Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Directed by Rob Marshall
Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from Pirates 4. I mean what could they possibly squeeze out of a Disneyland attraction that’s been ridden one too many times already? Oh yeah, that’s right, sorry, I forgot… money. I regret having to take such a cynical view but it is the sad reality. The Pirates franchise stopped being about entertaining the audience as soon as the end credits of the first film rolled. They should have left it there. Captain Jack should have been allowed to sail into the sunset on the Black Pearl and the studios could have been content with having uncovered a rare treasure in the action adventure genre.
That’s the trouble with rare treasures. Because they’re new and exciting, and rare, everyone wants a piece. And because everyone wants a piece, it has to be distributed in increasingly stingy and unsustaining amounts. As a result, by the time the opening credits of On Stranger Tides sailed by, the story and the familiar characters that drag it miserably to its inevitable finish, had long since begun to wear thin and now seemed a bit inadequate and, dare we say it, at times rather useless. As Bilbo said to Gandalf when he fancied a well earned rest from hobbitting, “I feel thin. Liked butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.”
More than once during On Stranger Tides I was wishing Captain Jack had followed old Bilbo’s example and retired his cheeky smile and irreverent mumblings and just found a beach somewhere… “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum” and all that. But literally within two minutes of the opening sequence I was practically mouthing along to Jack and Gibb’s not so witty and predictable banter, unable to stop thinking about just how clean they both looked for a couple of filthy pirates and how rehearsed and “actory” it all felt. An obligatory swig of a token character prop here, a laboured encore of the same old dialogue there. Come on lads, you’re better than that!
You can’t really blame the cast for getting involved again. A formula that proved so successful first time round could hardly be a bad investment. The fans like it, right? And if the fans like it the studios like it. So, everybody’s happy. Well, not really. Pandering to fans of an existing franchise on the basis of its former glory is a nasty habit that Hollywood just can’t seem to kick, and perhaps doesn’t want to. It was always going to end in tears. It’s difficult to argue with the opening weekend box office for On Stranger Tides (but I’ll give it a whirl anyway). A cool US$90,000,000… shiver me timbers! But like the Aztec gold of the first film, this treasure could prove to come attached with a curse that only Hollywood could be foolish enough to ignore.
The plot? It doesn’t really matter at this stage does it? You didn’t pay for a cunning and imaginative plot, did you? Turn back. You’re on a fool’s errand. You could almost write the plot yourself and the result would probably still be the same. You do, however, get to see some old favourites sparring with each other and a few new additions spooning out the same old clichés. The Quest this time round is an ill-fated search for the fountain of Youth, which Capt’n Jack was mumbling about at the end of At World’s End. Old favourite Barbossa – a brilliant but ever so slightly bored looking Geoffrey Rush – take sides with the English, playing navigator to the King’s navy who are bent (‘as bent as ever, hellishly so!’) on finding the fabled fountain of youth before the Spanish (because seemingly the two great nations had nothing better to do in those days).
Along the way Jack comes across an old flame, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), daughter of notorious pirate Blackbeard (a fabulous though criminally misused Ian McShane, who casts the imposing shadow of the long john silver character from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island over the film) and a good-looking clergyman (Sam Claflin), who renounces his vocation to the celibate life as soon as he meets and falls in love with the first Mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) he bumps into. As you do.
Like the bloated leviathan that features in the second film, The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has one too many attachments protruding violently from its monstrous belly. Any of the good still intact from the first film has long since been made to walk the plank, just off the shore of a deserted island, left with only a pistol and a single shot. You do the math. I know what I’d do. I’d put it out of its misery.
Ronan Wright blogs about films from Belfast at Filmplicity.