'Delightfully Irreverent, Yet Effective' movie review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

Attitude before the movie: Yay, Pirates! We get more Jack Sparrow!

Attitude after the movie: Pirates! You mean there’s going to be more? Really?

Pirates 4 was a pretty good movie. Not gonna lie, it was totally a popcorn movie. Don’t believe me? My wife and I actually bought popcorn for this movie. First time in like seven years. But hyperbole aside, there was too much plot to stuff into one movie, so the inevitable trimming of the fat of this movie serves to make us care less about ancillary characters (which was sorely needed), and flesh out some of the storytelling. This movie, like every other movie in this series, will always be doomed to follow the summer tentpole that started it all.

It’s like we had the first Pirates, which surprised everyone with how good it was (considering it was based on a crappy Disney ride), but now that sets up expectations that are impossible to meet after catching lightning in a bottle once. But then you had a two-part sequel, which was great, as long as you look at it as a two-part sequel (which almost nobody did). How do you follow that? Well, here’s to hoping for some Jack magic.

Now you have a fourth movie that has to keep old relationships alive, introduce new relationships, new characters (that we’re supposed to care about in just 40-ish minutes of screen time), and wrap up the only loose end from the original movies….but wait, there’s more! We also leave the possibility for another movie, and with Johnny Depp saying he’ll do it as long as there are Pirates stories to tell.

Will I watch another Pirates movie? Yes. And so will millions. But please please PLEASE, have more balance next time… and give Jack some characters to help ground his off-the-wall, “Gimme”-on-the-United-States-of-Tara-esque, antics. Jack is total id, with need of some no-nonsense characters to keep him in line. And he doesn’t have that in this movie. Master Gibbs is there only to serve as a yes man to Jack’s craziness. Penelope Cruz’s Angelica, she’s almost literally a female Jack. Ian McShane’s Blackbeard? He’s a bad mutha-(shut your mouth!). Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa? He and Jack have graduated into near bromance in this movie. But boy, does Geoffrey Rush love what he does for a living. Still, we’ve got no Will, and we’ve got no Elizabeth. And those dissonant notes are absolutely required to 1) Call BS on Jack every once in a while, 2) Add real tension to the movie, and 3) Give us at least a partial moral compass. We have none of those in this movie.

What’s even sadder is that this movie is based on a book. Did you know that? Do the usual Hollywood thing and buy the rights to something and strip it down to it’s bare plot elements, and you have Pirates 4. 

From a pirate history standpoint, though…how many more famous pirates do we have left to feature in this series? We have featured Davy Jones and Edward Teach (Blackbeard), so who next? Long John Silver? Captain Kidd? Black Bart? One-Eyed Willy (kidding…)? There are a few that have historical ties, because people will like Jack Sparrow’s interaction with the most famous pirates in history, right?? The fact is, this movie did best when it relied on purely original characterization. First movie? Real locations, all original characters. References to famous pirates were there, but all in all, pure original story based on original characters, and thus, no limitations. That’s what made the first movie so great. The other characters that made Jack Sparrow stand out that much more.

That’s going to be the challenge of any more installments in this series. Weave a story that fits the spirit of the series, with returning and purely original characters, and go with it. Don’t overdo it, and you’ll have a winner. Again.

Final thoughts…if you’re a fan of CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow, go watch. Johnny Depp really has this character in his wheelhouse, and you’ll enjoy the movie, if only for his performance. If not, skip it. Wait four months, rent on whatever disc format you prefer.

Grade? Win (because it’s Pirates), Meh (for the plot holes and me not really giving two hoots about one character whose sole purpose seems to be to make the plot possible).

Does that make my final grade ‘Weh?’ Sure. I’ll go with that.