I can’t say that I went into On Stranger Tides with high hopes. All the other film critics – both budding and professional – that I’m a follower of haven’t exactly rated it highly. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my expectations were more or less at rock bottom. So when I say that I was still disappointed, I hope I get across my full meaning.
Okay, I’ll come out and say it. The latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie is...well, boring. Not bad – it’s had far too much money thrown at it to ever be considered truly bad – but completely lacking in the sense of fun and silliness that even the second and third movies retained from the first, despite getting totally bogged down in the close to impenetrable web of deception and betrayal that it was trying to pass off as a story.
Here, that web is tangled thicker than ever, and the writers and director both seem un-fussed about carrying it to any sort of sensible conclusion. The story continues from the end of the last one – or does it? One can hardly be sure – with Jack in captivity awaiting trial for his many crimes. He escapes – hardly a spoiler – and heads off in search of the fountain of youth. Only he’s not the only one after it – well, he is at first, but then suddenly everyone from the Spanish Armada to the feared Pirate Blackbeard gets wind of it and wants in.
But none of them have a clearly defined motive besides ‘I want it’. Okay, so they’re all pirates or blaggards to a man, but there’s no fleshing out of their reasoning behind the venture beyond that most basic of premises, and this gives the movie a distinct lack of urgency, because the filmmakers fail to invest us in any of characters – both positively for the good guys and negatively for the villains. What’s more, there’s a deep, deep lack of consistency between this ‘plot’ and those of the first three films – characters that are carried over seem to have simply forgotten most of what happened.
Particularly uncomfortable is Barbossa’s transition from angry and slightly mad ex-undead pirate captain to fawning, idiotic privateer. Geoffrey Rush does his best, but the writers – and also, bizarrely, the makeup department – have managed to render him completely inert by passing him through a character and appearance change that is simply not in keeping with what was the second-most interesting character of the first three films.
But most cripplingly, the director Rob Marshall seems completely out of his depth. As with Quantum of Solace, the producers deemed fit to bring a dramatic director on board what was, in essence, an action franchise. Say what you will about Gore Verbinski, the man knew his way around a set piece. Rob Marshall has no such talent – his action sequences lack the charm, wit and velocity of Verbinski’s - but what’s more, he fails on both the technical and dramatic fronts as well. There’s a laundry list of continuity errors, strange camera angles and bizarrely structured dialogue sequences, all contributing to a movie that completely lacks any sense of pace. And at over two hours long, you’re going to feel every minute of it dragging past.
There are a few nice moments here and there – and they are, for the most part, when the writers momentarily remember that they’ve got an entire three-films worth of backstory to draw on – but they're so few and far between that’ll you’ll simply forget them amid the quagmire of turgidity being flung towards you. See it only if you think they can do better with a fifth one, otherwise, avoid.