Allow me to describe Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in the kind of academically technical terms for which I'm famous. It deserves all of the critical acumen implied by a website such as this. Here goes:
This movie sucks. The big one.
I'll keep this short, which is something producer Jerry Bruckheimer has never done: There is no excuse for this movie.
I take that back: There is only one motive for making a movie like this -- the profit motive. Which is why Bruckheimer littered the cinematic landscape with Pirates 2 and Pirates 3, two of the more unnecessary films of this century.
The original Pirates, you'll recall, was a lightweight trifle based on an amusement park ride. That 2003 outing ran an intermittently entertaining but bloated 143 minutes. It somehow earned Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination -- and begat two misbegotten sequels, each less tolerable than the last, each longer than the previous. The third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead in the Water, or whatever it was called, was a gaseous 169 minutes.
On Stranger Tides is a comparatively trim 137 minutes -- which is still about 30 minutes more than it needs. But then, to be truthful, there was no need for this movie at all -- except, perhaps, to finance paving Bruckheimer's driveway in gold leaf. And really, Johnny Depp -- how many chateaux in France do you need?
Because, frankly, there's nothing here. Oh, plot-wise, there's a story: the search for the Fountain of Youth. It's the British (led by perpetual villain Hector Barbossa, played with usual panache by Geoffrey Rush) vs. the Spanish -- with the wild card being Capt. Jack Sparrow.
Sparrow has been shanghaied to sea by an old girlfriend, Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who's as shifty and unreliable as Sparrow himself (in a role that is, if anything, even more underwritten). As it turns out, she's grabbed him for the crew of famed pirate Blackbeard, played by Ian McShane with the same steely-eyed fierceness he used as Al Swearingen in Deadwood (but a lot more facial hair). For good measure, this version of Blackbeard has magical powers. Because, well, um, just because.
Director Rob Marshall isn't an improvement over Gore Verbinski; if anything, this film has even less energy than No. 3. Instead of an actual story, this is just a waterlogged collection of action set-pieces (oooo, killer mermaids!), patched together with weak jokes by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, who apparently ran out of ideas with the first film but have now written four of them.
The action itself is not particularly exciting or amusing. And Depp coasts on his charm, without investing much of anything into the character other than eyeliner. Every once in a while, Depp widens his eyes, as though he's thinking, "Are they really buying this crap?"
Based on the early box office returns, they obviously are. But no one involved in this dross should be proud of themselves.
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