Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
In 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl came to theaters. It was, far, far better than we had any right to expect, and pirate fever soon struck the world. Any movie based on an amusement park ride (no matter how well loved) is almost certain to be one-dimensional, half-assed, and forgettable, and yet we got a piece of genius that redefined a generation or more’s view of pirates. That’s the good news. The bad news is that with 2011’s On Stranger Tides, we finally got the pirate movie we probably should have gotten in the first place: one-dimensional, half-assed, and forgettable.

Now, that last statement is bound to ruffle some, and I’m not saying On Stranger Tides was a bad movie exactly. It was just dull. Predictable, dull, and more of a cartoon than a live action adventure. It was only truely bad when considering the talent onhand, and comparing it to what this movie *could* have been.

Jack Sparrow has regressed over the years. Originally a quirky anti-hero with more than his fair share of luck, now he’s a superhuman who can virtually bend reality to suit his needs. Magically appearing and disappearing from beneath tables, bending palm trees in half (to use as a human slingshot no less), laying traps with chandeliers and hankys that would require preternatural foresight… there is indeed seemingly nothing he can’t do. In this latest adventure he’s again competing with his old nemesis Barbossa, who’s given up piracy to be a more genteel privateer – complete with a makeup beauty mark and wig. This might have been played up to greater comedic effect had Geoffrey Rush been given some leeway to ham it up (and maybe shave off that gangly beard), but instead it remains one of this films many underdeveloped commodities. The only other repeat cast are Gibbs, who remains doting Gibbs, and Keith Richards reprising his roll as Captain Teague for a brief, relatively pointless cameo.

New onstage are most notably Angelica and Blackbeard (and the Spaniards, of course, who offered great promise but were in the end little more than sinister stage props.) I was pretty much resigned that Angelica would be a lame addition ever since seeing the first still shots, and this proved sadly predictive. Angelica is a non-character (second only to the entirely uninspired preacher who fell in love with the mermaid.) We’re told time and again that she’s Jack Sparrow’s equal – that she’s wily, cunning, and dangerous. But as an audience we see none of this – we’re given only a doting fangirl with a junior-high crush on Jack. The chemistry between the two is nonexistent, and Penelope Cruz exudes about as much pirateyness as would a latin Elmo.

Conversely, I had hoped that Ian McShane as Blackbeard would be this film’s saving grace, and according to many pirate fans he was. But I just can’t get onboard with this either – his outfit was wearing him, and McShane’s lack of passion only offered a faint echo of Al Swearengen on an off day. Sure enough, Blackbeard said and did some very bad things, but there wasn’t the slightest hint of a devil fuming behind those eyes, thus reducing the most frightening pirate in history to the most forgettable villain of this franchise (oh yeah, the Spaniards.)

I could go on, and indeed, this is my third effort at writing this review. I have to keep starting over as I repeatedly drift toward anger – not that it’s such a lame movie, but that it should have been so much better. But the bigger crime is that it’s just plain lazy, asking the audience to love it simply for being part of a familiar franchise rather than making a real effort to give us reason love it anew. Inspired by the book On Stranger Tides, they had some killer – woefully underused (and worse, misused) – source material. While I hardly expected a loyal adaptation I’d certainly hoped for something better than this clunky mess of misplaced zombies, an inexplicably magical Blackbeard, clear pandering for 3D impact, a predictable finale, and Jack concluding the film by wiggling his fingers nonsensically and saying “booga booga.” I’d suggest that Pirates of the Caribbean may have finally jumped the shark, but any film that features webslinging vampire mermaids doesn’t really have to.

15 thoughts on “Review: Pirates of the Caribbean – On Stranger Tides

  1. “May have jumped the shark”???
    May have..???

    Sorry. The franchise jumped with the second movie. Or, as I prefer to think of it: There are no sequels, only Curse of the Black Pearl.

  2. StJason, you clearly view the second film in a harsher light than I do. While the second two films had their significant flaws, I still think they were mostly enjoyable and contributed to the genre. To me that doesn’t yet constitute “jumping the shark”, but I suppose that’s a matter for personal judgement.

  3. I have seen the second and third films a couple of times and still have no idea what happens in either as plot jumps so much, at least I could follow the recent one. It was not a good film, and not a match to the first, but was more enjoyable than the second and third. Very cliched, but the thing abotu this franchise is that if the cliches are not there then people complain – you see this film to see Jack go ‘oooh’ and Keith Richards appear to prove he is still alive, and sexy women in tight pirate clothes (mmm, Penelope Cruz) and what not. I think we needed some mermen though, otherwise where did all the mermaids come from?

  4. The man-eating mermaids were already established in the POTC world in the Jack Sparrow kids’ books, not invented for this movie. The only negative comment I heard about them was that they should have had piranha teeth instead of vampire teeth. Agreed that it is the weakest of the four, and that it could have been so much better (i.e. actually use plot points from the book). That being said, it’s still a lot better than most of the crap they call cinema these days. I almost slit my wrists during the 20 minutes of inane previews before the movie actually started. Still, any Jack is better than no Jack, and Bilge, he never mentioned where the rum was at all…

  5. Being a fan of the franchise, I will readily admit to being one of the audience members willing to accept and embrace POTC in any form. But while I agree with Capt Paisley that any Jack is better than no Jack, I think most of Bilge’s observations are spot on. But I don’t think we should continue to look to Disney and Bruckheimer to provide us with innovative pirate entertainment. We know we all want a good historically-based pirate film we can sink our teeth into. Where is that Anne Bonny or Blackbeard film that has no mermaids, zombies, curses or theme-park references? I love Jack Sparrow, but he’s not all there is.

  6. I have to say I’m with StJason on this one- I wish they had stopped with the first film. Sequels are fun, but when they become convoluted and need an additional sequel to finish the tale, the fun is removed. The first one will always be the best.

  7. Well said mates, `ere we be willin’ te dance the jig if only them what `as the cannon balls would take the helm an’ bring us a rich prize o’ a movie what conjures up the likes o’ Exquemelin: gnawin’ on some poor Spaniards `eart, roastin’ ears an’ noses fer entertainments sake…ye know, cast the likes o’ Daniel Day Lewis reprisin’ `is Bill the Butcher o’ “Gangs o’ New York”….Somethin’ what shows arrrr feller Brethren in all their bloody glory….Aye wouldn’t care if it be rated arrrr nor X, so long as it showed all them lubbers what it truly meant te be a pirate….Them screenwriters need not look no further than history what’s already been wrote fer source material….Richer returns than any fiction says aye….think o’ all them sequels just waitin’ te be told…Morgan’s sack o’ Panama, Rackham, Bonney and Read, Tew, Gibbs, Jennings, the REAL Blackbeard, the Lafitte’s and the Baratarians, Madame Ching….the Patriot pirates o’ the revolution, etc, etc, etc….

    We can only hope an’ keep a sharp aye on the horizon….


  8. Ahoy Mates! Jeff MacKay here and I have to agree with many of the statements already posted…. I am a huge fan of the Franchise. POTC1 is still the best. Any Jack (well almost, at least any played by Johnny) is better than no Jack. I agree with 97.225% of Bilge’s review …and yes I enjoyed it. Penelope Cruz seriously wtf? Jolly Roger that. and Ian Mcshane? seriously he’s 5’6″ tall, Blackbeard was 6’5″ did someone go dyslexic when casting? As the two other leads they should have (but did NOT) bring anything to the table. …and still I liked the movie.
    The supporting cast, the preacher and the mermaid?…again who cast these people? Was it bad casting or bad writing? I honestly don’t know, they didn’t do much, weren’t required to, and again there didn’t seam to be much chemistry. …and still I liked it…. Why did I like it? Well it gets people focused on PIRATES, in a time when the majority of Films being made are Horror, or SCi-FI. I agree, if we can just have a good Pirate Movie based in Historical fact, no supernatural … no Zombies, Curses, Giant Squids, Demi-Gods, magical fountains, Mermaids,…oh wait there is one… THE BUCCANEER, become a supporter on facebook and tell all your friends, tell Hollywood that you want a Historical Pirate Film.

  9. I’m not disappointed in you for writing your [negative] opinion. I’m just disappointed *for* you, since I had a lot of fun at the movies, and hoped you would, too. Some of the plot points (chick pirate, tropical jungles, race for a treasure, Gibbs’ having a photographic memory) reminded me of Cutthroat Island, which you also gave a two-star rating, and which I also happen to like, even though it’s admittedly a bit lackluster. Coincidence?

  10. I see where your coming from Bilge and think you were in a bad mood when watching this movie. Maybe the opening scene with pulling the man out of the fishing net ticked you off or the court room scene that was about as dumb as they come finished it for you, but I on the other hand enjoyed the movie. Taking the little ones to this movie they were excitied and got to see lots of action and crazy nautical magic.
    My problems were blackbeard was not mean enough. He was suppose to be Disney’s worst bad guy, but he did very little bad in the movie.
    The biggest problem I had was why maroon Cruize at the end. I would have shot a hole in the boat and pulled out a bottle of rum. That would have been a nice end!

  11. YA’s got ta remember one ting. Dis here movie be made by Disney! Them thar scurvy buggers! So der target audience ya might say, is a bunch ‘o pre pubeccent rickiy-boxin’ twerps what aint quite finshed poppin’ der zits or started growin’ their hairs , by Neptune’s beard!
    And So says I, they won’t make a REAL RIGHT type PIRATE MOVIE by gum, cause dey don’t be wantin’ Mom&Dad to be tell’in the little bilge monkeys they can’t be goin to see yonder big budget Holly-weird flick. And dat’s why Blackbeard comes off as about offensive as Captian Stubing, and Gopher!! I tink dis be da last one o’ dees ya’ll see fer a while they’ve just about flogged every story Idea o’ the sea there is except bringing in moby dick, the incredible MR. Limpet or Charlie the freakin’ tuna – in these infernal scripts! AAAARRRRRR!!!!!!

  12. Ahoy, I think the scurvy dogs at Disney need to re-think about this one. 3d did it no justice either . This was the first POTC movie that I keep looking at my hour glass waiting to set sail outta there , is it over yet? . McShane to me is not tall enough or rough enough around the edges to play blackbeard. It was just not enough cannons firing and ships…way too much land lubbers here in this move of POTC…mate.

  13. BRAVO!!!!! Thank ye for telling it like it is . I can always count on you to to tell it like you see it. Spot on.


  14. I have to agree. I watched the movie twice. Not hating it, not disliking it……but not necessarily getting excited. Many things stuck out, such as the royal dinner scene, and the palm tree scene (seriously, if you can shimmy up the palm tree with ropes tied only around your torso, then you can shimmy out of them without climbing 30 feet in the air. ) Sparrow was no where near scheming, and the plot smacked of the other three movies. A scary bad pirate on a scary “cursed” ship (ala, davy jones) and the ending was just like POTC 3 except Sparrow had even less of a moral dillema. Indeed, Sparrow seemed more of an all around good guy that was not willing to kill anyone or see anyone killed. Blackbeard’s powers were never explained….the zombies were pointless.

    I miss the days when the questions was asked, “Who’s side IS Jack on?”

    Again, didn’t hate it, nor disliked it. Just kinda didn’t feel anything for it. Watched it, like seeing Sparrow again, but was there any piracy at all in the movie?

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