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3 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Rob Marshall

Written By:
Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Terry Rossio, Tim Powers

Johnny Depp, Ian McShane, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Gemma Ward, Kevin McNally, Stephen Graham, Greg Ellis, Bronson Webb, Yuki Matsuzaki, Richard Thomson, Juan Carlos Vellido, Christopher Fairbank, Paul Bazely, Sebastian Armesto, Haytham Kandil, Óscar Jaenada, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, John Bryant Davila

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Movie Review by Jarrod
May 20th, 2011

2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl began as a joke in most circles, a big-budget action-adventure based on water ride at Disney World, but it defied its skeptics and became a huge financial success, inevitably spawning sequels, and firmly cementing Johnny Depp's place on the Hollywood A-list. Depp had always been a popular, prolific, well-known actor, but this franchise turned him into a megastar, for his quirky, scene-stealing turn as rum-swilling pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, a role he now reprises for the fourth time, and indeed, the movie would be nothing without him.

Shorter and more streamlined than its predecessors, 'On Stranger Tides' clocks in at 137 minutes, and has a rather well-paced, far less complicated story that does not build on any of the previous material, or introduce dozens of side characters. Gone are Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom as lovebirds Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, leaving Depp to headline along with the rest of the mostly fresh ensemble cast, including his on-screen sparring partner/love interest Penelope Cruz. Rob Marshall has replaced Gore Verbinski as director, but screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio remain unchanged, working to craft a plot cobbled together from history, folklore, and pirate mythology.

Sparrow has been imprisoned in London, along with his sidekick, Gibbs (Kevin McNally); a fun early scene has Jack impersonating an English judge, and then trying to escape the royal guards, before he sets out on his quest to find the Fountain of Youth, also pursued by the Spanish Navy, and by his revolving ally/nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and by the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who has heard a prophecy of his own impending death, and wishes to defy fate by drinking from the Fountain's magical waters, which grant virtual immortality. Sparrow gets dragged aboard Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, by Blackbeard's spicy daughter, Angelica (Cruz), with whom he once had a fling. Angelica is determined to save her father, whatever the cost.

She tries, unsuccessfully, to explain what must be done to access the Fountain, leaving even Jack confused and unclear about the details. This bit of exposition is needlessly and ridiculously convoluted, and exists only to send the characters on a wild goose chase to track down a pair of silver chalices, and a mermaid's tear, which must be placed in one of the chalices.

The chalices are stored on the wreckage of Ponce de Leon's ship; Ponce De Leon being, of course, the explorer who searched for the Fountain of Youth on several of his expeditions. Blackbeard is a nasty piece of work; his crew consists of zombies, presumably the results of voodoo, and he uses his sword to harness some kind of dark magical force that allows him to manipulate ropes and other such objects. We learn practically nothing about him, except that Barbossa has a score to settle with him, and that he has apparently captured Jack's beloved Black Pearl. Ian McShane looks menacing, but is not an interesting villain, certainly when compared to Davy Jones, who at least had an original, otherworldly appearance.

Though shortened, the picture still seems bloated, with lots of downtime in which nothing much happens, these interludes livened only by the flirtatious interplay between Depp and Cruz. They are nicely matched, with solid chemistry and strongly defined personalities. Cruz is fiery and vivacious, and very much inclined to poke fun at herself. More filler is provided in the form of a dopey romance between a young missionary (Sam Claflin) and a captive mermaid he names Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

The introduction of the mermaids is arguably the most thrilling aspect of the film; they take the form of beautiful women, but are really a bunch of vicious, sharp-toothed creatures. Their attack on Blackbeard's men on the beaches of White Cap Bay, their home turf, is a terrific set-piece, and the subsequent plight of Syrena confirms what I always suspected, that mermaids are amphibious and do require oxygen to breathe. As for Depp, every individual part of his performance is amusing and highly entertaining, from his frequently slurred speech to his lumbering gait, to his graceful movements in battle, demonstrating agility and skill with a sword, and improvising ways to get himself out of perilous situations.

Keith Richards has a quick early cameo; Depp has stated that Sparrow is modeled after Richards, who obviously has no problem embracing his hard-drinking persona, and emphasizes the similarities here between himself and Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush is criminally wasted, though; Barbossa is a faint shadow of his former self, and seems to have been included here as an afterthought and nothing more. Action sequences are relatively sparse, occasionally rendered almost incomprehensible by poor lighting and sloppy camerawork.

Most disappointing, though, are the swordfights, which are shamefully incompetent and blandly conceived when compared to Rob Roy, which jumps to mind immediately anytime I see men with swords, and when you consider how fundamental swordplay is to the Pirates series, these scenes should have been handled more carefully.

Production values are top-notch, with an authentic rendering of 18th-century settings, and lush shots of dense jungles and sunny, sandy beaches, not to mention the costumes and the ominous design of the Queen's Anne Revenge. Also worth mentioning is the pounding, catchy music score by Hans Zimmer.

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