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The Cynical Optimist vs Pirates of the Caribbean

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Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Rob Marshall (”Nine”, ”Chicago”), ”Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is the fourth installment in Disney’s popular swashbuckling series. The screenplay, written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, is loosely based on the 1987 historical fantasy novel, ”On Stranger Tides”, written by Tim Powers.

Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow, who crosses paths (and swords) with the enchanting and enigmatic Angelica (Penélope Cruz). When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected journey to the fabled Fountain of Youth.

Now Jack must battle with Blackbeard and his crew of zombies – not to mention Angelica, the ravishing pirate with whom he shares a no-doubt dubious past. Then of course there’s the mermaids, whose beauty and masterful cunning can lure even the most seasoned sailor to his doom. Forget Ariel, there be no crustacean sing-a-longs of “Under the Sea” here – these ladies are vicious man-eaters.

”Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” includes the return of Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa (now a privateer in the court of King George II), Captain Teague (Keith Richards) and Kevin R. McNally as Captain Jack’s longtime comrade Joshamee Gibbs (Aye! Sea Turtles!).

Also joining the cast are Sam Claflin (as stalwart missionary Philip Swift) and Astrid Bergès-Frisbey as a mysterious mermaid Syrena, whose characters are meant to replace star-crossed lovers William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley).

After three films by Gore Verbinski, Rob Marshall takes the wheel and attempts to steer the continuing adventures of Cap’n Jack in the right direction – but unlike Jack’s previous outings, there isn’t a single jaw-dropping moment to be found in ”On Stranger Tides”, and that is perhaps its greatest crime – it simply isn’t entertaining.

Yes, ”Dead Man’s Chest” and ”At World’s End” were overlong and convoluted with bizarre subplots, but at least they were committed to entertaining an audience, with epic sea battles and dazzling special effects.

Who could forget the moment in ”Curse of the Black Pearl” when the skeletal parade of cursed pirates march across the ocean floor, or the first time Davy Jones released the Kraken in ”Dead Man’s Chest”? Or in ”At World’s End”, when Cutler Beckett walks down the steps of the HMS Endeavour as it disintegrates around him? You won’t find anything as inspired or impressive here, sadly.

Disney thought they could simply slap together a ”Pirates of the Caribbean” film as long as they had Johnny Depp (who made a reported $35 million for his appearance) – but the real heart and soul of the franchise was director Gore Verbinski, whose absence is unremittingly apparent.

Rob Marshall’s direction sucks any excitement or urgency out of an action sequence – it doesn’t help that Elliott and Rossio’s dumb script makes about as much sense as” X-Men Origins: Wolverine”. Characters and story elements are introduced and discarded at whimsy, and the Chekhov’s Gun maxim (that any object introduced in a story should be used) is rarely followed.

New characters like Cruz’s Angelica or McShane’s Blackbeard simply aren’t as engaging – and Jack Sparrow has lost his luster, reminiscent of Han Solo in ”Return of the Jedi”, content to play along as an amiable eccentric, no longer the scallywag he once was. And on that note, Sparrow doesn’t even care about the Fountain of Youth – the goal of this entire benign adventure.

There isn’t any gravity given to the quest itself – no one speaks of what they would do with the power given by the Fountain, and when Jack Sparrow finds out what must be done to gain said power, he decides it isn’t worth his time.

”On Stranger Tides” is a tedious exercise in lazy, aimless filmmaking. It is as entertaining as it is intelligent, which is to say not at all. It’s a shame that a movie this bad will be recognized as a success at the box office, but then again – that is the beauty of a fourth film – it can be absolutely horrible and still make a killing on the reputation of what came before it, even if it bares no resemblance.

Earlier this month, Pirates scribe Terry Rossio told Hollywood Reporter that he’s delivered the Pirates 5 script to Disney and it’s now in their hands. Depp, however, isn’t interested in making another Pirates movie – at least not anytime soon.“It boils down to story, script and filmmaker.”

Story. Script. Filmmaker. Three things missing from On Stranger Tides – no wonder Depp isn’t interested in shipping out again. Consider me landlocked.

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