have, from the beginning, tended to be bloated, overdetermined, noisy and nonsensical…. But I myself think that kind of misses the point. For as logy and simultaneously action-packed and incoherent the “Pirates” movies are as cinematic stories, they are in fact very effective and welcome movie environments.”
Then again, Kenny saw the film in the theater in 3D, where the big screen spectacle and crazy details are better able to distract from the lack of story or logic or character. Shrink it down to home theater, even on a generous screen, and the environment just becomes a backdrop, and an awfully busy one at that.