Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides came out a month ago, but it already feels like it's been much longer, what with the weekly onslaught of expensive and high profile movies that have followed. Our last visit with the Disney franchise was 2007's bloated and confusing POTC: At World's End, which creatively suggested the series had run its course and had a ridiculous running time of just under three hours. Financial success, however, trumps a mere artistic misstep, as that film made just south of a billion dollars worldwide during its theatrical release. Another go round was a no-brainer, as long as star Johnny Depp was up for it (and Disney probably would have found a way to do another one even if Depp had declined to participate). The booty haul for On Stranger Tides after just four weeks? A mere $900,000 worldwide so far, including the biggest international opening for a movie ever.
A dramatic reworking of the cast finds previous stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly out, with their camera time being replaced by Ian McShane (as Blackbeard) and Penélope Cruz (who plays Angelica, his daughter). McShane is perfectly cast and does a serviceable job with the thin material he has to work with that allows him to pull from his "chew the scenery" playbook. Cruz is fairly forgettable, and there's a surprising lack of chemistry between her and Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow character (the characters have a rocky romantic history and demonstrate a half-hearted flirtation over the course of the film). Geoffrey Rush's Barbossa character makes a return as well, although with Blackbeard now playing the story's heavy it reduces Barbossa to being an ally of former enemy Sparrow, which significantly dulls the edges of the character.
The plot is less muddled than those from the second and third movies in the series, which Depp admitted were overly complicated in an interview from the May 23rd issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine. In it, he relates a conversation he had with Gore Verbinski, the films' director, about one of the fuzzy storylines, where he tells Verbinski that he doesn't understand what part of the script means. This provokes the response, "Neither do I, but let's just shoot it". On Stranger Tides may be a little more concise in the story department, but it still feels half-baked. The adventure this time around involves a search for the fabled Fountain Of Youth, with all parties taking whatever means necessary (including double crossing and backstabbing each other) to reach their destination first. The plot's central focus sets up the best line of the movie from Keith Richards (making another cameo as Sparrow's father), who rhetorically asks his son, "Does this face look like it's found the Fountain Of Youth?".
The technical aspects of the movie are, expectedly, top notch. Hell, for an estimated production budget of $250 million the filmmakers better at least get that part of the movie right. Director Rob Marshall, taking over for Verbinski, is no stranger to helming big, flashy movies - he directed Chicago and Nine. One of the new wrinkles here is that the film was shot in 3-D, which produces some occasional moments where the effect works decently enough, although usually it's of the "sword coming towards the lens" variety. Really though, it isn't worthwhile enough to feel like anything other than just another movie studio cash grab, which the public seems to be getting a little hipper to: despite On Stranger Tides' massive box office success, 3-D ticket sales for the film have underperformed.
Depp's character, the series' one consistent strength, gets far too much screen time, and much of Sparrow's roguish charm has now lost its lustre. Clocking in at a still overlong two hours and seventeen minutes, On Stranger Tides is a lightweight, fun enough romp, but this film is the textbook definition of a movie franchise going through the motions and placing commerce ahead of anything else.