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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: Perfect casting, top notch special effects, timely slapstick comedy, natural cast chemistry, very professional acting, accessible for newcomers to the Franchise, darker in tone than previous installments

The Bad: little character development, somewhat predictable plot, one dimensional supporting characters and villians, thick accents, some exaggerated acting

Current Availability Status: In Cinemas 19 May

Making waves at the box office this summer is "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides", the latest addition to Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. With a new director and creative team, this movie discards the storm tossed continuity of the second and third Pirates films and starts off on a clean slate, making the story easily accessible for newcomers to the franchise. For those who have followed the series from Pirates of the Caribbean 1, the movie might come across as rather predictable thanks to the established Jerry Bruckheimer formula of comedy and chaos.

On Stranger tides opens with the eccentric pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow (masterfully played by Johnny Depp), in a bit of a tiff. Without a ship, without a crew, and narrowly escaping imprisonment Jack lands himself into a hunt for the mythical fountain of youth after running into his old love Angelica (Penelope Cruz). But she is not the only one after the fountain. Competition comes in the form of the Spanish armada, a British expedition led by none other than Sparrow's ex-rival Barbossa and the infamous pirate Black Beard. Along the way, we get a tacked on side story about a missionary falling for a mermaid, a surprising father/daughter revelation and a convoluted quest for a variety of items needed for the ritual at the fountain.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides seems like a return to the darker style of the first Pirates movie with voodoo magic, on-screen deaths, and a really disturbing take on Mermaids. However, it retains the needless "side quests" narratives and the unexplained magical mythologies. Stuff like Black Beard's voodoo powers, his magic sword or the fate of Jack's old ship, The Black Pearl, are merely glossed over and never explained. Instead, more time is spent on moving the plot along from on comedic action sequence to another.

Not that it is a bad thing since the comedy scenes, all involving Jack Sparrow, are the highlight of the movie. These include a gut bustingly funny chase through the streets of London and an over-the-top escape from a spanish prison camp. The downside is that Jack is once again reduced to just being "bugs bunny". He is the funny guy who gets into crazy situations. The deceiving, under handed, unpredictable, eccentric scoundrel side of his character is very much downplayed for laughs.

As a result Jack and the rest of the characters come across as nearly one dimensional. Character development is almost non-existent despite having so many characters to choose from. Black Beard could have done well with a sort of emotional redemption arc, or perhaps Barbossa could have been given more depth about why a pirate like him would want to "go legit". There was a hinting of a conflict of principles regarding fate and free will but it was never expounded upon. And of course, Disney has not forgotten about the eye candy vacuum left by the departure of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Nightly from the previous movies. The afore-mentioned missionary and mermaid (played by relatively unknown actors Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey) fill those shoes and deliver the passion-devoid yet mandatory romance subplot. Between the one-note villains and the simplistic heroes, "Predictable" would be the word to describe the plot.

What the film manages to deliver is what made its predecessors such fun to watch in the first place. The unimaginative script is pretty much redeemed thanks to perfect casting and professional, though slightly exaggerated, acting. The production designs, costumes and sets are beautiful as always, as well as the various on-scene locales. They maintain the realistic-styled slant with a gritty, well worn feel mixed with Disney cartoonish colors which succeed in truly immersing the audience into that world. It is a pity though that director Rob Marshall, whose resume encompasses only musicals and small romantic comedies, feels out of his element directing a summer blockbuster. Gone are the wide panning shots and the sweeping camerawork of Gore Verbinski, replaced by Marshall's rather run-of-the-mill directing that fails to instill Pirates of the Caribbean with much needed scope and scale.

More of a comedy with fantasy elements than a fantasy epic, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger tides is sure to entertain with its timely comedy and brisk pace. Compared to previous Pirates of the Caribbean films, it easily ranks higher than the second and third entries but lacks the character development, less complicated plot and scope of the first film "Curse of the Black Pearl". Still, "On Stranger Tides" does not feel like a major turning point or epic life changing event for any of the characters. Then again as Jack says, "It is not the destination, so much as the journey." And this is one entertaining journey which would at very least leave you with a different impression of disney singing mermaids.

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Go For it: if you want to see a return to the darker tone of the first film or if you have never watched previous Pirates of the Caribbean movies and would like to jump into the franchise. Also recommended for fans of good comedy and fans of Johnny Depp
Avoid it: if you expect any character development for the main characters or lack a sense of humor. Also if, heaven forbid, you actually preferred the convoluted, complicated, and "all-over-the-place" lack of focus of the 2nd and 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean films

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: B
Music: B-
Replay value: B-
"Brains": C

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