Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The first Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl, was an epic example of pirates' swashbuckling adventures like the world hath never seen. The sequel, Dead Man's Chest, was a passable attempt at a sequel, but inferior to the first. And the less said about the mess that was At World's End, the better. Such is the downward trend that you might view the fourth as means for milking the series for everything it's worth. And you'd be right to harbour such suspicions because, to a great extent, it is.

On Stranger Tides begins in London, where Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp, durr) learns of an imposter claiming to be him in order to raise a crew in search for the Fountain of Youth. When mad King George gets whiff that the Spanish might beat the British to the Fountain, he calls upon Captain Barbossa (Rush), now a privateer in payment of the King, to get there first. Cue a race between the Spanish, British, Blackbeard (McShane) and Sparrow's old flame Angelica (Cruz) for eternal life.

There is a noticeable difference in style and tone to Pirates with the change of director. Out goes Gore Verbinski and in comes Rob Marshall, best known perhaps for Memoires of a Geisha. The other big changes are the omissions of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly. In come Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey. There's certainly something to be said for letting in some fresh air to the franchise, but unfortunately Claflin and Berges-Frisbey are ponderous characters and add nothing to the film. Their whole love story dynamic is incredibly cringeworthy and at times, painful to watch, serving no purpose other than to perpetuate their own existence. Neither does it pose even the slightest curiosity as a side-story arc.

The film's other romantic theme, that between Sparrow and Angelica is equally unengaging, never really giving the sense of any romantic tension. That is not to say that either is particularly bad in this film - you get what you expect from Depp - and yet there's an unshakable feeling that the Jack Sparrow character is looking a little tired this time round. Lovejoy's Ian McShane is a refreshing new villain as Blackbeard and is played with some zeal, but there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the character. This is a typical problem throughout, with many things going unanswered in Pirates 4. The Chekhov's gun device is introduced time and again, but is continuously and frustratingly broken. For example, we are introduced to the fact that Blackbeard's ship has a fuck-off flamethrower, but it is never used for anything pertaining to the plot at large. Likewise, it appears that Blackbeard has some sort of magical powers, although we're never told exactly what and how he came to possess them. Also, why are there zombie pirates, generally?

Marshall's background in musical movies can sometimes shine through in arguably over-choreographed and contrived action sequences, but they are nonetheless still spectacular. A chase through 18th Century London, a sword fight in a brewery and the best of the lot, a mermaid attack, are all awesome spectacles. Forget any notions of The Little Mermaid, these water nymphs are fishous (ah hum). One of the biggest disappointments however is how much of On Stranger Tides is in 3D. If you were to remove your glasses you would frequently see the film in standard definition. It's a bit of a shame to think that things could have looked that much more awesome.

Despite the negatives, of which there are many, at least On Stranger Tides is not as long and convoluted as parts two and three. While it makes for a more streamlined experience, it is still not a patch on the first Pirates. Depp looks almost tired of his character and it is, overall, an incredibly dull film. Unfortunately the franchise looks more than ready to capsize and it might be best for Disney to say bon voyage.