Johnny Depp is usually the one credited with building the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise into one of the most popular movie series in history. But after watching On Stranger Tides, the lifeless and boring (yes, boring!) fourth installment, I’ve realized that all along, it was Gore Verbinski and not Depp who was most responsible for the wild success of the series. Depp may have delivered a brilliant and charismatic performance but if weren’t for Verbinski’s energetic direction and courage to allow the actor to do whatever he wanted with the character, Depp probably wouldn’t have been the superstar he is today. If The Curse of the Black Pearl sucked, would you be talking about how great Depp was in it? I doubt it. Verbinski departure from the director’s seat coupled with the abysmal quality of On Stranger Tides just amplifies my theory that he was the series’ MVP because even though Depp is fine as usual, there’s something missing – that element of fun!
Even though it’s only been two weeks since I watched the film, I’ve more or less forgotten what it’s about which should tell you how good it is. I had to look it up to refresh my memory. As hinted at the end of the bloated At World’s End, Capt. Jack Sparrow (Depp) finds in his possession, the map to the infamous Fountain of Youth. This knowledge makes him the prime interest of Capt. Blackbeard (a wasted Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz – also wasted) who also happens to be a former flame of Jack. After being forced by the duo to lead them to the fountain in exchange for his ship (or something like that), the group head out on the high seas all while battling off Jack’s old nemesis/friend Barbossa (the always great Geoffrey Rush), now in the employ of the British Government. Along the way, the screenwriters throw in a useless romantic subplot involving a priest and a mermaid, a subplot involving Barbossa’s foot, some random Spanish expedition, and some half-assed romantic tension between Jack and Angelica.
Though it’s a Pirates film, a lot of On Stranger Tides plays like a cheap version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which was also about a race to find an elixir of life. However, unlike Indy’s third adventure which balanced great action scenes with a focused storyline and a rock-solid central relationship, On Stranger Tides is just a cluster of god-awful action scenes, a by-the-numbers storyline, bland characters and Johnny Depp sleep-walking through another movie. Ever since his Oscar-nominated turn in Sweeney Todd four years ago, every film Depp has starred in has been one gigantic paycheck gig after the next. Seriously, after Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist and now this movie, I doubt Depp will ever take on a challenging role ever again. Hopefully The Rum Diary will change my mind but I don’t have high hopes.
On the flip side, not everything is sour with On Stranger Tides. There are a couple of things that it does get right. For one, it cuts out one of the major issues that plagued the second and third films – the convoluted plotlines. For the most part, On Stranger Tides sticks to the main story of finding the fountain of youth and keeps the subplots on the down-lo. It’s also blessed with the absence of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley who I didn’t miss at all! An extended action sequence featuring a hunt for mermaids was also well done but that’s about it. The over-long running time continues to be an issue with this series and it’s more obvious in this film because the plot is only strong enough to sustain a 90-minute film. At over 140 minutes, On Stranger Tides is too bloody long!
Overall, On Stranger Tides is a largely disappointing installment in the already exhausted Pirates franchise. My only wish is the filmmakers end the series right here in order to save the legacy of the fantastic first film and to avoid the embarrassment of an even worse sequel. Oh and Johnny… I get that you love the character and all but give it a rest man! Enough is enough!