I Think the Fountain Is That Way
I thought this film would never have happened, since the first three films wrapped themselves up pretty nicely as a trilogy, but I suppose studios never say no to profits there for the taking, especially if the point man in Johnny Depp is game to don his eyeliner and pirates garb one more time, and possible more films lined up since the final scenes and the coda after the end credits blatantly teases and flirts with its audience and fan base.
Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is back to charm one and all with this swagger and wit, and this time sans his Black Pearl as he goes on a mission, or at least it's one of those self fulfilling rumours, that he's assembling a crew to set sail on a quest to locate the proverbial Fountain of Youth. As with what's characteristic of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, there are always more than one party interested in either joining in or serving as competition, and here we have an English royalty keen on recruiting Jack amongst their ranks to led by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now an English privateer, the Spanish Inquisition team who are narratively the weakest of the lot save for one pivotal scene, and a true blue pirates outfit led by the villanous Blackbeard (Ian McShane) aboard his Queen Anne's Revenge ship, with his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz) as his first mate and one time ex-fling of Jack's tasked with luring the latter out and joining their quest rather reluctantly.
But everyone has ulterior motives, and in true Jack Sparrow fashion, the character relationships all play out like the reality game show Survivor as in previous films, where deals are cut, some allegiances are strongly forged while others being temporarily serving mutual self-interests of the moment. Part of the fun is to witness how Sparrow navigates through sticky situations and almost always come up tops, with the nagging suspicion that Fate smiles on his side consistently, seemingly having no plan at all when he embarks on various mini quests in gathering artifacts all geared toward the primary mission, from the capture of mermaids (and they're of the nasty in attitude variety) to chalices all part of a strange ritual required to get to the secret fountain everyone is craving for.
Joining the fray this time round are old hands such as Geoffrey Rush in bringing a lot more to the Barbossa character, and Gibbs (Kevin McNally) as Jack Sparrow's loyal and trusty first mate. Penelope Cruz becomes one of two token female characters here, although her real life pregnancy created some complications during the shoot, and the credits had to thank her sister Monica Cruz for standing in for the long shots so that there wouldn't be a need to hide that bulge in the tummy - it's quite obvious which scenes these were as her character's hat had to be tipped downwards. You can also tell that the presence of Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey as a priest and mermaid respectively were to counterbalance the loss of Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Keira Knightley's Elizabbeth Swann as the film's requisite lovebirds, which developed too fast too soon, and left it hanging, possibly to be explored in greater detail in subsequent films.
As an action adventure, the action sequences if compared to the previous installments, have all been toned down, and are the same old routine often seen in other action adventures. Do we need another escape on a chariot, or yet another big brawled sword fight sans blood (this is a Disney film after all) with nary a vulgar word spoken as they are cut off at the right moment? Too many one on one swordfights amongst various characters also made this quite repetitive to sit through, and I'd secretly enjoyed more of the dramatic wheelings and dealings more than the action in this film, despite the middle portion sagging under its own talkie weight.
Gore Verbinski had given up the director's chair to allow for new blood to take over the helm and steer the franchise into a new direction, so enter Rob Marshall, whom I'd say has the unenviable task of continuing a very well loved, and profitable series of films. While the direction may be new and the storyline necessary to be branching off from where it left off, somehow On Stranger Tides failed to recreate the entire adventurous spirit that the original trilogy possessed. Perhaps it's the cutting down on funding that made the action sequences quite dull, also having to shoot those scenes in 2D before undergoing 3D conversion to keep costs down.
Sure the storyline is an adventure film for fans to follow up on the exploits of Jack Sparrow, but it sure felt more of the same with that air of familiarity not broken. Should another film be made, let's hope it has some of the swashbuckling cavalier feel to it rather than just another exercise of routine.