Movie review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” written by Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, Tim Powers (novel “On Stranger Tides” suggestion), directed by Rob Marshall, 137 min
utes, rated PG-13.

Saying farewell to Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Davy Jones, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series forges ahead with “On Stranger Tides.”

Not to worry, because the face of the franchise, Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow, is in full swing for the fourth installment.

Director Rob Marshall’s first go on the high tides finds Sparrow in London, where the rumor mill is churning out word that a Sparrow imposter is in town looking for a ship and crew.

It is here where we find out that the Felix to Sparrow’s Oscar, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), has taken up an offer from the King of England to become a privateer, and is looking for Jack’s assistance to help find the fountain of youth. Of course, he doesn’t comply.

But the King of England isn’t the only one interested in the fountain. Three parties – the Spanish, the English and Black Beard (Ian McShane), armed with a mystical sword and The Queen Anne’s Revenge, take up a nautical race filled with danger to find the fountain.

In true “Pirates” fashion, Marshall generates some incredible scenes of peril, placing elaborate obstacles in the way of sword fights and a chase through London’s city streets, lending “On Stranger Tides” the pacing of a theme-park ride.

While the action and the distinct Hans Zimmer score are all very engaging, it’s Johnny Depp who, once again, is in his own little acting heaven.

Jack Sparrow falls. It’s funny. Jack Sparrow runs. It’s funny. Jack Sparrow peaks around a corner. It’s funny.

There’s a trend developing here.

Depp is one of maybe two actors who can command the screen in such a manner. The other, of course, is Sean Penn – albeit usually with a much different approach.

When Jack Sparrow is on-screen, Depp has a way of naturally drawing the audience’s focus to him, even when he’s not necessarily intended to be the center of attention. And when he’s off-screen, he still somehow manages to hold the viewer’s attention. It’s an amazing gift.

Now for the bad parts. Some wooden dialogue sandbags the secondary characters, namely Penelope Cruz’s Angelica. Cruz, who’s usually vibrant and a joy to watch, at times feels a bit lost in the oversized franchise.

She makes do with the material, however, and in scenes of one-on-one acting with Depp, you can watch her fall into the role comfortably. It’s tough for an actor to mold his or herself into a series that’s already so well-established. Having seen some of the amazing work that she’s done in the past (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” anybody?) I’m sure she’ll continue to find her footing it the next installment.

As much criticism as the series has taken, I for one would welcome a fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” film.

Its humor is predominantly slapstick, its locales are exotic, and its sense of adventure is never-ending. What more could one ask for in a summer blockbuster?

Grade: B+

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