PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES Review

It has been eight interesting years since we were first introduced to Johnny Depp's most popular creation. After two over-blown and somewhat disappointing sequels we welcome this latest installment of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise with a good amount of caution. It is clear that Depp and the creative team behind the oddly subtitled "On Stranger Tides" decided to give the series a slight re-boot. Bringing in director Rob Marshall to take over for Gore Verbinski who opted out this time around. Marshall (Chicago, Nine) has stripped all the hoopla of the two sequels taking out the overly complex story lines as well as any obligation that was felt to keep Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom on board. Instead, what this fourth film has turned out to be is the Captain Jack show as if he were playing the Indiana Jones of the seven seas. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, "On Stranger Tides" is a fun movie, but it plays it too safe. Whereas those two sequels may have been too strange at parts and too complicated for their own good, "On Stranger Tides" doesn't live up to its name at all.

This is a by-the-numbers action/adventure film, a race of a movie to find the coveted fountain of youth. It captures the same fun, light tone of the first film in the series while managing to somehow drag for long periods of time. That is really my one big complaint about the film. Other than that this is a big summer action flick and it serves that purpose in ever other way. It has amazing locations and special effects galore, it features colorful costumes and characters while being smart enough to layer its standard storyline with the gray area between good and evil that has always made Jack Sparrow, the pirate, so appealing. They've given us a real baddie in the form of Ian McShane's Blackbeard. McShane seems the go-to-guy for villains these days but damn if he's not the best at it. He makes his Blackbeard threatening and unpredictable while exuding a playfulness that shows how much he enjoys being bad. Truly evil. And linking Sparrow with the most famous of pirate baddies is done by giving him a certain kind of romantic history with Blackbeard's daughter, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). Introducing these new characters could no doubt leave open the possibility for more pirates films (stay after the credits if you are hoping for more) but the question is, has this series redeemed itself enough with "On Stranger Tides" that there is a renewed trust in the audience that might have lost interest with "Dead Man's Chest" and "At Worlds End"? The theater I saw it in was packed and with it making a reportedly $90 million already Jerry Bruckheimer will most likely be calling Johnny Depp Monday morning.

What future films can't do though is continue to allow Captain Jack be the center of the whole thing. what made him so charming the first time around is the fact he was an outsider, commenting on the core story through the eyeglasses of a deranged and humorous pirate. As he is in almost every scene of "On Stranger Tides" though it causes the sharp edge of Captain Jacks wit to dull. Sure, he offers up a few great one-liners here and there. His antics provide for sword fights and daring escapes every few minutes, but this is also what seemed to contribute to that dragging feeling I described earlier.

This series is all about balance. they had it in the first, the second and third became too heavy with story and excessive characters while this latest entry got the tone right, it leaned too heavily on, should I dare say it? Too much Jack Sparrow? Keep the interesting relationship between Cruz and Depp's characters going, it's fun, but make their exchanges more witty and cutting. Also, there was the side story concerning the young missionary and a mermaid. I'm sure that was intentionally left unresolved. Let's use them to balance between a focal story and Captain Jacks shenanigans. Plus, a pirates story with mermaid lore? Sounds like a good idea to me. Lets also let Barbosa rest and just applaud Geoffrey Rush for being game enough to play him once again. "On Stranger Tides" is good fun, but it doesn't succeed in getting back to what made this series so appealing in the first place. If they do decide to make more, let's at least hope they get closer than this.