Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Keith Richards, Richard Griffiths, Greg Ellis, Damian O'Hare, Oscar Jaenada, Anton Lesser, Roger Allam
Written by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, based on characters created by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, and suggested by a novel by Tim Powers
Directed by: Rob Marshall
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality, and innuendo
Running Time: 137
Date: 05/07/2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Beautiful 'Stranger'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In 2007, at the end of my review of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, I wrote: "As with any blockbuster, talk of #4 has begun even before this one has opened in theaters. If they do, I hope they scrap the entire complex cast and start fresh with Jack Sparrow, a few new sidekicks, some new adventures, a smaller budget and a shorter running time." I'm not sure about the budget part, but otherwise Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer have done just as I suggested, and the new Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is nearly as fleet-footed and fun as the very first film, released in 2003.

Playing Captain Jack Sparrow once again, Johnny Depp puts it even better: "You've stolen me, and I'm here to take meself back." Jack was barely even in the long, bloated, and convoluted second and third films, but this much leaner entry does away with the Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley characters, as well as most of the others, and starts fresh. It even has a new director, Rob Marshall, a director best known for his loony musicals Chicago and Nine. He turns out to have been a good choice; his action is nicely choreographed and clear, and though the movie still runs a bit too long, it doesn't feel long.

As it begins, Jack and his crewman Gibbs (Kevin McNally) make a daring escape from the London authorities. In the streets, Jack jumps from the top of one moving coach to the other, and when he runs out of coaches, he finds two guys carrying a plank and jumps on that. During this time, he discovers two things: that his old enemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) has joined the royal British navy to find the Fountain of Youth, and that an impostor going by the name "Jack Sparrow" is also recruiting men for a voyage. Savvy?

Eventually, Jack runs into an old flame, the dangerous and fiery Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and winds up on a ship commanded by the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Blackbeard, of course, is also after the Fountain of Youth, as is the Spanish armada. Finding the fountain isn't so difficult, it turns out, but there is a complicated ritual before one can drink of its magical waters. One of the ingredients is the tear of a mermaid, and so our pirates make a detour to find one; these mermaids are beautiful, but don't expect a sweet Ariel here; they attack like ravenous vampires. Eventually one is caught, and she is Syrena, played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey, a young Spanish goddess you'll no doubt be seeing more of. Sam Claflin plays Philip a religious man captured by Blackbeard; I was worried he was going to turn into another Orlando Bloom, i.e. pretty-boy eye-candy, but he's pushed aside to make room for the far more charismatic leads.

Despite their many mistakes, the second and third Pirates movies still went on to make an absolute fortune. The second one in particular resides in the top ten domestic box office triumphs of all time, so it's admirable that the filmmakers allowed themselves to tinker with the formula to make the fourth one better. It's like an Indiana Jones movie, breezy, and silly and stopping only for brief rest breaks. It's one of those rare movies that shares its joy with the audience, rather than trying to sell something or bend over backwards to please; even Depp appears to be having fun after four times around in this same costume. His funny little run has turned into a comedic device as familiar as Chaplin's waddle. Kudos to the filmmakers for not giving into the need to grow ever bigger and more bombastic, and allowing this comfortable familiarity to carry the day.

Disney has released a two-disc set with a Blu-Ray and a DVD. Quality is fine. Extras include "Disney Second Screen," a commentary track with director Marshall and producer John DeLuca, bloopers, and a LEGO "Pirates" featurette.

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