The Pirates Of Caribbean franchise has made Walt Disney over $2.6 billion – that’s more than the GDP of many developing nations. When you’ve got a licence to print money, there’s no financial reason to stop making more and with Johnny Depp receiving a reported $55.5 million, it’s difficult to see a reason why he wouldn’t reprise his role.
Following the unmitigated critical disaster that was Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World’s End, all eyes are on new director Rob Marshall to see if he can steer the floundering franchise back on course. Unfortunately that’s not the case as the good ship Pirates runs aground on the rocks of bad writing early on and with credibility leaking out of a substantial breach in the hull, sinks unrecoverable into a watery grave.
After escaping custody in London, Cap’n Jack Sparrow (Depp) learns that someone is impersonating him in order to raise a crew to find the mystical fountain of youth. Determined to get there first, he quickly departs with Captain Barbosa (Rush), legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), old flame Angelica (Penleope Cruz) and the entire Spanish fleet hot on his heels.
Its unnecessarily complicated plot obfuscates any charm that Jack Sparrow still has (and even his cheeky demeanour is wearing). Not only does the fountain of youth have to be found but to use its powers not one but two missing silver chalices must be utilised, one of which must be filled with a mermaid’s tear. It plays out like a string of video game RPG-subquests – go here, get this, fetch that – without any of the sense of achievement.
If the needless over-complication doesn’t have you scratching your head, then the amount of double-crossing that every single character pulls probably will. But far from making Pirates thrilling, it has the opposite effect – its constant meandering and about-turns grow quickly tiresome and the resulting mulch is far from thrilling; it’s dull, dull, dull.
For an action adventure, there’s a bewildering amount of talking: characters spend more time flapping their gums than buckling their swashes and the lack of any wit makes conversations feel like mere pit stops, a chance to catch their breath before another boring action sequence.
Only rarely does fun rise to the surface – the early set-pieces have the high-production values that you’d come to expect from such a caper: Jack’s escape from the clutches of King George (an expansive Richard Griffiths) culminating in a carriage rooftop chase is entertaining if predictable (enhanced a hundred fold by a well-judged cameo) and Jack’s swordfight with his doppelganger in a brewery echoes the thrills of the forge fight in the first movie.
But herein lies the problem – Jack might be running for his life, but there’s never a feeling that he might not get away; there’s no sense of danger and no excitement and every escape, every supposedly daring rescue is rendered perfunctory, a over-familiar bombastic action-sandwich with none of the meaty filling.
The whole affair is dogged by lazy writing and inconsistency. What exactly are Blackbeard’s powers? Why are some of his crew zombies? Where did he get that voodoo doll of Jack anyway? Why exactly is his ship equipped with go-go-Gadget flamethrowers? It suffers from the same disease that infected the later Pierce Brosnan-fronted James Bond films – gadgets that are simply introduced to fulfil one role before being discarded regardless of how much sense they make to the plot.
On Stranger Tides treats its characters with just as much disposability. A romance between the ship’s preacher and a mermaid has all the appeal of a wet fish, not least because we only find out his name in passing a good hour after his character is introduced. Similarly, it’s impossible to get hot under the collar about the supposed sexual tension between Cruz and Depp – they spend too much time stabbing each other in the back and chattering endlessly for any glimmer of romance to emerge.
Elsewhere Ian McShane tries valiantly as the legendary cur Blackbeard but the character simply doesn’t have enough screen time for him to be regarded as a credible threat and consequently neither his villainy nor his prophesised death carry any weight. Meanwhile, Rush’s Barbosa isn’t given much to do; he’s an unnecessary tag-along in an already over-burdened cast of characters.
Clocking in at a heavyweight two hours and 15 minutes, Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is bloated, boring and smothers any charm that the series once has under a punishingly dull cavalcade of action sequences, nonsensical plot and tiresome characters. Abandon ship.