The pirates films have always been strange beasts. The first one caught the world by surprise partially thanks to the inspired performance of Johnny Depp equating pirates to the rock stars of the day. A story combining action with horror and a few laughs it developed into a bit of a hit, naturally spewing sequels and a franchise. The franchise has had it’s ups and downs – personally I enjoy the second one though I know many people who don’t, and in the process of trying to give the third one a more complex story the twists and double-crosses get somewhat convoluted leaving a lot to figure out and follow. With the fourth film they’ve obviously tried to get away from the baggage lumbering the previous films with only three returning cast members – Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa and Kevin McNally as Gibbs. This is in a way a good choice as it allows the plot to steer clear of some of the knots it had developed for itself whilst at the same time adding some new characters.
The story picks up shortly after the last film let off with Jack Sparrow in possession of a map leading to the fountain of youth. Word has got around of this meaning that there’s several interested parties – including the Spanish and the king of England. Sparrow is picked up by the king and ordered to reveal the location though this turns into another one of the Jack Sparrow big escapes and the film rollicks along from there.
There were some really good set pieces with the film – especially a fight towards the start when Sparrow is confronting a pirate claiming to be him. Centred around a large cooking fire it’s stylistically shot with shadows covering the identity of the imposter to the end with a big reveal (unfortunately we all know who it is anyway as the papers have commented on this in all their reviews!). The big problem I had with this film though, is yes there were good scenes and moments but it never all quite clicked together for me. The main badguy Blackbeard very ably played by Ian McShane was supposed to be evil, and we know this because every scene he appeared in, someone would comment on what a bad man he was, or how many evil deeds he did before breakfast. The way he acted in the film though couldn’t really be described as evil though, more ruthless and self interested but not evil. If I’m honest I found that Geoffrey Rush appeared to act the pants off everyone else on the screen just by realising that it was a role not to be taken seriously and hamming it up (whilst also having fun). Even Depps appearance seemed a bit tired. Penelope Cruz gives a firey turn as a Spanish nun who was corrupted into the pirate way doesn’t seem to be given much to do, whilst Sam Claflin playing a captured missionary doesn’t appear to have much to do at all beyond take off his top, look hunky and provide part of the mandatory love interest. Though the other half of this interest a mermaid played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey was fantastic casting, just from the actresses naturally accent (a mix of French/Spanish) giving an unearthly voice to the character.
As the film reached it’s conclusion I did wonder more and more as to why the Spanish giving chase had been included at all, they appeared once to provide an obstacle and then seemed to be used to try and create a big battle at the end of the film. It all just seemed unnecessary in a way not really adding to the film.
Don’t get me wrong. I did enjoy the film, but after watching I just didn’t feel the need to want to watch it again. It was for the majority meaningless fluff. There were hints at a story of redemption hidden with there but this was never really explored, and when brought up the film was more inclined to aim for the cheesy soundbite (and this isn’t an exact quote as I can’t find it online) “I believe every man can saved but I’m beginning to my doubts about you…”.
If you’ve had a long day at work and feel a trip to the cinema and are looking for some meaningless fluff you could do worse than On Stranger Tides. Then again you also find something more challenging and entertaining… though I know some days I just want the fluff!