Well Pirates fans, Tuesday’s screening of the new Pirates film came and went and I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that On Stranger Tides was just awesome! Sure it has its flaws and somethings they could have done without, but it returned to the elements that made the first Pirates film so successful and beloved. The bad news is that becasue of my enjoying and applauding those similar elements in this movie I’ve become a hypocrite for liking what I loathed in last time in At World’s End. But for those of you worried about the future of the Pirates franchise (this is supposed to be the first in an all new trilogy) the ground work has been laid for many good times ahead. Whew, that makes me feel better.
Picking up sometime after the events of the final scene of At World’s End (where Jack had stolen the map to the Fountain of Youth from Barbossa) we find Jack trying to rescue his first mate Gibbs. As always he’s foiled, for the moment, and we learn that Barbossa has taken up with the the British Navy and wants Jack’s help to find the Fountain. Unconvinced of the sincerity of this Royally backed jagged alliance, Jack’s only escape is to seek out a rumored Jack Sparrow impersonator who is assembling a crew and searching for the Fountain. Along the way Jack meets up with his old flame, who just so happens to be the daughter of the dreaded Blackbeard (…or is she?), his zombified crew, mermaids and more on this action packed quest to find the fabled Fountain of Youth.
One plus right off the bat is that with At World’s End wrapping up Will/Ms. Swan storyline we are free of two character who have pretty much run their course. I liked their characters but I did not once miss them in this film that’s for sure. So while there were more than a handful of winks at the camera referencing Jack, Barbossa and Gibbs’ previous adventures, On Stranger Tides can actually exist as a standalone that can allow those new to the series on-board without having to go through 10 hours of essential back story.
Now the first aspect to this film helping which brings the fun factor way up is that this film can almost be considered a buddy flick. Here we find Jack and Barbossa (who, always a treat, is back again) team up easily even though they are continually at odds. On top of that, I particularly like the fact that Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is becoming a more prominent character in these films and in this one he’s pretty much Jack’s best friend despite the spotty screen time; the Jefferson to Al Bundy if you will.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides feels more like a Pirates movie. I guess being inspired by a novel which allowed for an interpretation rather than have the writers pull something completely out of thin air. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End really got away from what a pirate film should be about; a quest. Granted On Stranger Tides plays out like a video game with a bunch of little quests along the way but it felt like a definite progression through the story as opposed to pointless sword fights.
Probably the most welcomed new addition to all the over the top characters/performances in the Pirates universe (yup, there’s enough happenings in this series to merit it being called a universe) is Blackbeard (played brilliantly by Ian McShane). He’s a seriously subtle character that does a lot more with less in the role. He exhibits a hidden intensity that’s riveting and as such is a perfect compliment to the story because he’s essentially the straight man opposite zany antics of Jack Sparrow. Such a refreshing addition to the film in my opinion and I must say his presence and the mystical powers he has over his ship are just so cool. Again I am a hypocrite for liking a “magical ship” but while it’s about as fantastic as The Dutchman I think you’ll find it toned down to believable levels therefore making it yet another plus over the last two films.
Now on that note, I would like to get back to the part where I call myself a hypocrite. I lambasted the third film for being too over the top with an off-putting myriad of fantastical elements. If you compare apples to apples, the presence of zombified crewmen, Blackbeard’s control over his ship, mermaids and, well, the Fountain of Youth. But in my opinion these elements were revealed in a more matter of fact manner rather than we’ve previously had it shoved down our throats. The last two films got a bit too cartoonish and again I think the strength of On Stranger Tides was it’s attempts at a more realistic approach.
To be honest I liked the movie a lot and although it is tons of fun, it’s certainly not without fault. The first Pirates film is a pretty tough act to beat and, as is the case of most films with sequels, the first film in a series is held to certain standards (sometimes just because it was the first). A good number of things in On Stranger Tides could have been downplayed or omitted completely (the mermaid love interest and the unintelligible Penelope Cruz), but all in all it’s an enjoyable ride since the heart and feeling was in the right place. Again this felt like a Pirates film and it was because of the good number of funny and nostalgic in-jokes Further, the buddy/buddy nature made up for plot holes as well as the times when the story neared the bloated point reached so many times in At World’s End.
Closing thought here, it’s funny that after the success of the character and the franchise Johnny Depp has in fact transcended his role to the point that playing Jack Sparrow is now seen as parodying himself. But fans of the series, you’re definitely in for a very very fun ride. On Tuesday I saw this with former Go,See,Talk co-founder Pete and just as the credits rolled he asked, “they’re never going to let these die are they?“. With a huge grin, I happily (and hopefully) responded with “Nope!“. And thanks to their signature Easter Egg at the end of the credits (which is really quite good this time) I can confidently back up my answer and eagerly await the further adventures of Jack, Gibbs and Barbossa.