Friday, May 27, 2011

Latest 'Pirates' is good enough

Here's the short review of “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth in the wildly successful Disney franchise: more of the same, which depending on your frame of mind, can be a positive or a negative.
“Curse of the Black Pearl,” the first in the series, wasn't a perfect movie, but it introduced us to Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow, a wholly original characterization that sparked an otherwise routine pirate yarn. Also, in comparison to this new film there was an energy in the pacing and a moody atmosphere in Gore Verbinski's direction.
Verbinski also directed the bloated second and third films, which both had long, dull patches, but even those films had some interesting visuals and imaginatively staged action set pieces. “At World's End” became down right surreal at times.
Many assumed that all you needed for a successful “Pirates” movie was Depp, but, now with a new director, Rob Marshall, it is apparent how integral Verbinski was in giving those films their offbeat loopiness.
“On Stranger Tides,” which begins anew without the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, starts out promisingly with much of the quirky charm of the earlier films in tact. Impersonating a judge, Sparrow saves fellow pirate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from a hanging and then after a brief meeting with King George (Richard Griffiths) makes an elaborate escape that includes swinging from chandeliers and stealing a pastry or two in the process. It is good fun. 
Then the plot proper begins. Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former flame, is impersonating Sparrow and gathering a crew to search for the fountain of youth. Turns out Angelica is the daughter of the dreaded Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and Sparrow is now a reluctant member of his crew.
Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbossa, now working as a captain for the English Royal Navy, who is also pursuing the fountain. Just for good measure the film throws in the Spanish in the pursuit as well because, hey, why not when you have a $250 million budget?
The introduction of the new characters like McShane's formidable Blackbeard and Cruz's feisty Angelica along with the re-introduction of Sparrow and Barbossa is all well handled, but then the film doesn't really seem to know what to do with itself.
There's some business about needing the tear of a mermaid to make the fountain of youth work. This brings about a sequence involving an attack by web-slinging vampire mermaids/sirens. One (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is captured and this leads to a cornball love subplot with a young man of faith (Sam Claflin) who is a part of Blackbeard's crew in hopes of saving his soul. These two are so dull that those who complained about Bloom and Knightley will be begging for their return.
Then there's Depp, who continues to provide his oddball line readings, but all the things that were so unexpected about the Jack Sparrow character in the first film have become the expected. Depp is still entertaining, but the character feels somewhat restrained and less of the element of anarchy he was in the previous films. In many ways, he has been softened — he admits to having feelings for Angelica — and made into a more traditional hero. It takes away some of the fun of the character.
Rush, who was so gloriously hammy in the previous films, also seems more subdued here. Even McShane, after a great first introduction, is lacking something. The whole thing feels ever so slightly off.
So, is it entertaining? Yes, while you're watching it is a diverting couple hours. It just isn't likely to linger. This is disposable, forgettable summer fare, which is fine, but we've come to expect more than just that from Captain Jack Sparrow.

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