Wednesday, 25 May 2011

'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' Review

'Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides' (dir: Rob Marshall, 2011), Cert: 12A

We have gotten to a point where a lightning bolt striking a tree is enough to symbolise a Jerry Bruckheimer production – no name is needed, just a glowing tree. That’s pretty much how the latest instalment of Disney’s mega-franchise, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ begins. This time however there’s no Keira or Orlando, instead Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane are joining Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush in the 3D swashbuckler. Also departing is director Gore Verbinski and ‘Chicago’ (2002) director Rob Marshall has stepped in. With all these changes, it’s hard to see ‘On Stranger Tides’ being similar to its predecessors, but after viewing, it’s very clear that it is, and for me that’s a very good thing.

 Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) travels to London to locate a pirate who has been impersonating him and giving false information. His foe Barbossa (Rush) is now working for the Navy after losing a limb and the Black Pearl. Sparrow is taken before the King and asked to locate ‘the Fountain of Youth’ – a body of water that can grant eternal youth and beauty before the Spanish do. Shortly after, Sparrow meets Angelica (Cruz); a beautiful and courageous woman who he one had a ‘relationship’ with. She organises a ship and the group set sail for the fountain but unbeknown to all, aboard the ship is someone who all pirates truly fear – Captain Blackbeard (McShane).

 Now before I get started, I am a big fan of the ‘Pirates’ pictures – yes I know they are corporate and only induce further revenue to the vile machine that is modern Disney but I don’t really care. Anyway, onto the review.

 As I mentioned earlier, ‘On Stranger Tides’ is hardly strange territory – in fact, it’s virtually identical apart from a few new faces and locations. The latest picture in the franchise operates in the way that we all know and love (or hate if you agree with virtually every broadsheet film critic); the formula consists of great gags from Sparrow, dazzling special effects and a monumental score from the incredible Hans Zimmer, but in places, there are slight differences. Firstly, there is an absence of romantic weight amongst the lead characters – there still is romance but that comes in the form of a very attractive Mermaid and an overly smitten and annoying young man. Rather than constantly checking up on the relationship progress between Elizabeth and Will, ‘On Stranger Tides’ spends a lot more time with Jack and Barbossa who are both in pursuit of the fountain, but for very different reasons.

 The narrative to the feature isn’t as well paced as desired – the first 30 minutes are fairly slow and the last 30 minutes fly by leaving the centre of the picture at the correct pace. This isn’t a criticism of the story, as I believe this picture has a decent tale to tell, but it is a little rough around the edges. However, this is made up for by the character development which is excellent; particularly in the case of Scrum played by the brilliant Stephen Graham and of course Jack Sparrow. Depp’s pirate protagonist has evolved and changed dramatically since his debut in 2003 but his changes have only been for the better and that’s why he is amongst the best and most recognisable characters of the 2000s.

Still from 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' (dir: Rob Marshall, 2011)

 Marshall’s direction is sure-footed and executed with great skill. I was a little concerned when hearing he had been named director 18 months ago, but he provides the goods. Marshall is very good at capturing human expression and elements which is evident here. The camera does a lot more than studying character though so don’t fret – you get all the ‘Pirates’ visuals you’re used to. The cinematography is breathtaking and when mixed with Zimmer’s score, it’s pretty difficult not to melt a bit inside. Bruckheimer tosses the bucks around too for some incredible CGI and set pieces, I don’t want to give anything away but on a visual front, you will not be disappointed, and you will never look at Mermaids in the same way again.
 The performances are all very strong, particularly from Depp and Rush as the bickering and downright brilliant Sparrow and Barbossa. They have been the best thing about this franchise ever since its inception and that certainly hasn’t changed. Cruz is also very good as Angelica; the beautiful pirate whose presents a tough facade but truthfully, her wounded heart needs healing, and McShane was brilliant as Blackbeard.  He was a great casting choice and found the perfect balance between scary and comedic. I’ve already mentioned Graham’s wonderful as Scrum but it’s great to see such a talented actor doing well because he truly deserves it. ‘This is England’ (2006) seemed like so long ago...

 So, if you like the ‘Pirates’ franchise, you will love the latest, however for those who are not fans, chances are number four isn’t going to change your mind. Disney and Bruckheimer have come up with a winning formula that keeps bringing audiences alike back for more rip-roaring adventures with Captain Jack Sparrow, and seeing as I love these movies, sign me up for round five.

Visually stunning, wonderfully performed and exquisitely directed.
Yo- Ho-Ho, and a Bottle of Rum.

By Chris Haydon

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