With Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally; Directed by Rob Marshall; Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo); 137 minutes.
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is back and, let’s face it, this film series based on a theme park ride has become less interesting with each installment. Still, Sparrow is a comical rogue and Depp’s off-kilter performance is what made the first movie a success. For this new installment they’ve adapted an actual pirate fantasy novel by Tim Powers, taking a few ideas and then adding Sparrow to the mix.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES finds the British and Spanish in a race to discover the legendary Fountain of Youth. The British king has hired ex-pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), newly dubbed a “privateer,” to lead the mission. Meanwhile, a pirate ship headed up by a fake Jack Sparrow turns out actually to be led by Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz). After an overlong prologue, we find the real Sparrow impressed into service for Blackbeard.
For most of the movie’s running time, the three groups are heading for the mysterious island where the Fountain is said to exist. There are various antics, plot points involving zombies and mermaids and silver chalices, and finally a grand finale showdown with much fighting and special effects. You’ll want to stick around through the closing credits for a final scene. Not to give anything way, but Jack Sparrow will not be joining the Avengers.
This is the sort of movie that defies reviewing because it’s less a movie than an amusement park ride, and not simply because the first film was inspired by a Disneyland/Disney World ride. As with many of the “tent pole” releases that kick off the summer movie season, its job is to dominate the box office on its opening weekend. Audiences who made the last three film hits will come out for this one, eager for a new encounter with Sparrow. The problem is that once people have taken the ride most will be looking for the next new sensation. Within a week or two this will be old news. It’s the sort of disposable entertainment that may be enjoyed once but will not inspire many to repeated viewings nor those who skipped opening week to want to catch it down the road.
Depp, Rush and Kevin McNally (as crewman Gibbs) take us through familiar paces from previous films but avoid giving the impression that they’re just there for the check. They have their moments, as do new arrivals to the series McShane and Cruz. All have done far better work elsewhere, but they’re too professional to phone it in here.
What that means though it is that “Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is a quintessential summer blockbuster. It gives enough of what fans of the previous films want, with enough new material so that it doesn’t seem like a complete rerun. On the other hand, it comes across as so manufactured and so beholden to special effects – including the unnecessary 3D – that the characters are cardboard and the plot is merely an excuse for the set pieces. You’ll go, you’ll enjoy, and a month from now you won’t remember much about it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.