It's been a while since Johnny Depp last dressed up in ridiculous clothes with tons of jewelry and put on a whack load of eyeliner. On screen that is. The highly profitable Disney franchise returns for another installment in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Question is, does this franchise warrant a fourth film or is it just piracy for movie-goers?
Bad puns aside, the answer is no, audiences didn't need another Pirates movie. But Disney and executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer couldn't let this money-making machine end at only a trilogy. On Stranger Tides starts the franchise's second trilogy, as there is promise for two more to come.
On Stranger Tides takes place a couple of years after the events of the last film, At World's End. Captain Jack Sparrow is still searching for the fountain of youth and is without his beloved ship the Black Pearl. Barbossa has lost the Pearl and is now a captain in the King's navy; also searching for the fountain. Jack pairs up with an old flame, Angelica, for her ship and her crew as she too is in a race for the fountain. Also in the race is the infamous pirate Blackbeard, another searching for the mythical fountain, and he uses Jack to help him find it.
Since At World's End killed off or closed off many of the past characters from this Disney universe new heroes and villains had to be introduced to complicate Jack Sparrow's chase for treasure. Having Penelope Cruz as Angelica, Jack's former love, was okay for certain scenes but it quickly became clear she is no action star. The biggest disappointment comes with Ian McShane's Blackbeard and his supernatural ship. Having Blackbeard and his ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, being the supposedly most feared thing in the seas completely under minded the all the stuff with Davey Jones in the last two films. Blackbeard is given zero backstory and his ship is laughable compared to The Flying Dutchman and its crew from the last two films. As for one of the few returning cast members Geoffrey Rush reprises his once iconic role of Captain Barbossa with enough makeup to make him look like he has been decomposing since the last film. Rush was arguably the best part of the original Pirates film being the ultimate undead villain but since his character's resurrection he has become a peg legged pussy cat.
The two big problems with this film are it's story and it's storytelling. Story is always an issue for sequels, especially if was never factored into the original film. Normally sequels can 'get by' with certain things like a bigger budget, new characters introduced, and different settings if there isn't much of story to tell. With all of those new additions, and having some shred of a story, if the film is presented well (meaning 'storytelling') sequels still can still work. Unfortunately, On Stranger Tides has everything going against itself having a small budget (half compared to its predecessor), no interesting new characters, few new surroundings, but above all else has no story worth telling.
Amongst all of the action and adventure the past three Pirates movies had at their centers was a love story between William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). That love story helped justify why certain characters would go on those crazy adventure rides and at times made it more exciting to watch. Since the last film pretty much ended the chances of Bloom and Knightley returning, Disney decided to pay Depp a disgusting sum of money to continue with the franchise ($55.5 million for this film alone). With all the criticism At World's End got about its poor writing, it's shocking that they would bring back the same writers for this film and not use some of Depp's paycheck to get a quality script. At World's End had the excuse that they were still writing the film as it was being made, so four years later I'm just wondering what their defense for this film is?
If you are going to see this film for some great acting by Johnny Depp you are going to get it; but that's all you are going to get. You won't see any of those trademark Bruckheimer action sequences or go on any kind of adventure ride. You won't even get more of the same, compared to the past Pirates movies. If it wasn't Depp being in this film On Stranger Tides could have landed a straight to DVD release rather than sail to Box Office records. I had to add one last bad pun, sorry.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.