Pirates of the Carribbean: On Stranger Tides must be viewed with subtitles on

Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Keith Richards, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Sam Claflin, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey

Screenplay by Terry Rossio, Ted Elliott based on the book On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

It’s quite a testament that Geoffrey Rush has made it through 4 of these movies.  His bad guy, Captain Barbosa, was the best of the bunch, and, so, why not bring him back?  Again, and again, and again.

This time around, Barbosa is “civilized” by being a one-legged Captain once conscripted into the King’s Navy.  His goal, like everyone’s in this film except, at first, Jack Sparrow, is to gain access to “The Fountain.”  The Fountain, of course, is the fabled spot in Florida, that Ponce de León, was looking for in 1513 when he was The First Governor of Puerto Rico.

The movie plays a bit like It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, but then, haven’t they all?  Everybody’s searching for the same thing, but for different reasons.  Sparrow, always on the lookout for his ship, The Black Pearl, it seems, finds himself wrapped into the plot from all the angles.  He shares none of their goals, but there wouldn’t be a movie if he did not end up at sea, heading towards their destination at some point.

Cruz is here, obviously, because Knightly isn’t.  More to the focus of the plot, Blackbeard needs to have a daughter, so why not give her the looks of a model?  If there is one here to replace Bloom’s increasingly vacant good looks, it has to be Claflin’s Philip Swift, a man of faith who let’s his conscience be his guide for his actions, rather than his greed.  His innocence is a welcome aspect to a film series where everyone is constantly searching for an angle on others.  His relationship with mermaid Syrena (Bergès-Frisbey) is bathed in beauty and innocence.

On the not so innocent side, McShane’s Blackbeard is a little bit older than one would expect Blackbeard to be, but this is excused with idea that he had been killed once already and brought back by some type of voodoo.  What type, I will leave for you to ponder.  McShane has the perfect amount of gristle (acquired from his 3 years as the brilliantly evil Al Swearengen on Deadwood) to give the proper amount of fear to the uninitiated.  Problem for me is, Swearengen is such an iconic character, anything short of that amount of brutality seems like a playful romp.  It can hardly be a fault, but it has an effect on one’s expectations.

Expectations of Cruz for me, are pretty minimal by now.  I haven’t enjoyed her in much of anything, except for Spanglish, when I discovered that, actually, it was Paz Vega that I was watching.  Here, she’s about what you’d expect for an ESL actress.  Her doubling as Depp’s “Captain” Jack Spelling is somewhat telling, as by looking at both, it’s hard to tell which one has the most makeup.

Depp, for his part, has never been funnier.  Calling the King of England “your heinie” early on is about the caliber of material we are dealing with here.  The line does not translate so well on paper, but his delivery, by now, is so flawlessly original, his character should be in the Smithsonian.  Actually, he probably is already, so never mind. Seeing a bit more of his Dad (the inestimable Keith Richards) is a wonderful treat.  He hangs around long enough to pass along some nearly unintelligible instructions and then is gone, like a vapor.

Which brings us back to Barbosa.  Rush is the sole actor that keeps me coming back to this series.  Nobody does scum and villainy like he does.  Every film that comes along, I savor each of his scenes, knowing that the serpentine character development amounts to not that much, but is sure fun to watch.

The special effects of …On Stranger Tides is downright minimalist, when compared to Verbinski and Bruckheimer’s marriage made in overkill heaven.  Rob Marshall’s clean, efficient direction surely accounts for the leaner running time (at least 6 minutes less than the original and almost 20 less than either of the other sequels.  All I remember about either of the significantly longer films is that irritating Jamaican woman who seems to have graduated from her days answering phone calls in the psychic hot line.

What can you do with these films?  They are not for people who like movies about sailing, for there is hardly any sailing in them.  Some coming, some going, hardly ever do you get the feeling that, like Capt. Jack Sparrow says “It’s not about the destination, but the journey.”  I have seen none of the movies in the theater, and for that I am grateful,  Without subtitles, I don’t think I would have understood a word anybody says.  Yes, the Pirates of the Caribbean films are fun to watch, even if they have no sense of what they are doing, just who they are and how they like to dress up for adventure.

(***1.2 out of *****)

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