It seems there’s definitely some swash left in the buckle for the Pirates of the Caribbean series. On Stranger Tides is easily the best sequel in the series for a number of reasons.
Loosely based on a novel by Tim Powers – from which the film takes its subtitle – On Stranger Tides’ plot is, while complex, far less confusing than POTC 2 & 3; Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp have sizzling chemistry; Ian McShane is simultaneously over-the-top and restrained as Blackbeard [how he does that, I have no idea, but somehow he does]; an unexpectedly poignant romance between a missionary and a mermaid, and, of course, the amazing action set pieces and FX. Also, at two hours and eighteen minutes, it’s the leanest movie in the series.
The film opens with Captain Jack Sparrow [Depp] escaping custody during an audience with a rather puckish King George [a pastry is involved] and moves directly into one of the funniest chase sequences in years – following which, Sparrow learns, to his amazement, that he is recruiting a crew and seeks out the imposter. The imposter turns out to be someone of importance from his past.
Before you know it, he finds himself on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, captained by the pirate to end all pirates, Captain Edward Teach [Ian McShane] – better known as Blackbeard. The first mate is Angelica [Penelope Cruz], the fake Captain Jack – and Blackbeard’s daughter. They are off in search of the Fountain of Youth.
Between Jack’s escape and being dragooned by Blackbeard’s agent, we get some intriguing cameos: Richard Griffiths, Judi Dench and Keith Richards all lead to solid laughs and maybe even a bit of information.
Sadly, there is competition for the prize – Sparrow’s old foe Barbossa [Geoffrey Rush] is now a privateer in the service of the king and looking to restore a missing limb with the Fountain’s healing powers. Also, there are three Spanish ships seeking the Fountain.
Of course there are dangers ahead: Blackbeard has supernatural powers; there are mermaids [that are reputed to entrance unwary sailors and take them to a watery grave, where they feed on them], and, of course, the total lack of co-operation between any of the parties involved.
Jack and Angelica seem likely to either kiss or kill each other; Sparrow’s old first mate, Gibbs [Kevin McNally] turns out to be a good deal smarter than we might’ve expected, and there is a poignant love story featuring a missionary [Sam Claflin] and one of the mermaids [Astrid Berges-Frisbey].
Rob Marshall [Chicago, Nine] takes over the directorial reins from Gore Verbinski and, working from the leanest script in the series [by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio], recaptures much of the essence of the first film in the series. Part of the reason that the film almost recaptures the joy of the first film is that the 3D is very good, giving locations like the jungle, cliffs and grottos an added texture, while enhancing the action choreography.
On Stranger tides’ biggest problem, though, is that it isn’t capable of generating the unexpected wonder and surprise of the first Pirates movie. It is, however, great fun if not a great film. As I said before, it is a better film than the previous two sequels and, therefore, well worth seeing on the big screen.
Final Grade: B+
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.