Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Just when you thought Johnny Depp couldn’t get any stranger. I mean, the tides. All right, yeah, they’re both stranger.

Just when you thought Johnny Depp couldn’t get any stranger. I mean, the tides. All right, yeah, they’re both stranger.

Last reviewed by me in Alice in Wonderland, Johnny Depp has been getting stranger by the movie. With the possible exception of Sweeney Todd, I don’t think I’ve truly enjoyed watching Johnny Depp since Sleepy Hollow. He’s been more and more a caricature of himself ever since, and I fear he will soon go the way of Christopher Walken. But he can still make a living playing Captain Jack Sparrow, at least for a while, I imagine — this is the fourth in the series, and though I have to say that the rest of the audience seemed mostly bored, the general buzz looks to be more than enough to fuel movie number five. On the other hand, I hear Depp said he signed on before the script was even written. I suppose he’s lucky it wasn’t worse.

If you like Johnny Depp, or cartoonish violence, you’re all set. I saw the first film, and I think most of the second, but I don’t really remember them. I suspect the level of cartoonish violence has risen tremendously, though. There are also plenty of new characters, some of whom are also supposed to be old characters. Angelica, for instance. She’s played by Penélope Cruz of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and though Jack Sparrow recognizes her right away, the character is new. He seduced her between movies or something. She’s disguised as him to start with, which was about the most fun part of the movie. It was probably hard for her to pull off walking as effeminately as Johnny Depp does.

Barbossa is back, of course, though minus a leg. He’s played by Geoffrey Rush of The King’s Speech, and I can hardly believe one actor was in both these films. Having turned privateer under King George II — a common thing for pirates to do in those days — he’s been asked to claim the Fountain of Youth for England, mainly so the Spanish won’t get it. The Spanish think it’s already theirs by virtue of Ponce de Leon being the first person to die while out hunting for it and send a crew to secure their rights. And Jack Sparrow, also between movies, has become obsessed with finding the Fountain of Youth just because. He never really says why and also never really seems interested in taking advantage of its offering of eternal youth, so I think that’s what we call a plot hole.

Also hunting for the fountain is Blackbeard (Ian McShane, the voice of Captain Hook in Shrek the Third — he just loves those piratey roles — but more famously to me as not-quite-legit antiques dealer Lovejoy in the British TV series of the same name). Now, Blackbeard died in 1718. The trivia section of imdb claims that the film was supposed to be set in 1750, and this would roughly match the age of Richard Griffiths (Vernon Dursley of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), who plays the king. The movie never says which George he is — one poor guy gets shot just before he can mention the number — but George II is the general assumption around the net. It can’t have been George I, anyway, since he never bothered to learn English. Anyway, Blackbeard says himself that he’s rumored to be dead, though lying low for 32 years seems a bit much. The point is, he looks fantastic for a dead pirate of 70, so he hardly seems to need a Fountain of Youth.

There’s also a priest, Philip (Sam Claflin), who doesn’t get a name until almost the end of the flick and has no real reason for being there except to act like the hero of a fantasy-pirate romance novel. There’s also a mermaid, Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who’s along for the hunt (reluctantly) because the Fountain of Youth requires the tear of a mermaid to work. Mermaids are, well, more like piranha than anything else in this movie.

Kevin McNally is back, still making his living as put-upon first mate Joshamee Gibbs, and Keith Richards shows up as Jack Sparrow from the future. I mean, Jack Sparrow’s father. Talk about a family resemblance. Stephen Graham (the reluctant guide Hagamar from Season of the Witch) is reluctant Blackbeard crew member Scrum, and there might have been other returning characters that I missed completely. There were a lot of people, and at one point or another, just about all of them tried to kill all the rest of them.

Two and three-quarters out of five. I know, everyone else is rating it higher, I imagine, but I can’t in good conscience give more than that. I thought I’d at least enjoy the fight scenes, but there were too many of them and they just got too weird. The tiny subplot with the priest and the mermaid was interesting when it wasn’t seeming too much like a Harlequin romance, but it was also, well, only a tiny subplot. There was just no one for me to cheer for and nothing of much fascination for me, though the scenery was gorgeous. That’s still not much of a recommendation, though, I know.

Disney, however, with it’s usual luck, has somehow managed to finagle the best publicity ever; just about the time the movie opened, researchers in North Carolina announced they were going to try to bring up the anchor from Blackbeard’s former flagship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. This is why, as Carl Hiassen wrote, Team Rodent Devours the World.