Sunday, September 4, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - 2011

"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" - 2011
Dir. by Rob Marshall - 2 hrs. 16 min.

Official Trailer

by Clayton Hollifield

Now that was a long movie.  And in a sense, I am thankful for that, as I got the maximum amount of air-conditioning value for my movie-going dollar.  But in most other senses, I'm not as thankful for that as you might imagine.  You might imagine a movie filled with people in fancy costumes (including frequent appearances of powdered wigs and frilly shirts) prancing and chewing scenery might be pretty enjoyable, and while it's not something I'd generally hold against a movie, it didn't help much in this case.

The fourth installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise continues the downhill slide.  While the first one was a surprise hit (and surprisingly very enjoyable), with each passing film, it's become more and more of a needle-in-haystack search for positive qualities.  Part of that might be familiarity - having seen all four, I expect to see large visuals, cool looking ships, physical humor, and chase scenes when I watch a "Pirates" movie.  Those things are here, but it felt manufactured and formula this time around instead of grand and playful.  But there's also diminishing returns with Jack Sparrow, both in terms of how much of a movie relies on his character, and just generally having now been through four full films with this character.

Here, in "On Stranger Tides," Sparrow finds himself conscripted against his will on Blackbeard's (Ian McShane, one of an army looking magnificent in eyeliner) ship, Queen Anne's Revenge.  In an attempt to buck a prophecy foretelling his death at the hands of a one-legged man, he's on a mission to find the Fountain of Youth.  Sparrow is lured onto the boat by Angelica Teach (Penelope Cruz), later revealed as Blackbeard's daughter, who has been impersonating Sparrow and recruiting a crew for the mission.  Also on the trail of the Fountain are a fleet of Spaniards led by the Spaniard (Oscar Jaenada), and an English expidition led by Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has somehow lost his leg in a tussle with Blackbeard.  From this, it's a classic adventure plot - collect the items (in this case, a pair of silver chalices from Ponce de Leon and a mermaid's tear), and instigate a ritual.

While the plot manages to generally keep things moving in a forward motion, the characters undercut any suspense.  Nearly everything seems designed to irritate Depp's Jack Sparrow, from Angelica's deliberately poor imitation of him to Barbossa's loss of the Black Pearl, but the character itself seem incapable of actual anger or genuine emotion.  Mild irritation, perhaps, but nothing that would spur him into action.  Sparrow's flamboyant, willy-nilly behavior works as a side dish, but when you thrust that character into the prominent role of the movie and don't sufficiently answer the question of what would motivate that character, much of the conflict and action falls flat.  For the most part, everyone else's motivations are either clear or become so, but Jack Sparrow is both the star and selling point of this film.  Additionally, once you've driven your character insane (as in "At World's End," which was easily the best part of that movie), is it even possible to push Sparrow emotionally without veering into a surreal fantasy land?  If not, whatever is presented as a challenge is going to come off as unimpressive and minor compared to what's come before.

For me, the big action sequences and visuals didn't have much impact (nor were they as clever as anything in the first installment) as a result.  And what that means is that "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" felt really, really long.  That's about as damning of a comment I can make about an action-oriented film; the best ones fly along until they're over, and you can't believe you've been watching for a couple of hours.  This movie really didn't deliver on the things that made the previous ones fun: a sense of cleverness and playfulness, fun, sweeping action scenes, and Jack Sparrow kind of being a dick to everyone around him before pulling back and being more helpful.  I admit, I hope this is the end of the line for this franchise; it's been profitable and a good thing for pretty much everyone involved, but new installments have ceased to add anything interesting to the series.

1.5 / 5 - Theatre

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