Curse of the Disney Sequel: A Review Of Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides

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So the monkey from the movie is fired from a cannon and crash lands on a desert island. There he is stuck with a band aid, 12 unusable Taco Bell Coupons, and a pet turtle named Jojo. The monkey needs to escape the island before a tsunami devours the island.

The monkey then uses the taco bell coupons to bribe friendly space aliens. They now have a mission to abduct 12 pirates lords, and export them to a planet called Mermaid #1, however the alien ship does not have vertical life power and is crushed by the tsunami.

The monkey’s physical body dies and his ghost, along with the ghosts of the aliens and Jack Sparrow, must hitchhike to a responding station to bring themselves back to life to avenge the tsunami god Poseidon. Sequel anybody?

…Okay, so that’s not really what happens. I just have a friend who’s really good at improvising (Harry Hill everybody). But trust me, it sounds eons more interesting than the plot we are given here in the fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean. And you know what, I was one of the guys that was cautiously optimistic about this film. I thought it’d be a fresh start. New Characters, new plot. But believe me when I say, after seeing it, Disney and Bruckheimer Films would have been much better off making a sequel to The Prince of Persia instead.

There there Barbosa. I’d look pissed too if they took away everything badass about my character.

On Stranger Tides opens with Jack and his trusty cohort Gibbs in mid escape attempt during a trial from the British Government. Surprise surprise, Jack doesn’t think his plan through and they both get caught. Jack is brought into an interrogation with the prime minister, and even King George himself (played by Uncle Vernon) who says rumors have been spreading that Jack Sparrow is searching for a crew for an expedition to find the Fountain of Youth, which, even though we saw Jack steal the map to the fountain at the end of the third movie, he openly denies. (Whatever, it’s useless questioning his logic now.) Anyway, Jack comes to the conclusion that there is an imposter of him roaming around London, so what follows is probably one of the most impractical escape attempts I have ever seen, right out of the eyes of the British Government.

And therein lies my first problem with this movie. It “Nukes the Fridge” (or “Jumps the Shark” for those of you not with the times) far too much, and not in the kind of ways that I was able to laugh off in the previous movies, but in jarring self conscious ways that make me scratch my head. When Jack Sparrow is escaping through a crowded town by jumping from carriage to carriage, none of the commoners acknowledge his presence as all, and as for the British Navy chasing him, I’m not sure what really happened to them between movies that turned them into brain dead morons. Sure, they never were the most competent guards in the universe, but they caught both Sparrow and Turner in the end. They weren’t the complete idiots they are in this movie.

“You’ll all remember this as the day you almost caught Cap… hello? Anyone?”

I guess they’d have to be that stupid if they were really going to trust Barbosa to to guide them. Yeah, you heard me right. The series’ best villain is now leading the British Navy to find the Fountain of Youth, and he’s wearing the wig and everything. Why? Because we are told through Geoffrey Rush’s exquisite exposition about how the Black Pearl had a run in with Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship of the dreaded Blackbeard, and how he got his ass kicked, and lost the ship, the entire crew, and something else [which I will keep unspoiled for those of you still intending to see it]and the whole time I’m hearing this, all I’m thinking about is how his story sounds more awesome than anything that has happened in the actual movie. Hey Chris, want to remind everyone what the golden rule of movie-making is again? [Pranger’s Note: If we didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.] I was thinking “Show, Don’t Tell,” but that works too. Seriously, I haven’t felt this disappointed since we were told the Kraken was killed off between movies 2 and 3, also off screen. It’s like these movies are keelhauling their own potential.

But surely there has to be some redeeming qualities. Well, turns out there really is an imposter Jack Sparrow, and we all know how much the real Jack enjoys being the one and only Captain Jack Sparrow, so they have a pretty nifty sword fight, in which the imposter’s face is cleverly hidden with shadows and camera angles. This fight would be interesting if a.) it didn’t look so similar (yet not as good) to Jack’s fight with Will Turner at the beginning of the first movie, and b.) it wasn’t so painstakingly obvious who the imposter is, as anyone who’s seen a trailer or movie poster can figure it out simply by process of elimination of what main character hasn’t been introduced yet. So yeah, sorry I’m spoiling this one, but it’s Penelope Cruz’s character, Blackbeard’s Daughter and Jack’s supposed love interest: Angelica.

Yeah, I almost wish I was talking about her.

With the Turners’ story all wrapped up (living happily ever after… once every ten years), I suppose the writers had no other option but to tack on some genuine human attachment for our off-kilter leading man. Despite the fact that both Depp and Cruz are very talented actors and bring plenty of life to their respected characters, their chemistry together feels empty. The main problem is that so much of their relationship is hinged on a past we’ve never seen. Imagine if you saw Indiana Jones The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and you were watching the awkwardness between Indiana and Marion as they are brought back in a sticky situation together after so long, but you’ve never seen their adventure together from Raiders of the Lost Arc to really see where they’re coming from. That’s kind of what it’s like to watch Jack and Angelica in this movie: the real story between them is untold.

The rest of the movie involves Jack shanghaied onto Blackbeard’s ship and forced into a fetch quest to find all the items needed to perform the ritual, with Barbosa and the British Navy not far behind. Hilarity ensues as Jack instigates an ill-fated mutiny (the writers must have thought it’d be ironic, considering his own past), however they don’t call Blackbeard the most feared of pirates for nothing. He has magic weapons (no real explanation or origin, he just has them), including a sword that telepathically commands his ship, voodoo dolls, and undead zombiefied minions (just because). The Spanish also show up as a third faction who intend to destroy the fountain, yet instead of doing anything truly compelling, they just become a plot device to get Jack and Barbosa on the same side again.

And yet here is another “Nuking the Fridge” moment. So Jack has to steal these chalices the Spanish possess that are necessary for the fountain ritual, and they are both on a table that one of the Spaniards is sitting at guarding. So Jack sneaks underneath the very table he’s sitting at, and clumsily snatches up the chalices as the guard momentarily turns his head. Once he has both of them, Barbosa comes up behind the Spaniard and bashes him on the head, knocking him out….Okay WHY didn’t they just knock him out in the first place, grab the chalices and run? Because… the writers thought it’d be funny?

If there is anything I actually really liked in the movie, I’ll admit the scenes with the mermaids turned out pretty good. They were equally beautiful and terrifying, and if Gemma Ward was the last thing I saw before death at sea, I’d probably die a happy pirate too. (Of course the scene’s ruined when the first idiot to get dragged down under somehow miraculously survives when the attack’s all over. Why? Because… the writers thought it’d be funny?)

There’s also a C Plot involving a priest that Blackbeard stows on his crew with the task of absolving his soul (I know it sounds stupid. By now I’d just roll with it). Anyway, he ends up feeling sympathetic for the mermaid the crew captures for the ritual, feeling purposefully guilty for her capture, and as cliché as it sounds as I’m writing it, they are probably the only minor characters I care about, as their chemistry (between a priest and a freaking fish) is almost more believable than that of Jack and Angelica.

Now, when someone wants to make THIS movie, sign me up.

Pirates of the Carribean On Stranger Tides strikes me as a sequel that tried to play things safe. In the case of the third movie, it was a matter of “Go Big or Go Home.” While the fourth installment doesn’t fail nearly as epically as that one did, it just comes out flat. I’ll admit the aesthetics of the movie, the set pieces, music, effects, are all fine, and Ian McShane was undoubtedly an excellent choice for Blackbeard. People who were able to stomach all the previous movies will probably have fun with this one as well. With that being said, there was a lot to be desired. None of the sword fights are as good as the ones from the first two, all the minor pirate and navy characters this time around are bland and forgettable, and the ending pulls the BS of introducing several plot premises vastly more compelling than the movie we just saw, as sequel bait.

Bloody pirates!

Check out some of our other movie reviews:

Great Odin’s Raven! A Movie Review of Thor

Sucker Punch This Review…Of Sucker Punch

The End is Nigh: A Review of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1

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2 Comments

  1. Oh, I for one have no problem with the Pirate Motif at all. I think there is still plenty of Avenues to explore, they just got to get a little more creative. Here’s a perfect example:

    The next time someone wants to make a Pirate Movie, don’t call it “Pirates of the Caribbean” Instead of the Caribbean, have it take place in an ocean called the East Blue. Instead of Jack Sparrow, have the lead be… a bottomlessly optamistic young boy with a straw hat, who has superhuman strength and a body that can stretch like rubber (at the cost of losing his ability to swim), and instead of a blacksmith, he teams up with a former pirate hunter who fights with three swords… AT THE SAME TIME! Instead of the governer’s daughter, the leading lady is a master thief obessed with money, yet is a brilliant navigator. Together they fight pirate gang who’s Captain is a Clown (that’s right, a clown) with the ability to detach himself and fly his body parts all over the place. The clown has a first mate who is a lion tamer, and a second mate that is an acrobatic unicycle-riding swordsmen.

    That sure would turn the pirate motif on it’s head, don’t you think.

  2. I really dislike the Pirates franchise. The first movie was incredibly enjoyable but none of the sequels have ever kept things interesting to the point of wanting to watch it again…even on TV. But I guess we should expect that from Disney (unless it’s a Pixar film).

    I’m sure Pirates 4 will do bank opening weekend and then die, just like the last ones. I for one hope this movie can seal the deal on pirate popularity and we can graciously move on to some other motif and beat it to death too.

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