Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is the fourth installment of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and I found it less complex and more light-hearted than its predecessors. There are several reasons for this, but I think it is largely in part because the Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann storyline that was pivotal to the first three films was concluded with the previous films. That enabled the filmmakers to start with a fresh new story with this film.
This is a classic quest story, with three different groups all vying for the legendary Fountain of Youth. Jack Sparrow is forced by the King of England to help his old nemesis Captain Barbossa – who now sails for England as a privateer – into finding the waters of eternal life before the Spanish do. Jack escapes, but is soon shanghaied by the pirate Blackbeard, who is seeking the Fountain of Youth for reasons of his own. Helping Blackbeard is Angela Malon, who as a former paramour of Jack Sparrow, Blackbeard hopes to use to his advantage. Finding the fountain is not the only part of the quest, as certain elements must also be procured in order to make proper use of the waters magical abilities. One of these is the tears of a mermaid and they eventually all must deal with the complications of dealing with these mythical creatures, before all parties arrive at the location of the youthful fountain.
Unlike the first three films, where the viewpoint character is Will Turner, this film the focal character is Jack Sparrow. As a supporting character, Sparrow was charismatically heroic and unpredictably goofy all at the same time. By placing Sparrow at the center of the story, he must drive the story and be slightly less capricious as a result. Jonny Depp manages to keep Jack just as naughty and nutty as always, while still making him likable. This is one of the reasons this film emphasized the comedy over the macabre, because Sparrow’s view of his world is emphatically whimsical.
I also think that a lot of the tone of this film could be credited to the new director Rob Marshall. The writers for all four films are similar, so Marshall must have decided to accentuate the comedic components of the fantasy elements, than the darker chaotic aspects that Gore Verbinski focused on. I was concerned that a different director would change to look and feel of the Pirates of the Caribbean film, but it did most assuredly did not.
I really liked the new villain of this film. Finally, we get a truly evil and selfish pirate in the form of Blackbeard, played to the hilt by one of my favorite actors Ian McShane. I loved the interplay between Depp and his old romantic entanglement Angelica Malon, played with spicy exuberance by Penélope Cruz. I’m glad they brought back Captain Barbossa and Sparrow’s first mate Gibbs, even though they take a definite back seat to Sparrow, Malon and Blackbeard.
Oddly, the character I missed the most was The Black Perl: the ship that is so dear to Jack Sparrow’s heart. Another major omission was the lack of any ship-to-ship sea battles that were so prominent in first three films. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that it would be difficult to top the massive fleet battle at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.
The supernatural elements were not played up as much in this film. Yes, there was a haunted ship, magic sword, zombie pirates and mermaids, but only one of these supernatural elements played a major role in the storyline. These were the mermaids and even they had only one big scene in the film. I’m not saying I was disappointed with the supernatural aspects of this film, but I felt they were downplayed a bit more than in the first three films.
Still, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides fulfills its prime objective, which is to entertain and amuse. There are plenty of fantastic action scenes, filled with humor and wit. At the center of it all is Captain Jack Sparrow, who faces danger and death with his usual mixture of zany aplomb and cowardice. That alone makes this pirate film a voyage well worth taking.