I’m a Pirates of the Caribbean apologist. Viewers and critics alike have berated the second and third entries in the franchise, but I defend them on the grounds that they shouldn’t be taken seriously and are simply good, stupid fun. I won’t be doing that for On Stranger Tides. This fourth installment is nothing more than an obvious cash grab, a slapdash resurgence of a franchise that doesn’t know what to do with itself. Those who hated At World’s End are suddenly going to have fond memories of it after watching this.
The movie begins with a familiar face. Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is on trial, though for what I haven’t the slightest clue. He is about to receive his sentencing when suddenly, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) randomly appears in full judge garb, sentencing him to life in prison. Before he knows it, Jack has ditched the outfit and joined him in the carriage that is transporting him off to jail. Jack informs him he has a plan and to just sit tight for a while. Of course, that plan never comes into fruition and next thing they know, they are confronted by the British armed forces. Before much of anything happens, Jack escapes and runs into Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who has been impersonating Jack in another plot point that is never really explained. It turns out she is, but not really (but maybe), the daughter of the famed Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Next thing he knows, Jack is on Blackbeard’s ship and they’re on their way to find the Fountain of Youth.
Like its predecessors, On Stranger Tides doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There are zombified slave people, mermaids that evidently don’t like man-made light, but flock to it nonetheless, and a scene where Jack runs into an old friend who is able to fire a gun and save his life despite being, as far as I could tell, an apparition. Also like the previous movies (particularly the third one), it’s not always clear who is good and who is bad. It never establishes anyone to root for, so you end up rooting for no one.
Although those problems have been a consistency since the second film, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End made up for it with over-the-top action. You were bombarded with so much excitement that you wound up forgetting that you really had no idea what was going on. The ridiculousness was part of its charm. I think back to the end of the third film where multiple ships were circling around a whirlpool in the middle of the ocean, firing cannons at each other while characters swung to and fro and battled each other on top of the ships’ masts. For some reason, On Stranger Tides decides to scale back its action to a large degree. Nowhere will you find the outrageousness of the previous films. Rather, you’ll see little more than your generic on-land swordfights that usually end up going nowhere due to the film’s apparent desire to ensure that very few people, especially the main characters, are actually harmed.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is convoluted, confusing and overstuffed. The funny thing is that at two hours and eight minutes, it’s the shortest Pirates movie yet, but it feels like the longest. It meanders about, introducing new characters that are poorly developed and throwing them in subplots that are uninteresting and, like the human/mermaid romance, very silly. It forces its humor, the actors don’t seem to be into it and it more or less ends up where it began. Even the reliable Depp as the ever amusing Jack Sparrow seems like he’s floating through this, though that could be due to the witless script that gives him nothing funny to say.
The final nail in the coffin comes from the obligatory 3D, which is more useless here than ever before thanks to the overwhelming darkness that pervades the film. This is the darkest movie to utilize the format since Sanctum and, thanks to the tinted glasses, it’s difficult to see much of anything. When you can see, the effect isn’t noticeable. When it is noticeable, it’s nauseating and off-putting. Given all its blunders, there’s really no reason to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It’s hard to imagine even die-hard fans of the franchise will be able to find enjoyment in this.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides receives 1.5/5