Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides film review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is definitely a mediocre movie. However, this fourth entry in Disney’s massively popular fantasy-adventure franchise is certainly not as terrible as some people have been calling it. Some things work, others don’t but in the end it’s easiest to view it as just another Pirates movie. If you enjoyed, tolerated, or hated the first 3 films, then you should have much the same response this time around.

Watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is like having drinks with friends you haven’t seen for a few years. Regardless of the experiences and adventures of the interim period, you soon slip into a pleasant, if superficial, groove and it feels like nothing has changed. Pirates 4 is certainly more of the same. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen eccentric Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) swashbuckle his way out of and into trouble. This isn’t the first time the character has found himself contending with an imposing “demon” ship, captained by a legendary pirate (Ian McShane as a voodoo-dabbling Blackbeard). And this isn’t the first time the characters have been in a race against time to find a supernatural treasure – here the Fountain of Youth.

This sense of having seen it all before does mean On Stranger Tides suffers from a serious lack of originality – and memorability. It’s also the reason why the mermaid sequence is hands down the highlight of the movie. It’s fresh, it’s sinister and it’s completely engrossing. If only the same could be said for the rest of the movie. The zombie pirates punted in the trailer are disappointingly underutilized, although they at least follow the “mind control” Caribbean tradition as opposed to being the decaying, mute corpses ubiquitous in the media these days.

After a convoluted, over-long start, with several unanswered questions – if Jack has already been questing for the Fountain of Youth, why does he know so little about it? – On Stranger Tides warms up as it gets going. There are amusing moments but it’s generally darker and more serious than its predecessors. And the death scene in the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade-style finale is surprisingly gory.

On Stranger Tides is also the most “sexual” of the Pirates movies, thanks to Penélope Cruz’s presence as Angelica, Jack’s fiery ex. There are several bawdy exchanges between the two as well as plenty of innuendo. Meanwhile, the filmmakers evidently feel uncomfortable about the gap in the cast left by Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s departure because they’ve inserted Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey as the gorgeous and wide-eyed young lovers caught up in the pirate shenanigans. At least their story arc is resolved by the end of the film, though.

In fact it’s worth mentioning at this point that one of the biggest positives about Pirates 4 is that the movie is standalone. Even with a fun little post-credits sequence (remember to stay in your seat!), the storyline has been capped off. For once, refreshingly, Hollywood isn’t being presumptuous or cheeky about expecting audiences to return to cinemas for sequels that resolve the plot. This is appreciated, although it’s also quite sad that its self-contained nature is one of the most notable features of On Stranger Tides.

In the end, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a pleasant enough experience, but nothing special. Nothing unmissable. It’s certainly a step up from At World’s End, and performances are solid, even if the characters are not especially well developed. Still though, it all feels a bit hollow. Consider this one a passable popcorn movie. Nothing more.


Tim said…
For what it's worth, having really liked Pirates 1 and 2, and been let down by 3, I felt 4 was a welcome return to form. It's formulaic, but as long you like the formula you'll enjoy it.

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