It was once said by… someone, that one of the most important parts of having a successful movie franchise is knowing when to stop. I’ve just realised that this last sentence has kind of given away my entire opinion on Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, but there’s a page and a half left on this, so stick around. My point is that sequels to popular films are NEVER anywhere near as good as the original. It didn’t work for Ghostbusters, it didn’t work for Jaws, it didn’t work for Meet the Parents, and it certainly has never worked for anything George Lucas has ever gone near. The only film franchise that was even remotely passable was Back to the Future, but to be honest even that was pushing it a bit.
When I first saw posters for the film, a number of thoughts went through my head. “Oh good”, thought I, “Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley aren’t in it any more”. “Oh bugger”, then thought I, “Johnny Depp is.” Fair enough, getting rid of Bloom and Knightley was actually a pretty good idea, even though I have to give them credit for defying all the odds and somehow managing to convey a romance in a film franchise more annoying and less believable than that between Anakin and Padme inAttack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. But (at the risk of upsetting teenage girls everywhere) I genuinely think they should have gotten rid of Depp to, for the sole reason that his character is now getting VERY old VERY quickly. His character was refreshing in the first film, and to a lesser extent the second too, because no-one had done the quirky style of character well before. But then people started to realise that, as well as playing a quirky, possibly mentally unstable guy in Pirates of the Caribbean, he’d also played a quirky, possibly mentally unstable guy inAlice in Wonderland. And in Edward Scissorhands. And in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And in… well, you get the idea. But he was handed his many, many pieces of eight (see what I did there?) and so we have to put up with him for another couple of hours.
So this time Sparrow and his mates are off to look for the fountain of youth. Quite why Jack wants it is never really explained (although they may have explained it while I wasn’t paying attention for some reason), but he’s now joined by a new Scooby gang of intrepid explorers, namely: Blackbeard, Penelope Cruz, a mermaid, God-botherer Philip (who shall now forever be known as “silly-bollocks”) and 2 massive guys who look like they hit every single branch of the ugly tree about 3 times before climbing back up to do it again. And I know what you’re all thinking: “but what of the awkward romance that no-one cares about?? Surely now Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are gone we won’t get to see such wonderful on-screen chemistry??” Well don’t worry; On Stranger Tides has definitely got you covered. Yes, ignoring all biological and physical laws silly-bollocks and the mermaid start to fall for each other, and valuable screen time is eaten up by their stupid little “will they? won’t they?” side-story of love, betrayal and redemption that has clearly been shoe-horned in at the last minute, and that no-one actually gives a toss about.
I should also mention that Captain Barbossa makes a return, albeit one limb light now, and he’s also after the fountain, along with the Spanish. So of course it’s going to lead to one massive final showdown between them all. Oh, come on, that isn’t a spoiler! Three large, powerful groups all after one extremely valuable object, how did you think it was going to end?! Anyway, Barbossa’s not the main captain now, for that we hand over to Blackbeard. I suppose it was only a matter of time before they brought in the most famous pirate ever. Being fair, Ian McShane plays him pretty well, but then the acting in these films has always been pretty good (apart from Bloom and Knightley), so it’s not too much of a plus point.
On the contrary, the fight scenes have always been the biggest problem of the films, and it’s no different here. Aside from all the fights including Jack being way too long and over-complicated, they all have a habit of ending up looking like a Laurel and Hardy sketch where Laurel forgot to wash for a few years. After seeing groups of guards get tied up by Jack running around with a rope, or tripping over loose barrels, or falling face down in the mud I managed to get bored extremely quickly. And honestly, near the beginning of the film when we first meet Penelope Cruz, I swear that fight scene is the exact same as the one between Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in the first film. Honestly, I think it’s about time we made this stupid part of all the films walk the plank (ok, I’ll stop that now.)
I’m going to be honest; it was REALLY hard to come up with a page-and-a-half review from “yeah, it was alright I guess”, because the problem is that that’s all you can really say about this film. It does nothing to excite and it doesn’t push any boundaries. Really they just seem to be going through the motions, realising that if they just put Johnny Depp on screen and make him act drunk for 2 hours then it’s a guaranteed sell. I was hoping that even the producers would look at this movie and think “yeah, that’s enough of that now”, but rumours are going round that they’ll be starting pre-production on a fifth one soon, so I guess they haven’t quite finished milking the cash cow yet. But one thing I will say for it is that it inspired me to go home and put the first one on so I could remember when it used to be good, and for that I admire it. It’s keeping that fine balance between reminding us how good it once was, and showing us that the entire film franchise is about to keel over and die from scurvy.