POTC: On Stranger Tides (2011) Review

The blockbuster season is fast approaching and with it come the endless sequels, remakes, and comic book adaptations. They line up one after another, each cashing in on millions. But if Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is any indication, then audiences may be in for a great summer at the movies. Capturing the spirit of the first film far better than its bloated second and third installments, this latest adventure is the best reason in years to crew up with Captain Jack.

On Stranger Tides wastes no time getting into the thick of things, but for those who don’t remember (or didn’t see) the third film a little recap will be necessary. The last installment left off with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) down on his luck. His arch-nemesis Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) has made off with his prized ship, the Black Pearl, in an attempt to locate the Fountain of Youth. Jack’s only trump card is a cryptic map said to pinpoint the fountain’s exact location. When On Stranger Tides begins proper, Jack is in trouble yet again. In order to save his neck from the gallows, the British crown offers Jack the chance to serve under Barbossa and use his map to find the fountain.  The English want to do everything in their power to locate the fountain of youth before the Spanish Monarchy claims it for itself. Of course Jack wouldn’t be Jack if he took a coward’s way out, and before you know it he’s escaped yet again. Once reacquainted with his old flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), he finds himself serving under none other than the notorious Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Soon it’s a mad race to the fountain between Blackbeard’s pirates, Barbossa’s Englishmen, and the Spanish fleet. Life can never even be that simple for Jack Sparrow. This time zombies, haunted ships, and even dangerous mermaids stand between Jack and his prize of immortality. If it sounds completely insane…well you better leave your common sense anchored at port.

First and foremost, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is an absolute blast. Firing on all cylinders from the first scene until the credits roll, there’s not a dull moment to be found.  The set pieces are enormous and the action taking place is relentless. This might be overdone, if it weren’t for such a fine set of characters guiding the audience through the madness. It’s enormously fun to watch Johnny Depp buffoon his way through one ridiculous mess and into another. Even after four films, Jack Sparrow’s motivations are still his own, and it’s a joy to watch him manipulate the characters around him. Honestly, there isn’t much to be said about Depp as Captain Jack. He’s carried this franchise so far and in On Stranger Tides he’s as great as ever.

This time around though, Depp’s burden of lifting a movie on his shoulders is no longer solely his. Easily the best character after Sparrow, Barbossa is an absolute scene-stealer. What could normally be just a crusty evil pirate is a truly unique and enjoyable character in the skilled hands of Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush. A villain you can’t help but love, he posseses an energy, determination, and charisma all his own. He’s the perfect foil to the whimsical Jack Sparrow, and never before realized so fully before On Stranger Tides.

This installment also benefits from a sexiness that has felt absent from the last incarnations as well. Cruz’s Angelica is a femme fatale that really belongs in this absurdly fantastical world. Dangerous, confident, and beautiful, she comes off as a woman unafraid of making her own place in a fraternity of pirates. And best of all, she really feels like a woman who can finally keep Jack Sparrow in check… at least for the most part. The only complaint audiences might have with the characters is that they’re too good at what they’re doing. Ian McShane feels like an unfortunate expense.While he’s fantastic as Blackbeard, his introduction comes too late and his presence is felt too little. But when he does rear his head, audiences will have no problems feeling the gravity he carries in his scenes.

The effects of the film are outstanding as well.  Previous director Gore Verbinski’s own vision for an 18th century age of piracy is adapted well by series newcomer (and Oscar-nominated director) Rob Marshall. While the twisted world at sea isn’t quite as shocking as it was the first time around, Marshall has ensured that it still carries a sense of wonder and danger. The mermaids are both shockingly beautiful and deadly to behold. One of the film’s best moments is when the crew finds out firsthand that the mermaids are not just wonders of the ocean, but a determined and terrifying force to be reckoned with. To say any more would just give too much away.

It’s worth mentioning that the film’s 3-D effects are also very convincing. If you’re an audience member who finds him or herself stereo savvy, or just doesn’t mind paying a few extra bucks for a little shock and awe, you won’t be disappointed with what On Stranger Tides has to offer. Certain scenes, particularly during the few parts where the ships themselves actually come to life, really leap out at you in 3-D.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is terrific summer fare. By channeling the spirit and narrative style of the first film, the cast and crew of On Stranger Tides have created the sequel audiences should have gotten years ago. However, if mixing pirates and the supernatural isn’t your thing, this movie probably won’t do much to change your mind. Regardless, this film is bound to make a killing at the box office, and the good news is it’s a hell of lot of fun. Chances are you’ll probably leave angsty for Captain Jack Sparrow’s next adventure.