Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

A Droid PremiereI’m on the fence about the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series. During the dismal summer of 2003 (Bad Boys II, Terminator 3, The Matrix Reloaded), the first film, ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’, was an entertaining surprise. It featured an unusual, superstar making (and Academy Award nominated) performance from Johnny Depp, a memorable villain and was above all else, fun. Then the inevitable sequels arrived, shot back to back. ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and ‘At Worlds End’ took the fantastical elements of the first film, dropped a fistful of acid and ran screaming, naked and cartwheeling through the cineplex. Davy Jones was a squid. One characters father was a giant barnacle. There was the Kraken, limbo, waterwheels, voodoo, crab army, enormous whirlpools and Keith Richards. Put simply, it was all too much. Seemingly taking note of this, Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney have reeled in the crazy for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’.

pirates-of-the-caribbean-on-stranger-tides-movie-posterCaptain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) knows the location of the Holy Grail Fountain of Youth. The Spanish are trying to locate it exposition meanwhile in London exposition exposition King George II (Richard Griffiths) assigns Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) to get exposition exposition Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz) exposition revenge exposition mermaids exposition bible bashing missionary (Sam Claflin) exposition exposition they find the holy grail exposition THE END.

That plot synopsis is a small glimpse into the black hole of boredom that awaits you with ‘On Stranger Tides’. Bruckheimer and Co. have reacted to the overplotting of the sequels by severely underplotting this one. It all boils down to this: Three separate groups of boring characters try to get somewhere first. 90% of the dialogue (by screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott) revolves around explaining the motivations and intermingling relationships between characters we neither care about nor find remotely interesting. There are endless attempts at amusing banter throughout the film, primarily between Jack and Angelica (trying to give Jack a romantic interest fails miserably), but these are dull, witless, repetitive and fall flatter than rush hour road kill.

Pirates-4-3One of the main problems with ‘On Stranger Tides’ is Jack Sparrow. In the previous films he’s less of a lead and more of a very important supporting character. Someone that can instigate the action, set the plot in motion and weave in and out of the main story and interact with all the main characters. When he’s successful, as in the first film, Sparrow is a weasel and a drunk. He’s out for his own interests, capable of swindling and backstabbing. He’s certainly not the square jawed action hero, who puts his life on the line to save the day. But here, that is exactly what Sparrow has become. He’s the star, the main character and as such the tone of the character has changed. He’s less aloof, quirky and bonkers. He’s less of a schemer, and more of a straightforward action hero. And as a result the character is boring. He comes across as less intelligent, less independent, and more of a guy who’s motivations are based on morality and good intentions, instead of selfishness and greed. What used to be a fun character has developed into a dull, generic action hero.

But a Jack Sparrow straight-man could be excused if he was surrounded by interesting, amusing and entertaining supporting characters. Alas, this is not the case. Captain Blackbeard is the dullest villain in the series thus far. Ian McShane, so ferociously menacing as Al Swearengen in the series ‘Deadwood’ is given little to do and looks thoroughly bored. His character carries with him some sort of magic sword that can control different things on a ship, like ropes and sails. There’s some less than intriguing intrigue about his motivations for getting to the Fountain of Youth, and whether or not Angelica is his daughter. The character is introduced with his platted beard ends glowing red and smoking as if on fire. This is never mentioned and never repeated. Why? What’s the point? Was there a deleted scene where Blackbeard falls face first into a fire? It’s an inexplicable quirk that goes unexplained.

Pirates-4-4Attempts are made to build some romantic tension between Sparrow and Angelica by expositioning a back story about Jack corrupting her just before she was about to take her vows. But, as previously mentioned, the banter falls flat and instead of an entertaining back and forth it comes across as bickering. And I’m sure we all know how much fun spending over two hours with a bickering couple is. But the worst character in the film (and one of the worst characters I’ve encountered in a long time) is Philip, the bible bashing missionary. For starters, Phil doesn’t even bible bash. He merely holds his bible and spouts innocuous generalities about redemption, souls and the like. This is because by explicitly identifying his faith to the audience, the film would expose his character and potentially alienate non-christian audiences. The character is woefully underwritten, with no reasonable explanation of his purpose (apart from some vague notion that he is there to save Blackbeards soul). He’s a dull periphery character that the film bizarrely chooses to focus on in the second half when he strikes up a romance with a mermaid (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). To call their romance shallow and cloyingly insipid is an affront to understatements. Trying to rationalise a romance between a ferocious fish-girl and a nutless twat, the film offers this pearl of an exchange:

Nutless: “You didn’t try to kill me.”

Fishy: “You’re not like the others. You’re good.”

As irrational and disturbing as it sounds, Nutless Phil is a character that made me miss Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner. Now, where did I put my shotgun? Even Geoffrey Rush, who is pretty much the best thing about anything he’s in, has had the legs chopped out from under him (literally and figuratively). Captain Barbosa as a Privateer working for the Royal Navy simply doesn’t work. His usual leering pirate swagger has been neutered by this change in role. It’s a terrible choice. The only moment the character works is when he reclaims the mantle of pirate at the end of the film. There’s also a pointless cameo from Dame Judi Dench which only makes you wish she had a substantial role that might liven things up.

Pirates-4-5Taking over the directing duties from Gore Verbinski is Rob Marshall, better known for musicals such as ‘Chicago’ and ‘Nine’. Every now and then a strange choice pays off. Recently, Kenneth Branagh made the superhero movie ‘Thor’ much better than it ought to have been, and Shawn Levy went from the terrible ‘Pink Panther’ and ‘Night at the Museum’ movies to the very enjoyable action-comedy ‘Date Night’. Unfortunately ‘On Stranger Tides’ isn’t every now and then. Marshall is a fundamentally wrong choice for a big budget action adventure. The visual wit and style that Verbinski brought is gone, replaced with Marshall’s rickety imitation of style. Despite the first hour being largely action, with chases, sword fights and mutinous fisticuffs, the film lacks momentum and lurches awkwardly from one scene to the next. The film then halts and the one honestly decent set piece takes place, where Sparrow and Co. attempt to capture a mermaid to harvest her tears (for the Fountain of Youth to work). This scene stands high above the rest of the movie, and despite epitomising everything that is wrong with the portrayal of Jack, it’s a genuinely exciting sequence. But that’s where the praise ends. After the all action first hour, ‘On Stranger Tides’ then spends the next hour (the film’s nearly two and a half hours long, but feels longer) laboriously trudging after a bunch of boring characters as they traipse through the jungle. Nothing much of interest occurs. Jack jumps off a cliff. He and Barbosa have a poorly staged showdown on a ship that is delicately balanced on a cliff, Angelica threatens Jack with a CGI snake, Barbosa collects poisonous frogs, Blackbeard gets the mermaids tear. Think of the most stilted and drearily tiresome way that these events could be staged and filmed and you’ve saved yourself the price of admission.

Pirates-4-1As for the Fountain of Youth itself, it is an anti-climax. Instead of a unique, creative design, we get a cave with a round stone and some trickling water. Surely this was an opportunity to impress with a memorable set, but instead the finale takes place in a murky, dark, overcrowded, visually uninteresting cave. The Fountain of Youth itself, when put to use, merely reminds us of ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’. Explicitly reminding me of a much preferable viewing experience after boring me senseless for 2 ½ hours might not have been the wisest choice.

‘On Stranger Tides’ is a thoroughly lacklustre, uninspired and safe addition to the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise. With the film reportedly costing $400 million to make and market, it’s one of those films that make wonder where on earth all the money went. It certainly wasn’t on making an enjoyable film. ‘On Stranger Tides’ receives the woefully generous rating of one Dread Pirate Roberts out of a possible four.

Dread-Pirate-Roberts-1of4

Take it easy,

Droid

Droid

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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

45 responses to “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)”

  1. just pillow talk says :

    I just can’t say I’m surprised by this. Like you said, if they chose a different director, someone able to handle a summer blockbuster, and change it up a bit, then maybe it would have been entertaining.

    But really, I’m not a big fan of the series to start with, so that this fails has no impact on my prejudgement of what I thought it would be.

    • Droid says :

      Marshall was the wrong choice, but the script is where the problems start. It’s fucking woeful. Marshall only compounds the problem.

      Renny Fucking Harlin is the man to make Pirate movies!

  2. Continentalop says :

    Hollywood has forgotten the Law of Diminishing Returns. Less Jack Sparrow is actually better than more Jack Sparrow, not because he is a bad, annoying character, but because he should always be leaving you wanting more of him, not less.

  3. Joachim Boaz says :

    It’s a shame that Penélope Cruz’s pirate hotness doesn’t rescue it — HAHAHA…. just kidding, but she is quite, well… hmm….

  4. Frank Marmoset says :

    This series lost my money when they got rid of Orlando Bloom. He is the heart of Pirates Up The Caribbean, and his acting is as excellent as his beard is full and manly.

    No Bloom, no Pirates. That’s just how I feel.

    I might check it out on video, maybe, if I can shoplift it from Sainsbury’s.

    • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

      I call ditto on Frank

      Orlando plays Orlando, just like Sean Connery plays Sean Connery. With the right stuff like Kingdom of Heaven (directors cut), and LOTR (bless him!) he’s always pretty watchable and plays the earnest hero quite well.

      Sounds like they totally dropped the ball on this one. But you never know with the multiples audiences….

      • Droid says :

        Bloom is shit. He barely makes it through KoH on the strength of the DC. He’s easily the worst thing about it. My mind boggles what that flick could’ve been with someone like Rusty in it. Or even Purefoy or Fassbender.

    • Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

      Multiplex even!

      Damn my slightly addled brain

    • Continentalop says :

      Why have you changed from a monkey to a mushroom cloud?

    • Droid says :

      I’m sure you’ll shoplift it from the internets before it makes it to Sainsburys.

      Have you done 100% Bloom yet?

    • Frank Marmoset says :

      I don’t understand why Orlando Bloom hasn’t won nine Oscars by now, three of them for his riveting performance in Elizabethtown.

      Orlando Bloom should be the Prime Minister, the President, the new manager on The Office, and the substitute guitarist in Slayer while Jeff Hanneman is recovering from necrotizing fasciitis.

      • Jarv says :

        He can’t. He’s too busy being The Calcium Kid.

        You’ve reminded me of that Elizabethtown atrocity.

        BAD MONKEY.

      • Droid says :

        Elizabethtown… ugh… I like Crowe, but that movie’s fucking awful. The fact that he fired Ashton Kutcher and replaced him with Orlando Bloom is inexplicable. That’s like saying a kick in the nuts is preferable to a punch in the balls.

  5. Jarv says :

    Wow. Can’t say that comes as a shock.

    One sounds generous.

    • Droid says :

      It is generous. I was tossing up giving it half, but I’d already photoshopped the 1 DPR and couldn’t be assed doing it again.

      That’s why I acknowledged that it was generous in the review.

      • Jarv says :

        Candidate for worst of the year?

      • Droid says :

        It’s easily number one on that list so far. I haven’t seen a huge amount, but this is by far the shittest movie released in 2011 so far.

      • Droid says :

        It’s this years Iron Man 2. Lazy, boring, by the numbers, and essentially a steel toed boot in the nuts to anyone that would call themselves a Pirates fan.

      • Jarv says :

        As I’m not enamoured with the Pirates films in general (1 is alright, the other 2 blow), I was going to miss this anyway. “This year’s Iron Man 2” just adds to that.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, you would hate it. Probably Orang of Doom it (if you even made it all the way through).

        For the record:

        Pirates 1 = 3 Changs. I find it very enjoyable.
        Pirates 2 = 2 Changs. A bit much. But there is some fun to be had.
        Pirates 3 = 1.5 Changs. Far, far too much and far, far too long. The Asian and Limbo sections at the start could quite easily be excised with no difference to the story.
        Pirates 4 = 1 Chang. A very generous rating. If I can be assed over the weekend I’ll Lucas it to 1/2 a chang.

      • Jarv says :

        Pirates 1: 2.5 Changs. Reasonably good fun, can’t bear Bloom and Knightly.

        Pirates 2: 1 Chang and I’m being generous. Bloated, boring, stupid mess.

        Pirates 3: Orang of Doom. Irredeemably awful on every conceivable level with an ending that makes me want to kick the writer in the bollocks.

      • Droid says :

        What the fourth flick does is make the other sequels seem better. I was seriously sitting their wishing for a little OTT Verbinski.

      • Jarv says :

        Christ!

        That’s pretty damning.

  6. MORBIUS says :

    Your review doesn’t mention the short clip after the credits, where, after being stranded on that isle, Angelica is by the shore and plucks the Jack Sparrow (should be a Captain in there) voodoo doll out of the briny . . .

    A possible lead-in to POTC 6?

  7. D.Vader says :

    If it hasn’t been explained here yet, lemme illuminate on why Blackbeard’ beard appeared to be on fire.

    Its what Blackbeard did. Its what Blackbeard is famous for. He would light fiery brands and braid them into his hair and beard to scare and intimidate those he sought to attack, plunder from, rape, or kill, or whatever else that pirate did. Just about every drawing of Blackbeard has him featuring those fiery ends.

    I wouldn’t say its a criticism of the movie to feature something he was extremely well-known for without explaining it.

    • Droid says :

      Hey Vader. Nice to see you. I have to disagree with you on this one. Clearly this explanation is not “extremely well-known” because I and other people I have talked to aren’t familiar with Blackbeard and weren’t aware that he put fiery brands in his beard.

      Blackbeard may be a well-known figure in America, but in Australia we have the vaguest notion of him as a pirate. Presumably one with a black beard. Being as Pirates 4 is clearly marketed as a global “entertainment” (after watching it I use that term tentatively), it’s either lazy or narrow-minded filmmaking on the parts of Bruckheimer and Co to assume that the audience will immediately understand such a strange quirk. To me, it was simply a silly addition to the character. He appears with his beard on fire. No mention of it is made and it never features again. Which only made it sillier.

      So, for those that weren’t in on the ground floor, the criticism is a valid one.

      • D.Vader says :

        Droid! Nice to see you too. Yeah, after reading the thread in the Rec Room I see that this is not well-known to you guys outside the states at all. Perhaps it would have been better had we seen some of those “classic” drawings of Blackbeard where he’s got the smoking beard and hair early on in the movie to foreshadow his first “intimidating” appearance. Or maybe have the mutinous crew talk about how they’ve heard Blackbeard appears, what he looks like, etc, especially since not one of them had actually seen the guy. It’d be the perfect place to mention his fiery beard and how he’s the son of the devil.

      • Jarv says :

        Or maybe have the mutinous crew talk about how they’ve heard Blackbeard appears, what he looks like

        This was my suggestion

      • Droid says :

        It’s kind of funny, actually. The entire first hour is bogged down with exposition relating to everything BUT Blackbeard? This is probably to have him remain a mystery, but it simply didn’t work. Not knowing anything about him made the character dull, and not menacing in the least.

      • Jarv says :

        Why make a historical figure mysterious? Sounds like lazy hackery to me.

      • D.Vader says :

        Well to be fair, he seems to be mysterious to you Brits, yes?

  8. Droid says :

    Christ. Pirates 4 made US$346m worldwide in it’s opening weekend. Only $90m of that in the US. And US audiences rated it B+. Easily pleased those yanks.

  9. Tom_Bando says :

    The worst thing about this from the sounds?? the made Geoffrey Rush look bad. He’s the best thing about this series to me, as Barbossa. In a word: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

    I won’t be seein’ it. I WILL however concentrate on Big Robots, Captain America and maybe that Xmen/Operation Mongoose thing just because.

  10. goregirl says :

    The first Pirates was kinda charming in its way, but the second one was crummy as hell. I can’t say I’ve been motivated to see any of the follow ups. Solid review Droid…I’ll continue to avoid these.

  11. ThereWolf says :

    By the end of the 3rd one I’d had quite enough of Mr Sparrow and friends.

    1. Good.
    2. Not so good.
    3. Honk.

    A 4th? Not on your nelly.

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