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Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides

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By Clint Morris

I like my “Pirates of the Caribbean” like I like my women – wet, active and straight to the point. Unfortunately, my last two dates with Jack Sparrow ended in disaster.

Much to my surprise, Greg Evans hooks me up with a perfect match this time (one for our children of the ‘80s there) – with the franchise-fixing, sexy-sea-set and Flynnish fun of ”On Stranger Tides”.

There’s no other way to put it : ”On Stranger Tides” is the best ”Pirates” film since the original. In fact, I think I’m in love. Again.

I dunno about you, but like a carton of cheap beer, I found those last two ”Caribbean” films – ”Dead Man’s Chest” and ”At World’s End” – did little but bloat the system.

Swollen, boring and more spectacle than smile-worthy silliness (c’mon! they’re Pirate movies for Christs sake! [adopts Heath Ledger’s Joker voice] ‘Why so Serious!?’), the two sequels – and I recently read an interview with series star Johnny Depp in which he agrees wholeheartedly – tarnished the reputation of the money-spinning saga by throwing in the kind of convoluted, all-encompassing storyline that might suit a Terry Malick or Ang Lee movie, but not a family-friendly Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer tentpole.

To say I’d have preferred to sit through the director’s special limited extended alternate lengthened ultra edition of David Lynch’s ”Dune” than either “Pirates 2″ or 3 is saying something, and it’s true – Sting for Stellan, any day.

We all know that, according to the rule of thumb, a sequel has to be ‘bigger’ than its predecessor (see : “Aliens”, “Terminator 2”, “Rambo : First Blood Part II”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II : The Secret of the Ooze”), but unfortunately some filmmakers, *cough* Gore Verbinski (director of the three “Pirates” films) *cough*, misread the fine print under the decree that states ‘biggen your flick with an extra villain or two, maybe some lavish, larger sets, and possibly add an extra ten-minutes onto the running time but never, ever forget your audience or for that matter, the film you’re making’.

Verbinski and writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott obviously didn’t understand why their original “Pirates of the Caribbean” (2003) film went down so well with audiences. I can tell you it wasn’t because of the audiences love of outlandish special effects, twisty plots, and well, icky monsters. No, what audiences loved about the film was that it pure leave-your-brain-at-the-door escapism that had fun tattooed deep onto its calf muscle.

As far as sequels go, it’s rare that third time’s the charm (in fact, usually, and I look at the dusty sleeves of “Die Hard 4.0” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” as I write this, they’re the ‘harm’) but by golly, the “Pirates” franchise definitely gets back on track with ”On Stranger Tides”.

With a change in director (“Chicago” helmer Rob Marshall replaces Verbinski), but the same writers, and a much less perplexing and less distended storyline (“they go in search of the Fountain of Youth”. Done), this prequel to the original ‘’Pirates’’ plays spectacularly fresh and makes fine use of its few locales, Indiana Jones-esque plot device and, predominantly, Mr Depp – who, let’s face it, sleepwalked through the last two “Pirates”.

At 128 minutes, “On Stranger Tides” is still rather long but unlike the last two flicks, you don’t notice it because you’re actually interested in what’s going on, and are compelled by the characters.

As I said, very easy storyline to follow this time : It’s a sequel. No Bloom. No Knightley. No Octopus. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is charged with the task of finding the undiscovered treasure, the Fountain of Youth – which of course extends life, ad infinitum. He’s joined on the trek by the dishonourable Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and the villains’ sassy daughter (Penelope Cruz) – whom Sparrow shares a romantic past with.
Meanwhile the government commissions Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to get to the wonderful waters before Sparrow does.

Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane and newcomer Sam Claflin (as a kindly religious man who falls for a seemingly vicious mermaid – yes, there’s mermaids! and they’ve got sharp toothypegs!) seem to know exactly what the audience wants this time – a punchy pantomime, and they adjust their performances to suit. Depp seems a lot livelier, and his character a lot more interesting, in this particular instalment; Rush, though always good, seems to be having a better time on this one too – if his wild cartoon-like performance and boundless energy are anything to go by. The big surprise though is Penelope Cruz; a perfect match for Depp, she oozes spunk and drips vigour as the questionable Angelica. Bring her back.

Lion’s share of the credit goes to Marshall though. Coming from a theatrical background, and having directed a couple of movie musicals, he obviously understands that films need to be treated like lively, exciting parties you don’t want to leave – and I tell ya, despite running half-an-hour late (there’s an after credits sequence you’ll want to stay for) to pick up my daughter from day-care, I didn’t want to.

Extras :

Some fun DVD extras including an animated LEGO short, commentary by Marshall, and some bloopers.

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About Caffeinated Clint

Clint is the creator, editor and maintainer of Moviehole.

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