In an early scene in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Judi Dench makes an uncredited cameo as a British aristocrat in a horse carriage, whose ear Jack Sparrow nuzzles mischievously before taking off on a new adventure. Clearly disappointed from getting less than she’d hoped for, she asks: “Is that it?” Good question, and one that you find yourself asking at the end of this underwhelming fourth installment of the Disney franchise that clocks in at an excruciating 2 hours and 16 minutes.
A far cry from the first film, a swashbuckling adventure that was irreverent and inventive in equal measure, this fourth outing feels like a cynical rehash of the old formula. So Johnny Depp puts on the eyeliner once again to play mad pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, but the actor appears to have dialed down some of the character’s flamboyant histrionics as he embarks on a quest to locate – of all things – the Fountain of Youth. How appropriate, considering this film itself could do with a healthy shot of rejuvenation.
Franchise regulars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley don’t return for this new episode, but in their place we have pretty newcomers Sam Claflin as a Christian missionary and Astrid Berges-Frisbey as a lovelorn mermaid lending the film its romantic subplot. Also joining the cast is Penelope Cruz as Angelica, an old flame of Jack’s, and daughter of the fearsome Captain Blackbeard (played by Ian McShane) who is desperately seeking out the Fountain so he can protect himself from impending death. Meanwhile, Geoffrey Rush mysteriously returns as Captain Barbossa, now with one wooden leg, who has joined the British side as they race against the Spanish in their hunt for the Fountain.
The only scenes worth recommending in this film are a handful of the action sequences, especially a mermaid attack that is nicely done. Since much of the story unfolds at night, watching the film in 3D only makes the images look darker than they already are. ((pause)) Helmed by “Chicago” director Rob Marshall who takes over from franchise regular Gore Verbinski, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is an average film at best, and one that will no doubt come as a disappointment to those who’ve embraced the series. It has neither tension nor urgency, it’s well mounted and occasionally stunning to look at. But the fun and the energy is so badly missing.
I’m going with two out of five for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Brace yourself before stepping into these choppy waters.