Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
(M) Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane
Captain Jack Sparrow has changed the way we think about pirates — single-handedly associating them with ’60s rock stars — and one can’t help but wait for the latest instalment in this very popular franchise.
The second and third in the Pirates series got longer and harder to follow. By At World’s End the films had all but run out of puff.
So it’s a great relief then that this latest outing heralds a return to form with a sleeker and simpler storyline – that of the race to find the fabled Fountain of Youth – and an engaging new cast with Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and her formidable father Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
The rules of the Fountain of Youth are simple: collect two chalices, get one mermaid’s tear and find the fabled cave.
Once we’re on the high seas and on Blackbeard’s galleon, the ornery cast of characters is evened out by a missionary named Phillip (Sam Claflin) who is strapped to the mainsail to pray for everyone’s soul, for Blackbeard’s pirates have been turned to zombies to do his bidding — all the better to thwart any mutinous thoughts.
The rules of the Fountain of Youth are simple: collect two chalices, get one mermaid’s tear and find the fabled cave. This very simple narrative device allows the screenwriters to focus on character and even develop a back story for Angelica and Jack.
The race toward the prize has the Spanish, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Blackbeard (with Sparrow in tow) but the twist is that not everyone has the same prize in mind.
There has been an obvious attempt to revisit the young love motif created by Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom) in the first trilogy with the somewhat superfluous — but touching — story of Phillip (Claflin) falling for the misunderstood mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey). But this subplot feels tacked on to the quest.
The cast is obviously having fun and its something that attracts hilarious cameos from Dame Judy Dench and Keith Richards.
Blackbeard is a much better character than Davy Jones was in the first trilogy. Jones was a wholly digital character (performed by Bill Nighy), whereas McShane’s performance is sans makeup (save some subtle smouldering beard plaits) and is the sort of dread pirate villain you expect.
The ever-excellent Geoffrey Rush again makes Barbossa one of the series best villains. Perhaps my only criticism of Rush is there isn’t enough of him on screen.
Simpler CGI-enhanced action means it all feels real — a palm tree catapult, a complex palace escape and the climax are all the better for not being giant spectacles.
In fact all the special effects are more subtle in this outing, making the film feel more character-driven and interesting.
This is good simple fun, although I’m not sure that the fun will quite last to another whole trilogy. For now, Sparrow garners enough goodwill to get this one clearly over the line.
Enter our Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Competition here.