Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
This one is what it is... a four-movie franchise built pretty much entirely of Johnny Depp's charisma.
There are good things and bad things on this one.
One good thing is that Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly are gone and so is the sub-plot of Will and Elizabeth... which is good because I was never that fond of the characters. It is kind of ironic, though, since, all those years ago, when the first movie came out I really wasn't interested in seeing it but a friend talked me into going basically because of Orlando Bloom. We had seen Bloom in the Lord of the Rings movies and he was easy on the eyes and we were bored so we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean. We walked into the theatre talking about Bloom but we walked out of the theatre talking about Johnny Depp. He pretty much tucked the movie under his arm and walked away with it... and he's still doing it today.
This marks the first time in the franchise, though, that Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow has carried the movie as the clear protagonist -- and that's a good thing. Depp's charisma is enough to carry most of the humor and action. And, best of all, this is a movie that gets that if you're going to have a film about pirates there had better be some swashbuckling. And there is, and it's well done. Knowing how to buckle a good swash is a dying art in Hollywood.
The film also twists some tropes around and plays the reverse card in a lot of scenes -- which is fun and keeps the film from getting formulaic and dull. But then it goes a little too far in the other direction in order to try to break formula and ends up crowding the film with some unnecessary clutter. We'll get to that next...
One thing that just doesn't work is a more traditional 'romantic' subplot between a "cleric" (very carefully not labeled or dressed as a Catholic priest) and a mermaid. This is, I suppose, meant to contrast the rather untraditional relationship between Captain Jack and Angelica but neither the cleric nor the mermaid is given much screen time to develop and as a result it comes off as 'romance for romance's sake' and honestly, we just don't care because we aren't given a reason to care. And Jack and Angelica's relationship is far more fun because of it's non-traditional nature.
Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbarossa but this time we get the added benefit of Ian McShane as Blackbeard. Yes, THAT Blackbeard... well, sort of. I mean, if Blackbeard had been a practitioner of Voodoo... with Zombie crewmen... and a ship that was apparently alive.... *sigh*... yeah, here's where things start going south... HARD.
McShane is great as Blackbeard. He's crafty, manipulative, and he manages to hold his performance to 'just under over-the-top' but it's the script that lets him down. They pile on all of these unnecessary 'mystical' elements which just don't work. I know, I know, ALL the movies in the franchise have contained some fantasy elements but this one just has too much and too many. The zombie crewmen (and we're talking 'zombie' of the old, stereotypical, Voodoo variety, NOT the George Romero "braaaiiiinnnnsss" variety) serve no real purpose and the script would have worked just as fine with them being ordinary humans. The voodoo doll that Blackbeard creates of Jack Sparrow ends up also providing nothing to the plot. And then we get the fact that Blackbeard's ship -- the Queen Anne's Revenge -- seems to be alive and that Blackbeard can control her actions with a sword. How? Why? We don't know, we're never told and, again, it adds nothing to the plot except a chance for the CGI artists to have a little fun.
We also have the McGuffin (or as I still like the call it, the "Grelbin") for the movie -- the Fountain of Youth. And even THAT gets overly complex and layered with a useless "ceremony" which must be performed in order to gain youth and, even then, one doesn't truly gain "eternal youth" so the whole thing is like a bait-and-switch. The ceremony makes no logical sense and simply adds on extra... well... to be frank... crap... that the movie doesn't need.
In the movie's favor, however, I have not seen the previous two installments of the series and I was perfectly able to follow along with this one so if you're behind in your Pirates watching then never fear -- you can jump right in here and not feel out-to-sea. Aside from that, though... If you haven't seen this one yet... go ahead and wait for the rental. It's good, it's entertaining, but in the end it's got some clutter problems that keep it from being a really great film.