If you had told anyone ten years ago that Disney was going to make movie franchise out of a dilapidated ride in the Magic Kingdom, they probably would have called you crazy. That is exactly what Disney did with Pirates of the Caribbean. Not only did Disney make the ride into a movie franchise but they made it into one of the most successful ones ever, grossing over two billion dollars worldwide from the receipts on the theatrical runs of the films. However, despite the impressive monetary net the critical response to the films has been steadily declining. Most critics, myself included, felt that the sequels to the original film, Curse of the Black Pearl, got away from what made that film so good. Namely, too much focus on characters not named Jack Sparrow.
Disney, determined to not let such a strong franchise slip away, took the criticism to heart and four years after the third film in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides hits theaters with a fresh focus. Gone are Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) and in is a healthy dose of pirates. Johnny Depp once again takes center stage and is back to stumbling around doing his best Keith Richards impersonation as Captain Jack Sparrow. On Stranger Tides kicks off with its fun nozzle turned directly to ten. Jack infiltrates a London courtroom disguised as a judge to help free his old friend Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and comedic high jinks ensue. Jack of course is caught and finds out that his old nemesis, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) are setting out to find the Fountain of Youth.
Finding the Fountain of Youth is the easy part of the quest as accessing it requires a ritual with highly specific ingredients including the tears of a mermaid. If the words Disney and mermaids bring to mind pictures of beautiful red heads that play with talking fish and lobsters scrub that from your mind. Yes, the mermaids in On Stranger Tides are beautiful but they are not the helpless fish people The Little Mermaid makes them out to be. These mermaids are horrific sirens of the deep and are sure to give more than a few children nightmares. The Pirates films have always dabbled in dark themes but the mermaid storyline is the darkest thread in the series to date, it is also the most thought out thread since the original.
The film of course would not be complete without a beautiful foil to counteract Jack, enter Penelope Cruz playing the daughter of Blackbeard, Angelica. Much like Kiera Knightly did in the first three Pirates films, Cruz acts the tough, not so in distress, damsel. Cruz and Depp have excellent chemistry and she expertly plays off his leads. Often times it seems like they are trying to outdo one another and both seem to be having a ton of fun. Their energy for the film was infectious and I found myself having a ton of fun watching their over-the-top adventure.
As much fun as I had watching the film though, it does falter a bit holding it back from being a great Pirates film. Early on, the film settles into a pattern of comedy, exposition, action and it very rarely breaks from it. This makes the film entirely predictable right down to the closing scenes and it makes the film devoid of any tension. Without any tension, the film just plays as a fun romp from set piece to set piece instead of the action packed thrill ride it is meant to be. Compounding things, the film runs an extremely long two hours and 16 minutes. The film could have easily cut out 15 to 20 minutes, tightening up the narrative and making the pacing a tad bit faster.
The biggest complaint that can be levied against On Stranger Tides though is that it is just more Pirates of the Caribbean. However, I for one am perplexed as to why this is a bad thing. When I go to see a Pirates movie, I go to be entertained and On Stranger Tides accomplished this. The Pirates series may not be as fresh as it once seemed but On Stranger Tides gets the series back to its roots of delivering fun swashbuckling adventure. I had a blast with On Stranger Tides which is more than I can say for some of the other 2011 blockbuster films that have released. Simply put, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a popcorn movie done right.