Thursday, May 19, 2011
Movie review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
When it comes time to churn butter (if you get my drift), better not know a mermaid!
Let me start off with a nit-pick regarding this film's title: No tides could possibly be stranger than the ones the last Pirates movie cast its characters upon, as Captain Jack Sparrow found himself trapped in a surreal purgatorial realm accompanied by a self-replenishing contingent of identical Jack Sparrow shipmates. In contrast, the quest for Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth appears absolutely pedestrian. Even when you add man-eating mermaids into the mix.
That being said, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides does a fine job of putting the swash back into the ol' buckle. (Matey.) Its 137 minutes of eye candy escapist fantasy amount to a rollicking good time, with fresh wonderments and new adventures at every swing of the compass needle. The producers ought to congratulate themselves for handing over the directorial reigns to Rob Marshall, while keeping scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio aboard for another wild and witty ride.
Furthermore, this movie demonstrates a remarkably successful and appropriate use of the 3D medium. While I generally disdain the use of goofy plastic glasses and abhor the additional contrivance and (typically unnecessary) expense of going the 3D route, Pirates 4 — being the cinematic equivalent of an amusement park thrill ride — might as well have been made for it. (Wait a minute: It was made for it.)
You'll notice from the credits (and the promotional spots) that both Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are missing from this episode. While one can debate whether their characters — Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner — will be sorely missed, we should hasten to note that a number of interesting new characters make their maiden appearances on this voyage. Chief among them are Jack Sparrow's ne're-before-mentioned old flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz), and a rather infamous pirate captain you may have heard tell of: Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
When Jack runs into Angelica in London (after escaping, in thrilling fashion, from the king's men who are out to hang him), she's impersonating him in order to sign sailors up for a voyage. As he and his shanghaied crewmates discover after coming to their senses the next morning, the ship they're unwillingly serving on is the Queen Anne's Revenge — a scurvy scow if there ever was one, but more to the point Blackbeard's own flagship. And his flag, shiver me timbers, is the Jolly Roger. ARR!
Three separate groups of seafarers find themselves in a race to the recently rediscovered site of the fountain of youth: Blackbeard (with his daughter, Angelica, acting as first mate, while Jack plots mutiny in the background); an English vessel captained by Jack's old rival Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush); and a small fleet of Spanish ships led by an enigmatic nobleman (Óscar Jaenada, last seen as long range rifle specialist Cougar in The Losers).
Along the way, they'll need to weigh anchor in Whitecap Bay, gathering place of the mermaids. These damsels of the deep have such a fierce reputation that even long-at-sea sailors dread their sinuous approach — but according to the legend, anyone desiring to partake of the fountain of youth is going to need a mermaid's tear.
For my pieces of eight, the crew's moonlit encounter with the mermaids represents the high point of the film's spectacle, as a bevy of buoyant beauties undergoes a sea change into a mob of ravenous predators. Such is the mermaids' allure that even though Scrum (Stephen Graham) knows his life may be forfeit, he can't resist the charms of Tamara (Gemma Ward), who perches on her elbows on the edge of his longboat, serenading him with a sensuous song. Even devout clergyman Phillip (Sam Claflin) finds himself smitten with a watery lass named Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), who's had the misfortune to be captured by the crew and is being transported in an ersatz aquarium to the fountain — for tear-getting purposes.
For their mission, it turns out, the Spanish will not be needing a mermaid. To say more would qualify as a spoiler, so I'll leave it at that.
By the time this thrilling nautical adventure draws to a close, we're left with a couple of tantalizing character issues unresolved — and only one of them is revisited after the arduous roll of end credits, by which time almost everyone (except for you, oh wise one!) will have left the theater.
Jolly good fun.
JACK BE NIMBLE: "You mean, you lied to me by telling the truth?"
JACK BE QUICK: "I support the missionary's position."
JACK JUMP OVER THE CANDLESTICK: "If you had a sister and a dog, I'd choose the dog."
To find movie showtimes for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, click here.