Before I begin this review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides I must confess to having never seen the second and third installments in the franchise. I saw the first, subtitled The Curse of the Black Pearl, and found it rather entertaining, if not a bit overstuffed (but overstuffed in a good, Thanksgiving kinda way). Johnny Depp did a fine job playing, well um, playing Johnny Depp, but then again, that is pretty much what he plays nine out of every ten films. Never being one to stretch all that far (characters such as Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd and even real-life pal Hunter S. Thompson are basically played in the same winking manner by the actor) even though he seems to have the capability to do so (think Dead Man or Donnie Brasco or Public Enemies) Depp plays in a certain wheelhouse and he seems to feel safe in a certain wheelhouse, so, with a spotted exception here or there, in said wheelhouse he shall stay. To be fair though, when Depp is in that wheelhouse, he has nonetheless been one of the most entertaining actors of the last twenty years or so (as well as someone I would like to hang out with, even if I did call him an actor unwilling to often stretch) - and he was no less entertaining in the first Pirates movie.
Why I never bothered to see parts two and three (subbed Dead Man's Chest and At World's End respectively) I cannot say. Perhaps it was just a lack of interest, even though I liked the first one. Perhaps it was just laziness at the time - shirking my duty as film critic at the same time (though since I do not get paid to write these reviews - and yes, bitterness purposely inserted - I suppose shirking one's duty is a bit of an overkill). Whatever the case - possibly a sense of "enough already" - I never saw them and thus can only comment on the fourth installment as it plays, without comparison (except to that first movie) - still thinking to myself, "enough already." Of course my anger at Disney turning what was my favourite amusement park ride as a child (I was lucky enough that my family would go down to Disney World on a regular basis when I was a kid) into a silly (and quite supercilious) multi-billion dollar movie franchise may take a bite or two out of my review. Okay, I am just kidding, I am over that (but just don't touch The Jungle Cruise dammit). But enough of this obvious rambling (and possible filler), what exactly did this critic think of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides?
Well, contrary to many a recent review, it really isn't all that bad of a movie. As far as pop cinema goes (and the Pirates franchise is definitely pop) the movie works rather well. Not great mind you - and it does not match the first one either - but still quite surprisingly enjoyable (perhaps I shouldn't have shirked my critical duties with parts two and three after all). Though it isn't anything we will be discussing years from now in cinema studies classes, On Stranger Tides does sufficiently swash its buckles. Much of this of course has to do with the inherent charm in both Depp as an actor and his Captain Jack Sparrow as a character. Depp leads a good supporting cast that includes Ian McShane as Blackbeard ("the pirate all other pirates fear"), Penelope Cruz as the sort of love interest of Depp's Captain Jack (bringing the sexy yin to Depp's sort of yang) and Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa (complete with a new peg-legged look), as well as fun cameos from Richard Griffiths as King George II, Keith Richards as pere Sparrow and (a surprising) Judi Dench in a blink-and-you-will-miss-her spot. But it is surely Depp that keeps the movie going for its 137 minute running time. Well that and the killer, flesh-eating mermaids. In the end, I must admit to actually enjoying this fourth installment of the seemingly bloated franchise. Perhaps it is not great cinema (all my arthouse snob colleagues - which I admit I am one of on numerous occasions - need to loosen their top knot a bit), and perhaps it is indeed quite boated (though my reviewing style can be described in much the same manner), but it is a lot of fun to watch (I can even feel a bit of the joy I felt while on the Disney ride as a child), Depp, Cruz and those flesh-eating mermaids alike. [05/23/11]