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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 20, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 20
Handsome Pirates sequel is a passionless adventure
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Handsome Pirates sequel is a passionless adventure

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Pirates of the Caribbean:
On Stranger Tides
Opening May 20


In the spirit of fairness, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is easily the best film of this based-on-a-Disney-theme-park-attraction series since the first one, 2003's Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Freed from the restraints of trying to be part of a colossal trilogy featuring a far too massive (i.e., bloated) storyline, this stand-alone adventure is not without its charms, returning to the small-scale whimsy and gloriously tongue-in-cheek absurdness that made the original such a shocking delight.

All the same, there is no reason for this sequel to exist, and much of it feels like it is repeating moments from the previous epics while not going out of its way to deliver anything new. Yes, this time Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is the central focus of this tale, no longer forced to play nursemaid to romantic subplots with Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom. Better, the reasons behind his pursuit of the Fountain of Youth aren't exactly what you think they would be, and lead to a couple of small surprises that brought a smile to my face.

But so what? This is a series so sure of itself and its audience it makes no bones about the fact that it tends to meander, wandering off on tangents for no reason other then to give the talented supporting actors something to do. Even though it is shorter than all three of the previous flicks at a not-so-brisk 137 minutes, this one is easily a good half-hour too long. Entire subplots could have been axed, most notably a shaggy love story resolving around a faith-seeking missionary (Sam Claflin) and a kidnapped mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), while even some of the better sequences run a few minutes longer then necessary.

Suggested (and I'm sure that term applies very, very loosely) by the book On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, returning screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio don't exactly try to break the mold, and while the additions of characters like Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his sexy Spanish daughter Angelica (Penélope Cruz) are fine, it isn't like the pair give them anything much to do. Even a peg-legged Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), now a privateer working in King George's (Richard Griffiths) employ, doesn't shake up the proceedings as much as you'd hope he would, and everything leads to a highly anticlimactic climax that's about as exciting as a stifled yawn.

Still, even though it's longer than it needed to be, this fourth adventure with Jack Sparrow never bored me, and I did like his interactions with Blackbeard and Angelica. I was pleased that the writers finally gave the pirate a bit more of a back-story, and attempted to flesh out his history and give him some actual dimension. He's coming perilously close to blossoming into a three-dimensional character, and if Jerry Bruckheimer and the rest of the producers are truly intent on transforming this series into something like a swashbuckling James Bond type of thing, evolving Jack and letting him grow is certainly going to help.

New director Rob Marshall (Nine, Chicago) doesn't step very far out of his comfort zone, as the action set pieces are constructed and photographed like musical numbers. There is a far more rhythmic nature to this sequel then was apparent in the previous trio directed by Gore Verbinski, and while that's just fine for the most part, there are times when a more visceral or kinetic approach might have been called for. At the same time, I liked the balletic quality of some of the escapes, fisticuffs, and duels, and a rip-roaring sequence featuring Sparrow flying from tree to tree like a human pole vault echoes Errol Flynn in his Technicolor prime.

I just wish this movie had made me feel something - anything, even disappointment or anger. Instead, all I'm left in is a benign state of indifference. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides goes through the motions, hits all its marks, and certainly has merit, and yet for my part I can't muster up the energy to care. This is as been-there-done-that as big Hollywood tentpole sequels get, and for all this movie gets right, the passion I feel for it sits perilously close to nothing - and to my way of thinking, that's just wrong.

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