REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan's back to finish off his Bat trilogy, but does the threequel live up to its predecessors?

REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

Spidey's back, with Marc Webb's controversial reboot finally swinging into cinemas. Can he justify it?

REVIEW: Rock of Ages (2012)

So, as it turns out, yes, Tom Cruise *can* sing. What more do you want?

REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott marks his return to sci-fi with this sort-of-an-Alien-prequel. But does it live up to the hype?

REVIEW: Casa de mi Padre (2012)

Yep. It's all in Spanish. And it's all batshit crazy.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [Review]

The first thing you’ll likely notice about the fourth instalment in the Pirates franchise is the scale. Gone are the majestic effects and locales of the previous trilogy; there’s barely a cannon fired - returning antagonist-turned-protagonist Captain Barbossa comes closest, flirting a skirmish with the Spanish which inevitably fizzles out - and the use of fewer locations diminishes any feeling of a lengthy journey or crusade.

But On Stranger Tides doesn’t feel like it needs them. It's a more personal adventure, but something of a pirate road trip - the film revolves around a race to the Fountain of Youth, as teased by the close of At World’s End, the final chapter of the Will Turner trilogy. Jack’s back, obviously - this is, at heart, Johnny Depp’s franchise, after all - as are the aforementioned Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s now a King’s Privateer and sporting a dashing wooden leg, and Jack’s faithful sidekick Gibbs (Kevin McNally). But that’s about as far as it goes for returning characters; replacing Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s romance thread are the token religious fanatic Philip (yes, even Pirates has one now) and mermaid Syrena, captured in one of the film’s strongest scenes. Penélope Cruz has a rather surprising turn as one of Cap’n Jack’s old flames, who joins the big bad on his ship - the beautifully designed Queen Anne’s Revenge. Ah, yes, the big bad of Pirates 4 - notorious villain Edward Teach, aka Captain Blackbeard.

Ian McShane does wonderfully with the material he is given - the only problem is, there isn’t enough of it. And sadly, this tends to ring true for much of the new cast. Despite a lengthy 136 minute running time, On Stranger Tides has developed a rabid case of Harry Potter syndrome. Characters are introduced for a line or two then discarded without second thought; Blackbeard himself remains a mystery - at one point something is mumbled about his crew being ‘zombies’, but no explanation is given as to why or how they have come to be in this state. The audience is simply left to accept that Blackbeard is some kind of living deity who can manipulate his ship and crew merely by pointing a sword in their face (in an obvious and cringe-worthy attempt to showcase the series’ adaptation of the frankly unbearable 3D phenomenon).

But such criticisms, thankfully, fail to detract completely from On Stranger Tides. The race to the Fountain of Youth is a less exhilarating one, but then the series feels less like it’s trying to cram grandiose action down its audience’s necks at the expense of the bulk of the film’s character and narrative development. Seemingly director Rob Marshall has done all in his power to stay away from Michael Bay methods of filmmaking: we’re given time to consume the plot and characters, and it is herein that the strength of On Stranger Tides lies. But that’s not to say it’s gone all serious - the action is still replete throughout, regardless of the scale or brevity of it; particularly memorable are the mermaid capture at Whitecap Bay and the fast-paced, classic Pirates intro involving an impromptu dash through London town.

A more pointless plot device comes in the form of the Spanish: merely an instrument to prolong the warring Barbossa and Blackbeard’s plight for their watery treasure for just a few minutes’ more runtime, their presence might be considered irrelevant - particularly based on their actions when they eventually reach the fabled fountain. But this mechanic still doesn’t feel jarring; simply an obstacle that is passed over briefly (and does allow for one of Depp’s more cynically humourous moments, whereupon he pulls apart a staple of fight scenes - watch out for it in the final act).

And once again, the Pirates series has somehow managed to overcome its flaws while riding them along anyway - by now, these films exist purely as entertainment; they’re enjoyable. It doesn’t matter that some of the characters might be paper-thin, or the plot not water-tight; Captain Jack is back, and, amidst a summer of South London street gangs taking on Independence Day and everything being Furiously Fast (Five times over), he’s damn welcome.

See also: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Dir: Rob Marshall
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane
Walt Disney Pictures, 136 mins, 18/05/11

Synopsis: Jack's back, racing against both Captain Blackbeard and the Spanish Armada to the fabled Fountain of Youth, with the help of a few familiar faces...