With reprisals by Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Barbossa (Geoffery Rush) and Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from the original ‘Pirates’ franchise, ‘On Stranger Tides’ actually feels like a stand alone film rather than a third sequel. Perhaps it’s the absence of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) and the additions of Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane, who actually voiced a similarly evil pirate ‘Captain Hook’ in Shrek The Third) lending to this feeling because all the cast changes are acceptable in this quest in a pirates life.
The new adventure involves a search for mythical Fountain of Youth while paying homage to the actual history and myths of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon – who is often linked to The Fountain of Youth, which is reputed to be in modern-day Florida. The new journey has the same allure as the previous ‘Pirates’ films – the same score by Hans Zimmer, similar costuming and returning characterizations. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of character arcs (save for the religious Phillip [Sam Claflin]) or true story progression. Granted, the journey is action packed and adventurous – but this checklist of “to do” seems to pale in comparisson to the previous films because it comes with less intrigue and less danger, but is full of the same pirate mutinies, double-crossings, thievery and Sparrow’s rekindled old flames.
When Captain Jack Sparrow returns to London, he becomes witness to the rumors that he’s assembling a crew in the race against the Spanish to discover the Fountain of Youth. As expected, Sparrow is placed in an impossible situation (which contains a surprising new role for Barbossa) he must escape from to set the film in motion. He soon learns there is an imposter, that turns out to be a woman from his past, Angelica. Guised as Sparrow (sans ‘Captain), she secretly recruits a crew, which unfortunately for her isn’t Captain Jack’s forte. This back and forth banter goes back and forth – back and forth between Sparrow, Blackbeard, Angelica and Barbossa through the whole film adding mini-twists and turns that keep the audience engaged and concerned with whose death they’ll see. Throw in a bunch of mermaids (needed for the Fountain’s ritual) and you’ve got the film. Interestingly enough, the sub-plot between Phillip and mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey, a Spanish actress who will benefit from this platform) is perhaps most interesting as it contains the film’s major dramatic themes: compassion, betrayal, mystique, religion, redemption, love and forgiveness.
Credit should indeed be given to the work ‘Pirates’ delivers to the Phillip-Syrena subplot as the two deliver some of the most memorable performances (even more memorable than that of Cruz’s, which was surprisingly sexy but flat). Combined with the nicely worked history and mythology, ‘On Stranger Tides’ is a nice, light-hearted, fun, purely escapist form of entertainment and you can expect to travel somewhere in the just over two hour film while being allured by the beauty of nature, the Fountain, Cruz and mermaids.
If seen in 3-D (which isn’t necessary) the audience can expect a few swords and skeletons in their face. ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ is rated PG-13 and runs 137 minutes (which is about 15 minutes too long as the end of the film sort of drags on). For those expecting greatness and something highly memorable – you may or may not find it here. But for those expecting to see a typical Hollywood-blockbuster that becomes a guilty pleasure-type movie that is generally well made (save for some sloppy fight sequences), then jump aboard this ship and set your sails ‘On Stranger Tides.’