Short Ends and Leader

Lowest Common Depp-nominator: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'

Nothing gels here. Depp dandies around, making his mark whenever he is onscreen, while the rest of the cast struggle to find the right rhythm.


Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Astrid Berges-Firsbey
Rated: PG-13
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-10-18
UK date: 2011-10-18
Website
Trailer

How much do you like Johnny Depp? A lot? Take him or leave him? Are you so hopelessly devoted that you can't imagine a single day without looking at his lithe features and sighing, briefly? Well, whatever the amount of affection you have for the far-above-the-A-lister, said tolerances will be deftly tested by the latest unnecessary installment in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, subtitled On Stranger Tides. Featuring the eccentric chameleon... and little else from the original trilogy, this cynical cash grab throws a lot of new faces and ideas at us, hoping we will latch onto their novelty and newness. Instead, they remind us once again of what a complete anomaly the first film truly was, and how casting and star power can't repair a premise stretched to the very limits of believability...or viewer tolerance.

Once again, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) is in trouble with the British crown. This time around, he is wanted for trying to command a crew for his newest vessel and venture - except, he really isn't trying to do that. Indeed, someone is using the pirate's good/bad name against him. When the Spanish discover the secret to finding the Fountain of Youth, the King commands Jack for help. He wants to put his main mariner, for former cutthroat now Commander Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) in charge of beating their European rivals to the find. Eventually, Jack discovers who has been soiling his reputation - it is former lover, and the daughter of infamous buccaneer Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Angelica (Penelope Cruz). She too is after Ponce De Leon's discovery and wants to locate it. With help from her men and a couple of zombified ship slaves, she will retrieve a mermaid, capture a single tear, and use it for the Fountain's life extending ritual.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a major misstep. It's a confusing crash and burn. How does something like this happen? How does a movie make certified presences like McShane and Rush into rudimentary place holders? All throughout the original triptych, Barbossa is positioned as one wicked bad ass. Here, he's a fop in a bad make-up job. As for Blackbeard, he is considered the pirate that even pirates fear, and yet it's his magic powers, more than his menace, that get the plot's attention. It's almost as if the screenwriters - long time series scribes Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot - realized they needed some mystical element ala Davy Jones or the first installment's skeletons and came up with...a sword that can move and manipulate objects. How lame is that? Similarly, the narrative also needed a love interest, a noble male, a salty sea dog, and some aquatic horrors. Enter an out of her element Cruz, a spineless missionary, a minstrel named Scrum, and mermaids. Yeesh.

Nothing gels here. Depp dandies around, making his mark whenever he is onscreen, while the rest of the cast struggle to find the right rhythm. Even former members of the Pirates party - Rush and Kevin McNally's Mr. Gibbs - seem stranded with nothing significant to do. Everything revolves around the nonsensical Fountain, which now apparently requires an arcane ritual and several sacred talismans in order to provide...well, it certainly isn't youth, or everlasting life. Instead, we get some idiocy about stealing another person's years (as well as those year's they may have spent being/do good...huh?) and the race to claim this claptrap. With said storyline comes something the Pirates movies never really suffered from before - over-familiarity. Indeed, didn't Indiana Jones have to do something similar in order to say his ornery dad from death?

That means it's all up to Depp to carry things, and it's a credit to his amazing star power that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is not a 100% total disaster. Even during the dumbest bits - Sparrow and Angelica sparing over a massive pub cooking spit - his line deliver and onscreen charisma keep things from going completely array. He gets the movie's only legitimately funny line (something about agreeing with the missionary's "position") and sells even the silliest contrivances with controlled dedication. Why he never won an Oscar for this role is still shocking, considering his female co-star has one for a decidedly lesser turn. Indeed, Depp could show up in a scene and read a laundry list of lunkheaded excuses and international audiences will line up in droves (shockingly, Stranger Tides has earned over a billion dollars worldwide - that's "billion" with a "b").

As for other movie mea culpas, the producers should be punished for putting Rob Marshall in charge of this ocean-bound chum. With an undeserved Academy Award nomination under his belt, his previous creative canon wouldn't inspire a second callback, let alone a hiring for a massive motion picture popcorn blockbuster undertaking. He doesn't understand action, can't get his comedic beats right, and loses the plot when placed up against necessities like scope and special effects. During the mermaid sequence, a dark and dreamy forbearer of evils to come, things are so gloomy and glum that we don't feel fear. Instead, we're squinting to see what's going on. Similarly, the mandatory use of 3D provides unintentionally laugh out loud moments on one's home theater that only work within said gimmickry.

Still, money talks and critical BS walks - and as we speak, the powers that be are already plotting the pair of sequels that will be (allegedly) shot simultaneously. Indeed, perhaps the worst element here is the blatant disregard for wrapping things up. Instead, several important plot threads dangle like the dreads under Sparrow's leather cap, all left up in the air so the next installments have something to trade on. Imagine a fourth Matrix movie with Neo somehow surviving the Machine City, hooking up with a new crew of Zion believers, and heading off to battle a lesser version of Agent Smith's brother - that's how disconnected On Stranger Tides feels.

Granted, few felt the series would survive the initial idea, since Disney's track record with films based on their theme park attractions - The Country Bears and The Haunted Mansion - was weak at best. When the House of Mouse hit with its love letter to high seas larceny, it wasn't about to let said cash cow slide. As long as Depp is around to salvage its shoddy repetitiveness, no one in the company has reason to worry. Audiences, on the other hand, should be very afraid indeed of these latest Pirates.

5

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less

"Hold on to the Night" is a club-ready indie rock tune outfitted with polished musicianship and contemporary swagger.

If one thing is true so far about recent alternative upstarts THRILLCHASER, it's that they certainly live up to their band's name. Originally known as American Wolves, Rod Pires, Nikki Zell, and Rob Lundy built a considerable following under the moniker before deciding to renovate a little. Rebranding their sound into the THRILLCHASER that we know today, the trio, with their new name in tow, invokes a pop-rock sentiment similar to the slick, modern vibes of bands like the 1975.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image