Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) Movie Review

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Did anyone actually expect “Pirates of the Caribbean” to be as good as it was? Sure, it’s a movie about pirates and Johnny Depp’s tipsy Keith Richards impersonation, but it’s also based on a ride at Disneyland for Christ’s sake. It certainly surprised the hell out of me. The sequels, “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, both sucked, but the original holds up. And while nowhere near as good as the first, the latest film in the franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, is exponentially better than the second and third installments.

Part of my problem with two and three is that they took the best part of the first film, Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, and screwed with the character. Sparrow is a self-interested scallywag, to be sure, but he’s not an entirely bad dude at his core, and while he’ll screw you over and abandon you, he’ll feel guilty about it and come back to rescue you, eventually. In “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, however, he was just a complete turd, and after a while I stopped rooting for him. Couple this with the fact that the first movie was able to keep Orlando Bloom’s douchbaggery in check, while it was allowed to run roughshod all over the sequels, and I never need to watch them again.

“On Stranger Tides” returns the Cap’n to his original form, the first time you see him, he’s laying it all on the line to rescue his first mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally), from an imminent execution in London. After engineering a daring escape, Jack hears rumors that someone is attempting to rustle up a crew using his good name. Turns out that the imposter is Angelica (Penelope Cruz), an ex-flame in drag, a woman who had been training to be a nun before she met a certain heavily-mascara’d pirate. Through a series of unfortunate events, unfortunate for Jack anyhow, he is shanghaied and wakes up in the last place any pirate wants to be, below deck on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the infamous ship of the even more infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Blackbeard is on his way to find the fountain of youth in order to avoid his impending death, which was foretold in a prophecy. Oh yeah, it also turns out that Angelica is Blackbeard’s daughter. That’s going to be an issue.

As if all of this isn’t enough, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) pops up again, hot on their tail, and those pesky Spanish are also in the hunt. Then there are zombies, mermaids (who are cannibals with Spider-Man-esque webs, who knew?), voodoo, a mysterious ritual no one knows much about, and all manner of other roadblocks to overcome. There are swordfights galore, swinging from yardarms, and all of the usual swashbuckling goodness that you want from a movie about pirates.

It’s fun, but “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is far from perfect. There is no reason for it to be as long as it is. The plot is needlessly complex, and in trying to be twisted it only succeeds in being silly and muddy. There are subplots that should have been trimmed way down, if not cut out all together. Chief among these is the awkward love story between a sexy missionary (Sam Claflin) and an equally sexy kidnapped mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), that never resolves, and I can only suspect is some sort of lead in to the next sequel. (Only time will tell how valid my theory is.) At times the movie gets too cute and cheeky, like when Jack pauses to eat a pastry in mid skirmish. You’ll recognize a few scenes because they were lifted straight from the earlier films. The initial meeting between Jack and Angelica is virtually identical to the first battle between Jack and Will in the first film, even down to the duel in the rafters. But the worst issue for me was the 3D. I’m not a fan of the choice to make every big, epic, adventure movie in 3D, but in this case it is especially pointless. The only times director Rob Marshall and crew make use of the technology are the moments when Blackbeard or some other character points his sword at someone. Aside from this handful of instances, the rest of the 3D is just a distraction, or worse, completely unnoticeable.

Yeah, there are problems, lots of them. Some of these troubles might be unforgivable in other movies, and some seriously stupid shit happens near the end, but the fun parts are fun enough carry you through most of the rough patches. And McShane is a fantastic addition to the series. His Blackbeard delivers an appropriate level of menace, and his sinister presence helps balance out some of the weaker elements. “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” isn’t as good as some of this season’s earlier blockbusters, like “Thor” and “Fast Five”, but once you’ve seen those, and when you have some time to kill before “Green Lantern” and “X-Men” open, it’s an entertaining popcorn movie that’s worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing.

Rob Marshall (director)/Ted Elliot (writer)/Terry Rossio (writer)
CAST: Johnny Depp…Captain Jack Sparrow
Penelope Cruz…Angelica
Ian McShane…Blackbeard
Geoffrey Rush…Barbossa
Sam Claflin…Philip
Astrid Berges-Frisbey…Syrena
Kevin McNally…Gibbs


Buy Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides on DVD

Author: Brent McKnight

Brent McKnight lives in Seattle with his dogs. He likes beards, movies where things explode, and overcast skies. His three favorite movies are "Rubin and Ed", "A Bittersweet Life", and "Out for Justice". He wishes his knees didn't hurt. On Twitter @BrentMMcKnight
  • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

    Great review. But I have a difference of opinion about the sequels. Though inferior to the originals I didn’t hate them. Two seemed all over the place and the Will and Elizbeth thing dragged on. And it was missing Barbosa which didn’t really bother me til he showed up and I felt like “Ohh that’s what was missing.” The third seemed like the logical conclusion to the story for WIll and Liz(which dragged on way to long, just explain your guilt girl), and wrapped up WHY Jack was such a “Turd” as you put it. In the end it came down to his mortality and him dealing with it. He didn’t want to die and he did things (in your eyes) he wouldn’t have normally did. But in the end he was Jack, it still felt right characterwise. But hey that’s just my interpretation.

    • Brent

      I know a lot of people who really enjoyed the sequels, I’m just not one of them. The third is definitely the better of those. To me the second one really just felt like an extended prologue to the third.

      • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

        That’s a very good way of putting it. They knew where they wanted to go but there was so much they had to get to before “At Worlds End” it just dragged on. They really could’ve resolved the will/elizabeth subplot early in the first film and done away with all the doublecrossing as it just made it all take longer. All that doublecrossing worked much better in the third film anyway. I’m just glad this one is back to form…and Barbosa is still around. As is Gibbs.

        • Brent

          Ian McShane is a nice add. He’s a great grizzled old pirate with a smoldering beard.

        • Brent

          Ian McShane is a nice add. He’s a great grizzled old pirate with a smoldering beard.

          • http://www.originalgeekspodcast.com/ Dedpool

            Yeah, when I heard McShane was gonna play him I thought it was great casting.

            Sent on the go.

          • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Nix

            Simple truth of life: You can NOT go wrong with McShane. If you’ve never seen him in “Deadwood”, his performance is EPIC.

  • Bob

    It’ll still make a bazillion dollars, no matter how bad it might be.

    • Benjamin Covert

      So I cant talk about jews, booda, blacks, or illegal immigrants (mexicans), but this dirt worshipping hippie can use the lords name in vane? Awesome! Hats off to you hollywood, and your double standards!

      Ps, before you send me hate mail, I know I cant spell and didnt bother to properly punctuate. Also, think about this, I have just as much right to complain about this as you have to protest your own government.

  • Tedyansangma

    ga’suja maija

  • Marakpangkam

    nijokosa ma’siaignoK !!! nama namjakode>>>