The people who crafted the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides must either believe that they have created some sort of genius storyline or that the audience is too unintelligent to understand even basic plot element. I believe this because of one key moment in the film, when Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) asks another character to once again explain how they can actually activate the Fountain of Youth’s powers. At this point in the film, this is the third time it has been explained.
As hinted at in At World’s End, Jack Sparrow has decided to find the Fountain of Youth. On Stranger Tides takes place a considerable time after the end of the third film because Jack begins the film with the unfortunate decision to be in London. He’s there to free his First Mate, Gibbs (Kevin McNally), a man he apparently hasn’t seen in a long time. He learns from the King of Britain that both Britain and Spain are also after the Fountain. Britain has employed Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to lead them, and want to take Jack along for the ride. Based on the previous films, do you really think he wants this?
Jack escapes, runs into an old flame named Angelica (Penélope Cruz) and soon ends up aboard Blackbeard’s ship. Blackbeard himself is played by Ian McShane, and has unexplained powers, like being able to make inanimate objects come to life and make his ship shoot fire. It seems that Blackbeard also wants to get to the Fountain, and so begins a race to both get to the Fountain, as well as get the magical items that allow it to be used.
See, in order for the Fountain of Youth to actually work, you need three things: Two chalices that formerly belonged to Juan Ponce de León, and the tear of a mermaid. Essentially what happens is the two main ships (Blackbeard’s and Barbossa’s), compete for these items, all the while having Jack Sparrow tagging along, cracking jokes, flirting with Angelica, but not ever doing all that much of consequence. Occasionally he’ll be crucial to the plot, but mostly we just watch the other characters perform tasks, using Jack just to get a “funny” perspective on the entire thing.
The Spanish, who are also looking for the Fountain, appear maybe four times in the entire movie, if that. Their inclusion had very little point and it probably would have been a better film to just cut them completely. Their scenes could have either been removed or replaced with Barbossa’s crew performing their tasks, and the film would have been better for it. Their ultimate reason for being in the film is idiotic anyway, and, like I said, someone else could have done everything they did, saving us time and useless characters.
Speaking of the characters, they were a mixed bag. Jack Sparrow is still fun, and it’s clear that Johnny Depp was having fun with the role. It’s also nice to see Barbossa back, although his character was different this time around. I also missed the competition—friendly or not—between Jack and Barbossa, as it was both humorous and intense at the same time. New characters Angelica and Blackbeard are actually in the film less than I expected, and this is too bad. They’re both interesting in their own right, and the dynamics between the three (if you include Jack), was one of the best parts of the film.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is just about what you’d expect: A cash-in film.
There is also a side-plot involving a missionary (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey). Suffice to say that this plot, despite getting only about 10 minutes to develop completely, is more interesting than the main one, and leaves in a way that is open to interpretation. Although I do have to question how the mermaid managed to gain legs at one point in the film. I don’t believe that was ever explained to us. If it was, I missed it. Maybe it doesn’t really matter, but things like this should not go unexplained.
Also unexplained is how Blackbeard managed to gain superpowers. The supernatural has popped up a few times in the series, but it has always been explained. The Aztec gold turned people into undead creatures in the first film, while Davy Jones and Calypso were explanation enough for what happened in the second and third. This time, though, we’re just supposed to go with the flow in regards to Blackbeard being able to command his ship into belching flames whenever he feels the need, or make it charge straight ahead without the need for a crew to manage the sails or someone to steer.
Here is another problem with the film: The action sequences are not all that impressive, which means that they fail to break up the boatloads of story that are thrown at us. Sword fighting hasn’t felt this dull in a long time, but here I found myself drifting away any time that swords were drawn. This includes the “climactic” conclusion, that wasn’t climactic in the least. The middle scenes were also derivative from earlier films in the series, with one directly ripping off the balance-beam sword fight from the first film.
I have trouble making myself believe that On Stranger Tides was a complete failure, but it wasn’t anywhere close to a success either. As for how I rank the series at this point, it’s about on par with the third film for me, easily behind both the marvelous first film and the pretty good second. But this time around, the story doesn’t even need the nearly two and a half hours it’s given—about half of that would probably do.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is just about what you’d expect: A cash-in film. I was hoping that being a fan of Captain Jack Sparrow would be enough to save it, but it isn’t. There’s not enough good stuff there to make it a worthwhile watch, while what is there is bloated and somewhat pointless. The action scenes are uninspired, interesting characters aren’t given enough time, and when the best parts of the film come from a sub-plot with a missionary and a mermaid possibly falling in love, you should know you’re in trouble. The people making this film might think they’ve created something you’ll have trouble following along with, but if you have any trouble, it’s because you’ll have fallen asleep and missed something.
Conclusion: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a cash-grab designed to make everyone a bunch of money.
Recommendation: It’s not terrible, but it’s not fun enough to recommend unless you’re a big fan of the franchise.