Pirates: On Stranger Tides.
My opinions on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is shared with a large quantity of people. I liked the first one, didn’t care for the second, and hated the third. The reason for this is mostly because the story in the last two revolved around the most obnoxious characters in the films. They still did well though, in part due to Orlando Bloom’s following at the time, Depp’s portrayal of Sparrow, and the over-the-top action sequences. While I did see the latter two in theaters, (almost exclusively because of the action scenes) I was fed up with it by the millionth hour of the third movie. (Seriously, why was that movie so long?) When I heard that they would be making another movie without the franchise poisoning romance, I was excited. I saw this as an opportunity to return to form. I had always said that the Pirates movies should be akin to the Indiana Jones movies. Each should have been their own tale, with Jack Sparrow filling the main role, and only a few minor characters appearing to help or thwart Sparrow. This movie promised me exactly what I wanted and I walked into the theater ready to be entertained.
Spoiler Warning: Scroll to bottom of post if you want my spoiler free final thoughts (This particular review is mostly spoiler free, but no promises.)
The core plot of Stranger Tides is a textbook quest to find obscure magical location/item X. If this was all it consisted of, I think it would have been a better movie than it ended up being. When you’re trying to reboot a franchise that is view by critics with a negative eye, it’s good to focus on a simple plot and just do it well. Tides looked like it was going to do exactly this, until we boarded Blackbeard’s ship. The movie was plagued with the same virtually meaningless side plots as the second and third movies. Whether or not Angelica is Teach’s daughter, whether Jack and Angelica were going to get together and the odd side-story with the priest and the were-mermaid are examples of plotlines that, while connected to the main plot, are mostly pointless. It would have been better to focus the time spent on these stories elsewhere, preferably the main plot of finding the fountain. Even if the writer wanted a less obvious form of conflict in the story, he should have picked one of these and stuck with it. While the plot was convoluted at times, I found certain clichés that they could have gone with done in a more refreshing way: Instead of wanting eternal life, the Spanish just were zealots; instead of getting the girl at the end, Jack does what he thinks is best for her; the fact that Barbossa and Jack are more than willing to help each other. I honestly expected them to go the way of the cliché in these areas, and to my pleasant surprise, they didn’t.
Overall, the plot was convoluted and unoriginal, but not totally cliché: 5/10
One of the main areas that was improved from the last two Pirates movies is the area of characters. No performance bogs down the movie, and this fact alone makes Tides exceptional in comparison to the other three. However, very few performances are anything special, and I got the feeling that some of these actors weren’t giving their all. Depp and McShane are fantastic, but the list of notable characters end there.
No dreadful performances, but nothing special either: 7/10
The action scenes in the Pirates have always been my favorite parts. While I called foul about fighting in the rigging of a ship while it is being swallowed by a whirlpool, I enjoyed the ridiculous fight scene on the watermill. Tides toned down the ridiculousness a bit, but not so much as to make the movie a bore. The swordplay and action sequences are what give these movies their charm. The plot is less than admirable, the characters are quirky but little else and the setting is an acid that creates its own plot holes. The action (and the music, more about that later), however, is the focus of the films. This movie, like its predecessors, is all about the action, but the choreography seems a little sloppier than before.
Action is still good, but lacks the polish of the earlier films. 7/10
I could write a dissertation on why the Pirates franchise’s unique mythology should be toned down and ret-conned until it is impossible to see much similarity between the original and the end result. I’ve always found it to be simultaneously too shallow and convoluted to be truly engaging. While Tides fairs better than the last two, it still suffers. The music, however, more than makes up for the issues that the other environmental elements miss. Zimmer’s music is amazing, giving the viewer desperately needed queues about the mood of the scenes in question.
While the setting still needs an overhaul, the music is still fantastic: 8/10
Overall, the movie is a lot of fun, but nothing more. As long as you aren’t there for a spectacular story or amazing acting, you’ll have a good time. These movies are in the spirit of the old musketeer movies: Silly and predictable, but still a lot of fun.
Overall Score: 6.75/10