I really value quality adventure storytelling. There’s nothing quite like following a bunch of rogues embarking on some daring quest always getting into scrapes. Better still if there are jokes. So, like many people, I was completely charmed by the first Pirates of the Caribbean film with its mix of breezy comedy, swashbuckling adventure and mild horror. Captain Jack Sparrow became a modern icon of cinema but the quality of the first film didn’t quite carry over to its sequals. Dead Man’s Chest had some decent set-pieces but the breeziness was nowhere to be found and At World’s End was a mildly entertaining mess. Perhaps the series should have thrown in the towel at that point but the continued commercial success the franchise was enjoying was all the studio bosses were interested in. So now it’s time for a fourth with a fifth in the pipeline and a sixth rumoured. Is it possible that a fresh start for the series without Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley can revitalise it? The trailers didn’t promise much but you never know. So after spending the day looking at dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum AntBuoy and I flashed our Cineworld Unlimited cards at West India Quay and gave it a chance.
Captain Jack Sparrow has come back to Blightey and is busy bailing out his first mate Gibb when he learns from several parties that someone impersonating him is searching for a crew. Surprise surprise, the imposter turns out to be Penelope Cruz and the rogue is soon pressganged into joining the crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, vessel of one Edward Teach, aka, Blackbeard (Ian McShane). This time the goal is the Fountain of Youth but its not just the one crew sailing in search of the legendary goal but three. Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbossa, now a privateer charged with the task of beating the Spanish to the prize. Cue clashes between the rival adventurers, encounters with mermaids and some spectacular tropical locations.
If you think that sounds like a return to form allow me to put you right, On Stranger Tides is a tired, plodding affair that confirms the studio is more interested in milking its cash cow than producing quality, engaging adventure fiction. Johnny Depp’s heart clearly isn’t in it any more and although he’s still fairly amusing his delivery of the slightly anaemic script feels like a pale imitation of his first performance in the role. Better is Geoffrey Rush who is still giving it some welly and is definitely the best reason to watch the film but he doesn’t get nearly enough screen time. None of the newbies really excite, Cruz offers some of the feisty Spanish zing you’d expect but not enough to captivate and Ian McShane is underwhelming although he certainly looks the part.
The story is downright dull, the motivations of its characters blurry and the pace painfully slow expecially given the exhausting length. The set pieces aren’t too bad on the whole, the well publicised carriage chase through London frenetic enough to raise some hope and a scene in an precariously balanced wreck lodged on a cliff is fun but they feel like flashes of quality in an otherwise mediocre show and are too brief to raise the standard.
The franchise is clearly getting tired and it’s doubtful how long Johnny Depp will want to remain involved but as long as people pack out the cinemas they’ll continue to be churned out. If you’re hopeful of a resurgence and are considering giving it a look save yourself the disappointment.
Geoffrey Rush and some hot mermaids aside this is pretty dire slice of uninspired adventure storytelling. It has the odd moment of value but cannot hope to recapture past glories.