“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” (2011) Review

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” (2011) Review

When the Disney Studios and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had first released news of their intention to make sequels to their 2003 hit movie, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”, I reacted to the news with a great deal of wariness. In fact, I was against the idea. But after seeing 2006’s “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” and 2007’s “AT WORLD’S END”, my opinion had changed. I ended up enjoying the two movies just as much as I had enjoyed “CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. . . especially the second film. 

About two years after “AT WORLD’S END” hit the theaters, the Disney people and Bruckheimer had released news of their intention to make a fourth film. Again, I expressed wariness at the idea. I thought the three movies released between 2003 and 2007 made a neat little trilogy. There was no need for a fourth movie. But Disney and Bruckheimer went ahead with their plans and a fourth movie was recently released. But unlike “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” and “AT WORLD’S END”, I found it difficult to enjoy PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”.

I cannot say that I disliked the film. There were aspects of it that I genuinely enjoyed. Both Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in top form as Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hector Barbossa. But I noticed something odd about their characters in this movie. For once, Jack did not have a particular goal to attain in this film. In “CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”, he was after the Black Pearl. He was after the chest that contained Davy Jones’ heart in “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” to be used to avoid a debt that he owned. And in “AT WORLD’S END”, he was still after Jones’ heart in order to gain the opportunity to become master of the Flying Dutchman and immortality. In this fourth movie, Jack seemed to have become swept up in Blackbeard and the British Crown’s agendas. And Barbossa seemed out of place as a privateer for His Majesty King George II and the Royal Navy. There was a scene that featured him eating slices of fruit arranged on a plate. He seemed to be doing his best to project the image of an officer and a gentleman . . . only he looked rather odd. However, both actors gave top notch performances and I could find nothing to complain about.

I could also say the same about the performances of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Stephen Graham as Angelica, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and a sailor named Scrum, respectively. All three were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Cruz did an excellent job in portraying the complex Angelica, who happened to be the daughter of Blackbeard. Although it is obvious that she is attracted to Jack – a former lover, she seemed to have this . . . need for her father’s love that made her into some kind of twisted Daddy’s girl wannabe. Unfortunately, McShane’s Blackbeard seemed like poor father material. There were times when he conveyed the image of a concerned and loving father. And yet, he proved to be nothing more than an emotional vampire who would easily kill his daughter if she got in the way of his goal – the Fountain of Youth. And I must admit that not only did McShane made a witty and terrifying Blackbeard, he handled his character’s twisted relationship with Angelica beautifully. Graham’s Scrum almost struck me as a younger version of Jack’s old friend, Joshamee Gibbs. And considering that the latter’s appearance in this film seemed somewhat limited, it seemed just as well that Graham received more screen time.

There were other aspects of “ON STRANGER TIDES” that I enjoyed. Or should I say, scenes? The mermaids’ attacks upon Blackbeard’s men and upon the H.M.S. Providence were among the most terrifying scenes I have seen in the franchise since the Kracken’s attacks in “DEAD MAN’S CHEST”. I also enjoyed the scene that featured Jack’s mutinous meeting with members of Blackbeard’s crew. Personally, I found it very funny and it brought back memories of former characters such as Pintel, Ragetti, Marty and Cotton. Jack’s meeting with King George II proved to be somewhat entertaining. And it led to an equally entertaining chase sequence through the streets of mid-18th century London. But my favorite scene featured Jack marooning Angelica on a deserted island, following the death of Blackbeard. The humor not only permeated strongly in their verbal exchange, but also in director Rob Marshall’s visual style. And I must admit that I also enjoyed the photography featured in the London scenes and the “island” where the Fountain of Youth was located. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did justice to the lush Hawaii jungle that served as one of the movie’s settings.

So, if I had so much to enjoy about “ON STRANGER TIDES”, why did it fail to resonate within me in the end? What went wrong? At least for me? My main problem with the movie is that I felt it tried to repeat many aspects of the first film,“CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. This is odd, considering that “ON STRANGER TIDES” was allegedly inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 novel, “On Stranger Tides”. The fourth film did not come off as a remake or anything of such. But there were too many aspects of the first film that seemed to be repeated in “ON STRANGER TIDES”. One, Jack’s reunion with Angelica in a London tavern almost seemed like a remake of his first meeting with Will Turner in “CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. Scrum almost seemed like a remake of Joshamee Gibbs. This is not surprising, since he had more scenes with Jack that Gibbs and the latter (along with actor Kevin McNally) seemed wasted in the movie. Two of Blackbeard’s crew turned out to be zombies (if you can call them that). And they seemed like remakes (physical and otherwise) of Barbossa’s first mate from the first film, Bo’sun. More importantly, the romance between missionary Philip Swift and the mermaid Syrena almost seemed like a remake of the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance . . . but without the character developments. If I must be honest, Philip and Syrena’s romance nearly put me to sleep on several occasions. I feel sorry for actors Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. They seemed like two decent actors forced to work with a pair of boring and undeveloped characters.

There were other problems I had with “ON STRANGER TIDES”. The movie saw the return of Royal Navy officers Theodore Groves (from the first and third film) and Gillette (from the first film). What on earth did Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot did to their roles? Both characters almost seemed lobotomized. Well, Gillette did. Groves seemed to have lost his sense of humor. I recalled that he was a big fan boy of Jack in the first and third films. Yet, when he finally met Jack . . . nothing happened. He was too busy being a rather boring and stiff character. What happened to Jack and Barbossa’s own quests for the Fountain of Youth, which was first introduced in “AT WORLD’S END”? After a few years of failure, the audience is led to believe that Jack simply lost interest. And Barbossa’s earlier encounter with Blackbeard and the latter’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, led to the loss of one leg and the Black Pearl. And how did Barbossa managed to survive the loss of his leg. Apparently, Barbossa had to cut off his leg to free from Blackbeard’s enchanted ship lines. So, how did he manage to keep himself from bleeding to death in the ocean? How did he manage to swim to safety with one leg?

And then we come to the mermaids. How did the mermaids manage to destroy Barbossa’s ship, the H.M.S. Providence? It was one thing to lure men from small boats or smash said boats. It was another to do the same to a large frigate. I have never heard of such a thing in the mermaid mythology. One last major problem I had with the movie dealt with the presence of the Spanish. Like the British, they were after the Fountain of Youth. Only their leader, known as the Spaniard (portrayed by Óscar Jaenada), called himself destroying the Fountain in the name of his king and the Catholic Church, as some kind of stance against paganism. Worse, he possessed the very chalices that needed to be used to drink the Fountain’s water. Yet, he did not bother to smash them, until he was at the Fountain’s location. Why? And what in the hell were Elliot and Rossio thinking? Why include such a storyline that proved to be irrelevant, epsecially since Jack was able to use the Fountain’s water after its so-called destruction?

I hear that Disney Studios and Bruckheimer are planning a fifth movie. I can understand this decision, considering that“ON STRANGER TIDES” raked up a great deal of profit at the box office. Frankly, I wish they would change their minds. I honestly do not care how much money the movie had made. After watching it, I realized that a fourth movie should not have been made . . . at least from an artistic point of view. It featured too much sloppy writing and characterizations for me to truly enjoy. “ON STRANGER TIDES” might prove to be the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie that I cannot consider as a favorite.

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” (2003) Review

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”(2003) Review

Nearly eight years ago, ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl” had burst upon the movie screens and to the surprise of many, became a major hit. Even more surprising, the movie ended up spawning a wildly successful movie trilogy within another four years and also a new cinematic icon for the 21st century – Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Judging from the forums and blogs on the Internet, it seems to me that ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is the most popular film in the”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. In a way, I can understand. It lacked the darker aspects of the two sequels that followed. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ”Curse of the Black” is based upon the attraction at the Disney parks. In it, the pirates of the ship known as the Black Pearl, led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), need to restore the missing piece of the ancient Aztec gold treasure of Cortes and sacrifice the blood of “Bootstrap” Bill Turner to save themselves from eternal punishment owing to a curse that fell upon them when they stole the gold. The buccaneers attack Port Royal and kidnap Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has the missing piece of gold. In order to rescue Miss Elizabeth Swann, William Turner (Orlando Bloom) enlists the help of the fabled Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who devises an ingenious plan to retrieve the Black Pearl from his mutinous former first mate, Captain Barbossa, and help William Turner save the love of his life

Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio created a frolicking tale filled with swashbuckler action, an interesting supernatural story that involved cursed treasure and undead pirates, and sharp humor that almost bordered on the cock-eyed. Most of this humor came from the leading man himself, the excruciatingly talented Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous and androgynous Captain Jack Sparrow took a great deal of moviegoers and critics by surprise. He certainly took me by surprise. No other actor in Hollywood or anywhere else has ever portrayed a pirate in this manner. Not surprisingly, Depp won an Academy Award nomination and a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.

It seemed a shame that Geoffrey Rush had failed to earn any acting nominations for his performance as the menacing Captain Barbossa. Come to think of it, his performance was more than menacing. Like Depp, he gave a performance filled with a great deal of off-the-wall humor and sharp dialogue. I also enjoyed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s performances as the star-crossed young lovers, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Ironically, both actors seemed to have better chemistry with either Depp, Rush or both than with each other. Until the final battle. And I found that odd, considering that their screen chemistry seemed a lot more convincing in the final action scene inside the large cavern on Isla de Muerta and in the two following sequels. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that Will and Elizabeth spent most of this suppressing their feelings for one another.

As for the rest of the cast that made up the movie, they were superb. Jack Davenport gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as Will’s romantic rival – Commodore James Norrington of the Royal Navy. Mind you, Davenport really grew into the role in ”Dead Man’s Chest”, but he did a good job in this film. And what would a ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” be without Kevin R. Nally as Josiah Gibbs, Lee Arnberg as Pintel and MacKenzie Crook as Rigetti? I could list all of the supporting characters that made this movie memorable, but it would take forever. I will simply state that Verbinski was very lucky to find himself with an excellent cast.

I had noted earlier ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is not as dark as its two successors. I wonder if this is the reason why many fans prefer it over the other two. If I have to be honest, I do not share the same sentiments. Do not get me wrong. I love this movie. But it is not my favorite ”PIRATES” movie. That honor goes to the second film – ”Dead Man’s Chest”. As much as I love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”, there were times I wish it had been a little more ambiguous. With the exception of the Jack Sparrow character, the other characters are clearly either the good guys or the bad guys. There seemed to be little room for moral ambiguity.

There was another aspect of ”Curse of the Black Pearl” that I had noticed – even when I first saw the film. For a movie set in the Caribbean, I really did not see much of it. Yes, there were scenes set aboard ships. But aside from a sequence featuring Jack Sparrow’s arrival at Port Royal and his first meeting of Elizabeth and Norrington, the movie never really captured the aura of the Caribbean – at least for me. And I had noticed something else. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski used a lot of close ups in his shots. I remembered that those close ups made me feel slightly dizzy and claustrophic when I first saw the movie.

Despite certain elements of the film that did not appeal to me – Wolski’s photography and the less ambiguous tone of most of the characters – I still love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”. I love the story, Klaus Badelt’s score, Gore Verbinski’s direction, and the characters. Especially Johnny Depp’s performance. Hopefully, this movie and the two that followed and the fourth that is soon due in theaters, will one day be viewed as film classics. They are already classics in my eyes.