Halloween is just around the corner and in recent years I don’t think any character has been more popular than Pirates of the Caribbean mascot, Jack Sparrow. Kids love him (as do adults) so it’s no mystery why his appeal goes way beyond his persona on screen. That said, back for his fourth time as Capt. Jack, Johnny Depp is joined by friends old and new as he sets out continuing his quest for the Fountain of Youth. Just as exciting as it was in the theater, the terrific Blu Ray transfer of PotC 4: On Stranger Tides is a real treat (with great commentary and extras should you opt for the 3D version) as high definition is the only way to experience Jack Sparrow and his latest rousing adventure.
The Pirates films come down to a simple equation; a character we love getting from point A to point B. Yet what makes this more exciting than other bland or unoriginal actioners is that Depp, Marshall and company have created lots of little fun sequences between A and B that make up a very grand tale. Sure some parts of this installment don’t have the air of sophistication embodied by the franchise’s inaugural effort The Curse of the Black Pearl, but again we get Jack doing what Jack does best; running, swinging and screaming. So let’s not kid ourselves, Jack’s why we come to see these anyway right?
More than half the fun of the series is Jack being Jack and however outlandish the story may be (with the third installment being completely ludicrous I might add) a lot of what we’re given is accepted because we have such a lovable protagonist. Jack is charmingly incompetent but he gets things right far too often to be lucky and that further shows us that behind the swaggering walk Jack is much smarter than he’ll ever let on. Also, the Pirates films benefits from us not getting (or needing) a full back story on Jack beyond some cryptic references to his past exploits. In short it’s better that way actually as it adds to the mystery of who he is.
Taking the place of the young loves Will and Elizabeth are Syrena (played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) and Philip (played by Sam Claflin). While they don’t get the running room to become anything close to endearing as Will/Elizabeth, they unfortunately fall by the wayside and become the equivalent of scenery. Or so I thought on the first viewing. Seeing this again their love angel is indeed forced but if you can look past Jack’s antics there’s something sweet between them…even though it is all too brief.
From the get go, Jack’s sporadic persona has always been the draw of the series but the character that really gets fun in this film is Blackbeard (played wonderfully, if reservedly, by Ian McShane). Some claim he’s too underused and while I agree, I don’t think he’s one dimensional. On Stranger Tides could have benefited from losing the Spaniards as they were extremely one dimensional and disposable and freed up room for more to explore Blackbeard. But that’s just what this land lubber thinks.
Mermaids, zombies and magic are the new flavors peppering this salty series and though the continuing attempts to introduce new elements keep things inventive, those same creative additions are also a bit of a drawback. The franchise has gotten labored with progressively supernatural components and that’s interesting but at what point will things so legendary stop being dismissed as common place? The matter of fact response from the characters as they talk about things like The Fountain of Youth lacks a certain mysticism that makes the whole trip seem about as mundane as going to the supermarket. The way I see it, these installments had gotten so sluggish due the weight of the respective stories and universe of strange creatures. Still, On Stranger Tides takes a breezier approach to a fun Pirate film and while thin at times this lighter fare is still pretty refreshing.
On Stranger Tides starts to get back to the feel, the weight and the tone of The Curse of the Black Pearl which is a good thing after the bloated and convoluted third installment At World’s End. One thing’s for sure, Rob Marshall looks to confidently take the reins of Gore Verbinski as this is the first of a supposed new trilogy and I for one look forward to the further adventures of Jack Sparrow. Parting thought here, Jack’s great but I’ve always been partial to Gibbs and I’m so glad to see he’s getting not only more screen time but being presented as Jack’s equal/partner. Plus out of the 4 films this has not only the best final scene but also the best post credits scene yet. Should the script for Pirates 5 get a better re-write as Bruckheimer intends, things look to be on the up tick for the franchise and that’s got me excited. The boat has been righted and let’s hope it’s headed in the right direction. Drink up me hearties yo, ho!