Director: Rob Marshall
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
It’s been eight years since the unexpected triumph of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, a movie based on a theme park ride that made Johnny Depp bankable at the box office for the first time in his career.
In that time we’ve seen the series go from fresh and surprising to bloated and incomprehensible. The good news is, On Stranger Tides is better than At World’s End, the threequel from four years ago that seemed to bring the trilogy to its natural conclusion. But that film raked in just shy of $1bn at the worldwide box office, so its makers were unlikely to stay away forever.
It’s the Depp factor that’s undoubtedly the biggest draw. His flamboyant turn as Captain Jack Sparrow earned him his first Oscar nomination and transformed him from quirky indie darling to blockbusting superstar.
When we reunite with Jack here, he’s in London and facing piracy charges. Spanish fishermen meanwhile have dredged up a half-drowned man talking of Ponce de León and the Fountain of Youth.
King George is also keen on finding the fountain and has hired Jack’s long-time nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to find it in his name. Jack has no ship, but someone pretending to be him is putting a crew together, which results in Jack reteaming with old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz) on board a ship run by the fearsome Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
With the race on to find the fountain, it doesn’t make for an especially scintillating first hour as the pieces are put in place. Conversations are expositional and much of the action is limited to rather repetitive swordfights, though Jack getting chased around Greenwich by guards is sprightly enough.
For the most part it’s just one thing on to the next without much flow, no longer particularly interested in constructing a character based story. It’s all about the exoticism and production detail, which is certainly of a very high standard.
It’s the addition of the supernatural elements that give it a boost, as the search for the fountain takes them on to encounters with mermaids, whose tears they need to make its rejuvenation powers work.
But this stretch threatens to outstay its welcome and introduces, in a preacher and the mermaid he takes a shine to, a couple of characters so dull that you long for the relative pizzazz of the now-ditched Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.
Depp is just fine, but strange as it may sound, there’s actually too much of him here. His sheer number of lines means not all of them can be as pithy as they ought to be and, as a result, the movie just isn’t very funny. Cruz isn’t much of a character and McShane is reasonable value though cameos from Keith Richards and Judi Dench smack of indulgence rather than necessity.
It gets by on little more than the occasional flash of brilliance from Depp and one or two fun scenes, but it’s a sad state of affairs when being a marginal improvement on an utter shambles is worthy of scraping a third star by dint of not being terrible. And unlike the first instalment, you’re unlikely to come out clamouring for more of the same.