Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I was fortunate enough to win two tickets from Clothes on Film to a preview screening of Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides. The screening was at The Empire cinema in Leicester Square, London.


I’d never been to The Empire cinema, and boy was I impressed! The screen they showed the film in was HUGE. I think I could have fit my whole office block in twice, with room to spare. The photo really doesn’t do justice to how big it was.


Enough about how gigantic the theatre was. On to the review! HERE BE SPOILERS:


Pirates 4 follows Captain Jack Sparrow on his search for the Fountain of Youth. We’ve shed the sub plots of Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom, but kept a few of the other favourite faces. Gibbs the first mate returns as Jack’s foil, and Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbosa. To replace the love story they brought in Penelope Cruz as Angelica and Ian McShane as Captain Blackbeard.

The film begins with Jack committing a usual crazy caper. I think they should rename the theme music of Pirates to “Jack does something clever”, since every time he does something crazy that works the music strikes up that familiar theme. But, I don’t mean that in a bad way, I still enjoyed seeing the clever and improbable ways Jack gets out of his situations.

We follow Jack from the opening scenes to an audience with King George and Captain Barbosa, who has gone pirate to privateer. Some further hijinks and we’re introduced to our female lead, Angelica. She and Jack have a lurid past, discussed briefly in a sword fight that was a little too similar to film one’s initial fight between Jack and Will, for my taste. I pity the stunt choreographer, there’s not much new you can do to top the last three films in terms of swordplay. Unless you add rhyming taunts like Monkey Island, but I digress…

Angelica is first mate on Blackbeard’s ship, and also his daughter. I felt, overall, Angelica remained sadly under-developed by the time the film ended. It had promising starts, she was apparently going to be a nun, she still believes in god, and she wants to save Blackbeard’s soul. But, that’s it. As she starts, so she ends. She’s a strong woman, which is always nice, but no wiser by the finale.

Blackbeard, I loved, though he was not used nearly enough. He’s a very similar character to Barbosa, which is why I think the writing struggled, but he has a streak of anarchy that made him so much fun to watch. Ian McShane makes a perfect pirate. But, he suffers from lack of set up. He’s “The pirate all pirates fear” who has never once been referred to in three films. He’s also into voodoo and has a magical sword/ship, but no explanation really as to why. I think I would actually have preferred him to be more historically accurate and just a man. There was plenty of other magic in the film to make up for it.

The major magic is the mermaids. They need a mermaid’s tear for the ritual at the fountain, so there’s a long sequence of trying to catch one. I thought they looked good and added nice variety to the sea myths all the films are pulling from. From there, we enter jungle land.

The film spends a lot of time trudging through a jungle, but I never really got a sense of location. All the other films, I felt I knew where I was, even if it wasn’t a place in the real world. Jack had to jump into a ravine, while everyone else walked around it, but again, I didn’t really get why. The whole film suffered from a lack of depth, really, but I didn’t mind too much as I was having too much fun watching pirates fight each other.


I don’t want to ruin the climax, so I’ll finish up with my overall thoughts. It was a fun romp through pirate-land. Jack had some witty lines, the battles were fun, and people went YARRR. It wasn’t horribly memorable, it was still Jack + mythic treasure = trouble. It was certainly less convoluted than the last pirate film, but perhaps too much so.

My final thought is that I think the director was in love with how Johnny Depp ran as Jack. They seemed to do long shots of him running at EVERY opportunity. Weird.

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