“Instead of feeling like the Pirates universe was a giant sandbox, I was left feeling confined to a few choice play sets.”
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but was released four years after the trilogy that I so dearly love ended. The film follows Captain Jack Sparrow, some time after the last Pirates movie, as he is “recruited” to help infamous pirate Blackbeard find the fountain of youth. That’s pretty much all there is to this movie, so why it is almost two and a half hours long is beyond me.
Now I want to start this review by outlining what I think the main problem is with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (from now on referred to as “Pirates 4” or “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Not So Good One”). Captain Jack Sparrow is easily the best thing about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and he is (arguably) the reason that the franchise got so popular in the first place. His witty attitude and his ability to get out of every situation makes him comparable to other iconic adventure stars like Indiana Jones. That, topped with Depp’s wonderful performances throughout the franchise made Captain Jack Sparrow a household name. But what most people don’t realize is that Captain Jack Sparrow, though he is oh-so-loveable, is best in small doses. You need the serious characters and situations to balance out Jack Sparrow’s hilarious antics. You need to show that there is consequence in this universe, and make the character of Jack all the more funny by making the audience question how it is he has survived so long. When you strip all of that, you are left with a smart-ass pirate who fails his way to the top. Much like the beloved Friends spinoff “Joey”, Pirates 4 opts to take a fan-favourite and thrust him into the spotlight, not realizing that character is a fan favourite because of the characters that surround them as well. Having Jack Sparrow lead the charge in Pirates 4 makes the entire movie seem inconsequential. Never once do we see Sparrow actually struggle to do anything, instead he just has all of the answers all of the time. And this leads to a few really funny sequences, but when the jokes aren’t coming we are left to wallow in the filth that the rest of the movie offers us. There were no stakes, so I wasn’t invested in the story; and on top of that, I didn’t care about any of the new characters, so I was even less invested in the story. I understand that, in theory, a Captain Jack Sparrow solo movie is the way to go. “People love Jack Sparrow, so if we put him front-and-centre people will love it”; but unfortunately it just didn’t work. I’m confident that Pirates 4 could have worked had the movie accepted that it wasn’t up to its predecessors and cut down on the manufactured drama and the ridiculous run time; but what we have currently is a bit of a mess. And this change of pace from the previous films also leaves Pirates 4 feeling a lot less “epic” than its predecessors as well. You can tell that the filmmakers wanted to keep the same feel from the first Pirates films, but they just couldn’t do it. Instead of feeling like the Pirates universe was a giant sandbox, I was left feeling confined to a few choice play sets. I’m not mad at this movie, I’m just disappointed.
Another thing I really disliked about Pirates 4 was the fact that it made the Pirates universe get really mystical, really fast. I understand that the previous movies had a lot of mystical elements as well, mainly those relating to Davy Jones, but those were done in small doses which helped me ultimately buy them. What Pirates 4 does is fucking bombard you with shit that you know is fake, so much so that you start to wonder if Pirates 4 is actually just a fake story that Jack Sparrow is telling at a bar somewhere. You have zombies, voodoo, mermaids, and the fountain of youth. All of these elements are really outlandish, but somehow they didn’t bother me. No, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the magical sword owned by Blackbeard that can completely control his ship. This is too far in my opinion, and it is a stupid fucking thing to introduce. “Why is that so stupid?” I can hear you ask. Well, let me answer your question with another question: If Blackbeard can control his entire ship with just his sword, WHY DOES HE NEED A FUCKING CREW?! There are like thirty dudes on that ship all working their asses off to make this ship go, and then it is revealed that Blackbeard can control every part of his ship individually just by touching is fucking sword?! How did nobody who read the script think this was a fucking stupid idea? And to make this shit even shittier, it is later revealed that this mother fucker can control other ships too! What the fuck?! Can he control normal shit as well, or is it just ships? Why are there literally any other pirates if Blackbeard can control all of their ships? This portion of the movie raises way too many questions that never get answered, and honestly it just felt like a shitty plot device to have Black Beard string up all of his crew in that one scene. Speaking of which, the CGI in this movie (particularly that scene) is fucking awful. The other Pirates movies did a good job with CGI by using it rather sparingly, but in Pirates 4 this shit is front and centre for a lot of the film. There are CGI mermaids, CGI water effects, CGI ropes, and even CGI stunts. That’s right, the one thing that the other movies did well was completely shit on in Pirates 4 opting for CGI stunts. Now instead of being immersed in Jack Sparrow’s antics you can watch a little rubber man fly through trees while clutching a vine. It seems like at every turn someone asked the question: “How can we fuck up this franchise?”, brainstormed a little, and then implemented everything that they came up with. Now there were a few things that I liked in Pirates 4, but the list is short. First of all I already mentioned that the movie does capture a lot of the comedy that the previous films had, but this compliment is a double-edged sword (that can control boats, apparently) because this comedy ends up ruining the plot of the movie. I also really enjoyed the design of Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, but even though it is pretty to look at you very rarely get to see anything but the inside of it.
Overall Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a disappointment. The film did capture some of the magic that the original Pirates films had, but that was quickly ruined by a whole lot of other shit that this movie did wrong. With a story that (reeeeeeally) dragged in the middle, focused to much on Jack Sparrow, and lost the sense of adventure from the original trilogy, also characters that were forgettable, and CGI that was abysmally overused, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides proves that sometimes it’s better to leave well enough alone.
I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides a C