Few movies get as much liquid hate from critics as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. The last Transformers movie comes to mind, certainly, and it seems that high dollar summer franchise films backed by the world’s biggest market machines are always destined to be hated by critics if they don’t absolutely succeed on every front, dazzling audiences with the best of special effects (Avatar, maybe?).
But I really don’t understand the visceral reaction this newest Pirates movie has generated. I am an admitted fan of the franchise, despite being critical of the last two films, and hoped that this would invigorate the franchise and perhaps usher it in a new direction. I feel on this note, On Stranger Tides largely succeeds. After seeing the Rotten Tomatoes score and reading a handful of reviews from critics I like, I was really worried heading into my screening Friday night. However, I was pleasantly surprised and found myself mostly lost in the film after the first scene or two.
Now clearly this movie has it’s share of problems. Starting at the base level, the story has different issues from the previous sequels. The middle two films suffered from both a convoluted plot and ambiguous character goals (some people wanted to be pirates, some wanted to kill pirates. right?). Mercifully, this film has a clear MacGuffin in the Fountain of Youth, although different factions’ reasons for wanting to find it are not as delineated as they should be, but at least we all know where they’re going and for what. This allows the plot to be streamlined, which helps because Depp’s Jack Sparrow just kind of wanders through the plot, seemingly not even knowing where he is, where he wants to go, or why. This is fine for a side character/chaos element, but hard to build a story around.
In terms of directing, I certainly prefer Gore Verbinski to Rob Marshall, who does an amicable job, but without really any sense of style or flair (an essential when your main character is a Keith Richards imitator with androgynous body language. Marshall, unfortunately does not know how to set up an action scene, and I was expecting the choreography to be much improved giving his pedigree, but again, we return to sword-fighting in interesting locales, not interesting sword-fighting. No one here is not left-handed, so to speak.
The newest installment in the franchise has a lot of problems, to be sure. It’s a little too long, the motivations of characters not clearly defined, and certain things happen only to get the characters from point A to point B, but overall, it’s a fun movie.
I wasn’t too excited about seeing this film because I had been disappointed by the last two movies, but like Ryan, I was pleasantly surprised by On Stranger Tides. The movie does have issues (see above) but the main topic(s) of my discussion here dwell on statements made in Katey Rich’s review of the film. I read her review before I saw the movie this past Friday and was actually confused by her reticence to make Jack Sparrow the lead character in this franchise. When I found out that Depp would more or less be leading the pack this time around I was thrilled-he’s obviously the best character in the franchise (Barbosa is close behind), it seemed like an obvious choice. Then I saw the movie and Rich’s statement became clear as day. Sometimes seeing is believing.
The main issue, I think, is that Jack Sparrow was always the witty, slightly goofy sidekick, and when you make the sidekick the hero of the day, all the supporting characters are left with little else to do. Sparrow supplies the humor, the wit, the leadership…so what’s left? Jack Sparrow as a character also has little to offer in the way of a “hero” as we understand heroes in action movies. Jack is a pirate. His loyalties lie only with himself. Even though Jack ends up saving the day so to speak, the whole time the audience is left wondering when and if Sparrow is going to come through for the “good guys.” Not really hero type material here.
There’s also this random side story between a captured holy man named Philip and the mermaid Syrena. Many found the story to be oddly placed, but if anything, these two should have played a bigger role in the film. Instead of Depp, take the Orlando Bloom/Will Turner-esque character and make him the hero we all swoon at.
There’s a reason Johnny Depp was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Jack Sparrow. I hope that future installments of this franchise revert back to the old tried and true formula-although I am glad the risk was taken in the first place.