The first film of the franchise that I’ve seen since taking in the official first film of the multibillion dollar Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, On Stranger Tides is another efficiently made supernatural, seafaring swashbuckler.
As opposed to being swept away by a sea of convoluted chaotic subplots, Stranger sets its sails early on in the first act to ensure we don’t get shipwrecked by too many competing storylines.
Inspired by the titular novel by Tides scribe Tim Powers, screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott put the lessons learned by the Caribbean trilogy to good use, boldly dropping old faces to go-fish for new cast-mates that aid in a standalone James Bond like sequel feel which isn’t overly dependent on Pirates pictures of the past.
Yet the supporting cast is called supportive for a reason as – even when it takes the form of two-time Oscar winner Penelope Cruz and Deadwood scene-stealer Ian McShane – there’s no denying that the treasure viewers prize the most is the mischievous wit and rebellion embodied by Johnny Depp’s now-iconic “if Keith Richards had a love child with Jim Morrison” cool rock ‘n roll mojo fueled performance as laidback pirate Jack Sparrow.
After Sparrow finds himself face-to-face, tale-to-tale, and sword-to-sword with an old-flame turned crafty con-woman Angelica (Cruz), he’s enlisted to undertake a dangerous adventure that tests his alliances between love and greed as well as life and death when Angelica and her deceitful Blackbeard father (McShane) force Sparrow to track down Ponce de Leon’s legendary Fountain of Youth.
Venturing to uncover the booty before the expeditions of other countries and old rivals such as Geoffrey Rush’s Barbosa beat the pirate to the punch, Sparrow must survive mermaids of the Jaws rather than Splash variety, Butch Cassidy worthy cliff-terrain, and a few Princess Bride-esque double crosses and shape-shifting twists of plot and character alike in a bloated yet entertainingly busy 136 minute running time.
Although the relative emphasis on less-is-more simplicity is more blessing than curse in stark contrast to other Jerry Bruckheimer everything-and-the-kitchen sink nonsensical hundred million dollar plus CG-heavy live action video games including Prince of Persia and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Stranger Tides still feels slightly formulaic for all of the talent involved.
A spirited old fashioned romp, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is nonetheless sure to earn the “That’s Swashbuckling Entertainment” Errol Flynn seal of approval, which – after the release of former Disney owned Miramax execs Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Scream 4 – easily makes it the most enjoyable fourth installment of 2011.
Appealing to those who particularly partial to the first picture, Stranger Tides additionally benefits from the fiery interplay of Depp and Cruz which is spotlighted nicely by new franchise helmer Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) along with the gorgeously rich imagery of Disney’s superlatively transferred Blu-ray Combo Pack edition.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.