in 3D, at Odeon East Kilbride, 18.05.11
Back in 2003, when the first Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski) was due for release, there was debate about whether a film based on an adventure theme ride could sustain a story over a two hour-plus running time. As it turned out, the film delivered a decent sea-faring yarn, and, in establishing likeable rogues such as Captain Jack Sparrow, in an Oscar nominated role for Johnny Depp, set its course to become a block-busting franchise for Disney. The following sequels retread much of the same ground as the original, but lacked the same freshness, mixed with convoluted plotting and an increasing over reliance on the supernatural and CGI effects. After the last outing in 2009 limped to its conclusion, most would have seen it as the end of the voyage. But this is Disney, and where there’s a dollar, there’s a way. The most sequel happy of studios (witness Pixar’s sudden fondness for a string of animated features and spin-offs since Disney’s takeover, which has resurrected Toy Story and now Monsters Inc. after a decade gap, and given the disappointing but kid-friendly Cars an irrelevant sequel).
So we come to the fourth installment – On Stranger Tides. A new director and fresh cast, but essentially an identikit film to the previous three. Not surprisingly, it suffers in the same way as the previous two sequels did. There is nothing new here. It’s a tale of adventure on the high seas between unscrupulous pirates, with some supernatural hokum thrown in. At the centre of the film Johnny Depp again enjoys himself as Jack Sparrow, and there is still some enjoyment to be found in his performance, without any sign of character development. Indeed, at times it comes so naturally to see Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow that it almost seems too easy for him to play the role. Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, but as he has somehow become a member of the British Navy and lost a leg, the role feels like an effort to shoehorn in a contract filling role for Rush, as there is no rhyme or reason for his involvement. Elsewhere Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have wisely set sail for pastures new, so in come new faces, none of whom are given enough time or characterisation to properly establish themselves. Penelope Cruz, feisty but wasted as Angelique, appears as an ex-flame of Jack’s, but here we get into murky sequel waters, as characters from Jack’s past are introduced from out the blue. Should we not have heard of his true love in the previous three outings?Ian McShane as Blackbeard, who as the principal villain is lost amongst the various plot strands so never comes across as overly threatening. Even the likes of MacKenzie Crook have disappeared so a new set of various pirate crew are employed, including, for an unspecified reason, some zombie pirates, although it is never explained how or why they are so. The new Orlando and Keira substitutes, Sam Clafin as Philip and Astrid Berges-Frisbey as Syrena, are kept so on the edge of the main plot that they make almost no impact. I’m not even sure of their fate by the end of film, nor do I particularly care.
Director Rob Marshall does nothing to stamp his own style on the film, keeping to the same formula as before. Again, good physical stunts are drowned out by too much CGI being thrown liberally onto the screen. Hans Zimmer retreads his previous themes with the score, so it comes as a disappointment to learn in the end credits that Rodrigo y Gabriela had contributed, as their distinctive spanish guitar genius is lost amongst all the bombast. Indeed. so similar and familiar is the whole thing that the last three films could almost blend into one, and you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled on a screening of At World’s End (2007, Gore Verbinski) from four years ago. There’s even another cameo from Rolling Stone Keith Richards, Depp’s inspiration for the role of Sparrow. It adds nothing to the joke of his first cameo, it isn’t even that funny, but it ticks a franchise box.
Once more 3D is used to put up the ticket price but add nothing else to the film. Grudgingly I would admit that the effect fares better here than in most, for example the recent Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh), but the same complaints still exist – dullness to the image (not helped by a lot of the action talking place at night or in dim caves), blurry action scenes, some shots still in 2D, and the discomfort of wearing glasses and a headache by the end of the 2 and a half hour running time. There is nothing gained by watching in 3D.
Still, On Stranger Tides despite being overlong, repetitive and at times downright dull, will no doubt make money at the box office, and so Disney will no doubt try to spin-off another film. A lot will depend on whether Depp is willing to carry on, because without Jack Sparrow at its heart, there really would be nothing to recommend On Stranger Tides at all.
Film Rating – 2 out of 5.