Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The latest Pirates just needs a little more piracy and forced naval servitude.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
I just figured out why I’ve been craving potato chips – er, crisps – today. It’s because I’ve been percolating in the back of my mind my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The movie is junk-food cinema, I must now admit to myself and the world. This is not a good movie. It’s empty calories. But I scarfed it down anyway. And that’s fine. Sometimes junk food is satisfying, in a limited, instantly forgettable, hungry-again-an-hour-later sort of way. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I wallowed in On Stranger Tides and let the grease of it stain my fangirl fingers. I did.
OK, I’m a little bit embarrassed. I’ve been listening to my fellow critics talk about the movie for the past week, getting snippets of their eventual reviews as we chat in screening rooms waiting for other movies to begin. And I can’t refute any of their snide putdowns of Tides (I won’t repeat them here, though I will heartily list my own objections below). I’ve listened to them snarking on the film’s many many faults and I’ve laughed, but only at myself, because they’re not wrong and yet still it doesn’t change the fact that I really had a lot of fun with this movie.
Here’s the thing: Remember how we all felt before Curse of the Black Pearl, that first POTC movie so many years ago? Remember how we rolled our eyes and groaned, “Sheesh, a movie based on a theme-park ride? Based on a bad theme-park ride?” If Tides had been the first movie we got, our fears would have been borne out. Much of what returning screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have given us here feels perfunctory, calculated, obvious: It feels like what a Disneyfied idea of piracy would entail. Not that the previous three flicks have been Schindler’s List on the high seas. But they had a balance that is missing here.
See, Johnny Depp is back as Captain Jack Sparrow, and he – Depp, that is – is hugely entertaining. Jack is off to search for the Fountain of Youth, and there’s a secret map to the place, and some zombie pirate officers who get in his way, and some voodoo, and some mermaids who need to be captured, etc: all sorts of magic piratey preindustrial dark-fairy-tale goodness. Jack is fun to be around.
But Jack is out of equilibrium here in Tides. He’s got Penelope Cruz as a delicious lady pirate to banter with – and as a former lady love of his, there is a nice collection of naughty entendre, too. But she’s a lot like Jack. There’s Ian McShane as the pirate Captain Blackbeard, who is a very bad man indeed, and Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa, Jack’s longtime frenemy… but they’re a lot like each other. There’s a bit of a feeling of too-many-notes here, and all singing the same tune. What’s missing are Orlando Bloom’s upstanding Will and Keira Knightley’s proper-lady Elizabeth. Jack is all id, and he needs his ego and his superego to tamp him down and call him on his bullshit and to be our stand-ins.
It didn’t need to be Will and Elizabeth, specifically. There is a bit of promise for a short while that the handsome, upstanding, square-jawed priest (Sam Claflin) Blackbeard has kidnapped – he’s required for a ritual at the Fountain, it seems – would be the new Will, the one to stand aside and point at Jack and tell him he’s a jackass and force him to be better than is his wont. But that never comes to pass.
Because as much as we might love Jack – and I do, I certainly do – I’m not shocked by him anymore. Which was half the fun of Jack. That’s another big flaw of Tides (which is ostensibly based on the novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, but don’t believe it). All the stuff that seemed fresh and funny eight years ago now feels familiar, and hence less surprising: that is in the nature of a threequel. Which is a good reason, probably, to stop making movies that need numbers at the ends of their titles.
But mostly Tides isn’t as thrilling as its predecessors because there’s no one to step aside from all the silliness onscreen and point it out for the outrageous nonsense it is. Director Rob Marshall is oddly too reverent to make, say, the Monty Python-esque courtroom sequence that opens the film really fly. Sure, you can be the one who steps aside and points and tells the film it’s being a jackass. But we didn’t need to do that in the past. The outrageous nonsense is still fun… just not quite as much fun.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES (2) • Directed by Rob Marshall •Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penélope Crúz • Rated PG-13 • At Century Cinemas Del Monte, Maya Cinemas, Northridge Cinemas.