On Screen — Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Sometimes an actor and a role are so perfect for each other that the result becomes iconic. Think Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade or Al Pacino as Michael Corleone or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. To this list we have to add Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.

Regardless of how you feel about the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise as a whole, you have to admit that Depp and his morally nimble, swashbuckling alter ego have left their mark on the cinematic landscape.

I for one get a tremendous kick out of Depp as Captain Jack. The character is smart, unpredictable and a whole lot of fun which makes me more than willing to climb aboard and tag along no matter how ridiculous or overwrought his adventures get.
Captain Jack returns in what is now his fourth movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” and while the movie certainly has its problems, it is still one of the stronger entries into the series.

Let’s be honest, the last two “Pirates” movies were a hot mess as a trilogy was concocted out of thin air following the unexpected success of the first “Pirates” film. The movies were long, convoluted and way more complex than a pirate movie has any right to be. Captain Jack works best in a standalone adventure, not in some sprawling epic where characters are expected to change and grow over time. We don’t want Jack Sparrow to change anything, unless he’s experimenting with a new eyeliner.

This time around Jack is in pursuit of the Fountain of Youth with only his bearded sidekick Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and frienemy Captain Barbossa (brilliant scenery-chewer Geoffrey Rush) returning from the first three movies. Barbossa is now serving the English crown as a privateer and embarks on the race for the fountain along with the Spanish and the evil pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane, a man who knows a thing or two about playing over-the-top villains).


Captain Jack finds himself forced into service on Blackbeard’s ship where he runs into Angelica (Penelope Cruz), an old flame who still harbors some resentment towards Jack for luring her away from a convent and then dumping her cold. Of course when you date a pirate that sort of thing is par for the course.

Angelica also happens to be Blackbeard’s daughter which serves to only complicate matters further. Also along for the ride is newcomer Sam Claflin as Philip, a captured missionary who becomes the romantic lead (a role Captain Jack cannot, nor should not fill) when he falls for imprisoned mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey).

No doubt this is all pretty silly stuff, but the fun in this movie, as you would expect, all surrounds Depp as Captain Jack schemes, evades, preens and cracks wise.

“On Stranger Tides” is directed by Rob Marshall who takes over the franchise from Gore Verbinski. Marshall is best known for directing musicals like “Chicago” and “Nine” and does prove to be a bit lacking compared to Verbinski when it comes to delivering spectacular action set pieces. Marshall’s strength is developing strong characters which plays well with this gifted cast as they let their larger-than-life characters explore the tiniest hints of depth and relatability, which proves to be a landmark for this franchise.

Also “On Stranger Tides” proves to make some of the best use of live-action 3D seen this side of “Avatar”; however I still wouldn’t go as far as say it is must-see in this format. Glorious 2D will more than suffice for those looking to save a few bucks at the box office.

Look, by this point you’ve made your mind up about Captain Jack Sparrow and if he leaves you cold or unimpressed watching “On Stranger Tides” will be only slightly more pleasant than being keelhauled.

However, if you find this scurvy seadog to be somebody you’d like to party with then “On Stranger Tides” makes for a merry distraction and a fun night out at the movies. You could most certainly do worse.

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality, and innuendo.

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