I've always considered the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise as something of a freak phenomena in the world of cinema. I honestly don't think Disney ever envisaged the original instalment to do half as well as it did - without Johnny Depp it probably wouldn't of. So when it came to its sequels, in an almost Michael Bay fashion, they decided to take everything that was great about the fun, family, adventure film and transform it into an over-the-top, explosive, sprawling trilogy with questionable results. Yet despite the second and third film's many many failings, they still earned enough money for Disney to return for a fourth time with Johnny Depp's most entertaining, mainstream, role lighting up cinema screens once again in the form of Captain Jack Sparrow.
On Stranger Tides leads on from the closing moments of the third film - At World's End - with Jack Sparrow still bent on discovering the mythical Fountain of Youth. Through this he becomes entangled in political tensions between the British and the Spanish, an ex-flame (Penelope Cruz) and her infamous father, Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and once again going toe to toe with his former nemesis/friend/shipmate, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).
There's something truly unhealthy about watching a POTC film, but like everything that isn't good for you, you always keep coming back for more. I may be in a minority, amongst the critiquing fraternity when saying this, but despite its imperfections, I always seem to be filled with this unrivalled joy when watching Johnny Depp be let loose as Jack Sparrow, never really knowing what he might do next, especially when the iconic theme written by Hans Zimmer comes blasting out of nowhere. For the most part of On Stranger Tides this is once again true, though I do feel the writers of the films haven't done a terribly good job of progressing his character along since the opening scenes of the first film.
Whereas the film focused on Sparrow's enduring quest, this came at the heavy price of misusing the utterly fantastic supporting cast Rob Marshall had at his disposal. If you're going to draft in the brilliant Ian McShane for the villainous role of Blackbeard, you should really stretch him to his limits. Let him delve into the darkness he discovered while filming Deadwood. In POTC4, I just got the impression he was a disgruntled old pirate, with a ship he could control with his mind - which makes you wonder why there was any need for a crew? Likewise Geoffrey Rush didn't get a chance to truly shine, the way he did in the first and third films and got very little screen-time with Depp, cheating the audience out of some genuinely witty exchanges.
Penelope Cruz was another delightful addition to the cast for me, and some of her scenes with Depp were amongst the few highlights of the film itself. Whereas their strained relationship would've been enough of a love story for one already packed film yet again the writers decided, even in the absence of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, to write in similar characters in exactly like them. No offence to Sam Clafin or Astrid Berges-Frisby but their whole subplot just wasn't believable, movingly remarkable or at all needed.
It's these meandering sub-plots in the POTC films which really made the last two instalments suffer greatly. It's a shame with On Stranger Tides that the film-makers didn't learn from these mistakes. In lesser hands, as on show, silly plot holes start to surface, in a film which just needed to be fun and simple. Not every summer blockbuster has to be like it's directed by Christopher Nolan. The Dark Knight or Inception, this is indeed not. Nor should it be.
I'm a fan of Rob Marshall's work, I really am - Nine and Chicago are guilty pleasures of mine I won't lie. However it's with him and his team - not the actors - which is why this film failed greatly for me. It could've easily have done with shaving off at least another 30 minutes - numb arses anyone?
Once again the film was another example of when not to use 3D - parents tell me honestly, would your children wear those glasses, while sitting still for two and a half hours? Also, I understand having zombie pirates and vampire-esque mermaids may be in vogue at the minute, but it was truly quite a silly addition to an already baffling movie. At least the fantastic score from Zimmer was still ever present...
Johnny Depp being on form as Jack Sparrow just wasn't enough to save Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides from being the first (of many I'm sure) flop of the blockbuster season. Fun performances from the excellent supporting cast aside, the latest film of the freak franchise falls at the same hurdles as its predecessors, lacking any real balance, direction or an acceptable running time. The sad thing is, if Disney make a fifth, I know I'll be the first in the queue waiting for Jack Sparrow to entertain me once again. Maybe by then I'll have entered rehab...
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is in cinemas everywhere now.