The first movie was fantastic. It was so surprisingly wonderful. It was hard to believe that a movie born of an amusement park ride could be anything more than marginally watchable. However, Depp, along with Geoffrey Rush, Keira Knightely, Orlando Bloom, and, certainly, director Gore Verbinski, created a terrifically fun fantasy that spirited the awe, mystery and excitement of pirates to a whole new level.
Yet, the last two movies seemed to plunge what they had created into a tangled mess of plotting, double-dealing, and overly intricate schemes that, apart from the delicious eye-candy, made them near impossible to enjoy.
And Captain Jack, a character that Depp created, molded, breathed life into, slowly unraveled over the course of Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. He was so cool.
“You’ll always remember this as they day you almost caught Captain Jack Sparrow.” Yes! He’s the Han Solo of these movies and like Han Solo’s neutering in Jedi, so too was Captain Jack handicapped by the snake pit of those last two movies. It turned Jack into a cartoon. It makes sense that Verbinski and Depp’s next team-up was Rango (quite good.)
When I started scanning the landscape of summer movies, a new Pirates didn’t really resonate as loudly as some of movies that are fresh, new, or sequels that still have some energy behind them. I felt like I should be excited. It’s a big summer movie. Right?
On Stranger Tides picks up in London some years after we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow on the docks, having lost his Pearl once again. It is there he learns of imposter recruiting a crew in his name. Jack sees this as an opportunity to acquire a ship and a crew, which has been long lacking. It doesn’t necessarily work out that way.
Like the other Pirates movies, there are a number of factions involved. This time around we have the Navies for both Britain (lead by a fancied-up Captain Barbossa) and Spain and the pirate of pirates, Black Beard (Ian McShane). In the middle of it all is, of course, Captain Jack Sparrow.
The three parties are racing to the Fountain of Youth, everlasting life being a hot commodity for the respective crowns and Black Beard, who’s imminent death is foretold by a zombified member of his crew.
Jack is a captive, as much as he ever can be, of Black Beard, brought to the ship by former flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), Black Beard’s daughter.
It’s not as easy as getting to the fountain first and taking a swig. There’s a ritual that requires two chalices that belonged to Ponce de Leon and a mermaid’s tear.
Those are the pieces on the board. The action and dialogue is pretty standard fair for a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. There are no real surprises. What they haven’t carried over is the noodle-twisting scheming. There are turns along the way, but nothing so jarring and confusing as what we saw in the later half of At World’s End.
If nothing else, it’s fun to see Depp romp about as Captain Jack Sparrow again. He’s sharp again. He has wit and purpose. This is the Jack that hooked you in the first movie.
Barbossa isn’t as Barbossa as he was in the others. He’s toned down quite a bit. Which gave plenty of room for Black Beard to shine.
Ian McShane. Love him. Though his post-Deadwood roles haven’t quite lived up to the sheer pleasure and joy of the villainous Al Swearengen, he is always a pleasure to watch. And here, he leans closer to Al than we’ve seen in a while. Were they allowed an R rating, I’m sure we would have heard a lot more salty language spouting from his lips.
Still, even he’s toned down. Black Beard should be bad. Really bad. Here, he’s just kinda bad. The imposing persona of Black Beard relies on reputation more so than what we actually see in the movie. Sure, he can control his ship with a wave of his hand. That’s spooky. And when he first appears, the end of his beard smolders, giving a looming fog about his head. Otherwise, there’s nothing terrifically cut-throat that makes him as formidable as he’s rumored to be.
A lot of the film is like that. Good enough, but pretty watered down. Nothing really stands out. Nothing is quite as grand as the other movies. I suppose too much grandeur could push it over the edge into absurdity, which was the case with the last outing. It’s a tight rope… or a plank, to stay within the parlance. On Stranger Tides managed it well enough for what may be considered a reboot, of sorts.
So, once more… Do I care about Pirates of the Caribbean? How excited should I be?
The answer? Yes, I do. And I should be excited. Not jumping out of my seat or rushing to see it opening night, but excited nonetheless. Depp deserves it. These movies aren’t so much about Pirates of the Caribbean as they are about The Pirate of the Caribbean. He shoulders the movie and returns Captain Jack to haphazard cool I so enjoyed from the first film.
And, yes, there will be a fifth. At least that’s they way they left it. I’m sure I’ll be excited for that one too.