Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides

This one’s the forth movie and the one with the mermaids, just in case anyone was struggling to tell the difference between one adventure to the next. Heaven knows I can’t keep them straight either. Ok, where were we?

Right.

In the continuing effort to indoctrinate the kiddos in all things nerd, we continued our quest down the rabbit hole that is the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, and this time both Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann have been left out of it.

I’ll take your Keira Knightly and raise you a Penelope Cruz!

The Story

Jack Sparrow is on trial in London for crimes against the crown. No surprise there as he is a nearly famous pirate captain and all that. But, instead of finding Jack under the prisoner’s hood, we find his first mate Gibbs instead. This sets us off on a long, arduous journey of deception, impersonation, and misplaced trust that continues throughout the rest of the movie with each of the major players.

Angelica impersonates Jack, using his legendary status to hire a crew out of London. Jack impersonates a judge to save Gibbs. Captain Barbossa changes teams, and gives up piracy to become a privateer of the crown, ridiculous wig and all, and the mermaids can shift to human form. Angelica lies to Jack saying she’s pretending to be Blackbeard’s daughter to reach the fountain of youth. This is a bit of a double cross, as she actually is Blackbeard’s daughter, but creating the lie made getting Jack to join the crew easier and their chance of success greater.

To say things get complicated feels redundant at this point, as every Pirates movie so far seems like it tries to out do the prior in complexity in some way or another.

The real story is about the legendary fountain of youth and each pirate’s captain’s reasoning for needing to reach it. Angelica wants more time with her father after their lifelong unexplained estrangement. Blackbeard wants to defeat a prophecy that he’ll be killed by a one legged man within a fortnight and continue being the most famous pirate ever. Jack, well, Jack never really is sure what he wants, but there is an inkling there that he wants to protect Angelica because they used to be together. And the Spanish – did I mention the Spanish? They’re in here as well, because needless complexity – they think the fountain of youth is an ungodly abomination and want it destroyed.

I mentioned mermaids. There are also freaky killer mermaids who’s sole purpose is to drag sailors down to the icy depths and, eat them? It’s not really clear. Part of the ritual of the fountain of youth is to drink a mermaid’s tear from one of the twin silver chalices found in the wreckage of none other than the 200 years missing Ponce de Leon.

Still following me? Why? Even my kids threw up their hands at this point and called the writers some not very nice names. I tried not to take it personally. In all honesty, the writers they managed to get all this stuff in there that I’ll stake money the producers wanted and still created an okay-ish storyline. Kudos to them.

After lots of swash, swash, buckle, buckle in every moment possible, although strangely enough no epic ship battles with cannons in this one, we draw all the different forces together at the fountain of youth and the various captains battle it out in their own ways.

I’d tell you who wins, but that would be all spoilery of me – which isn’t very nice.

Meet our star crossed lovers, the mermaid and the missionary, who are currently sitting in a pile of broken glass.

My Review

This one is probably my least favorite of the five movies only because there are so many elements that don’t need to be there and don’t make a whole lot of sense, like the Spanish fleet. While it’s okay to introduce a new pirate captain, if you’re keeping track there has been a new significant captain in each movie( and a small hoard of insignificant captains in movie three), having the extra Spanish fleet and captain in this movie felt underdeveloped.

The only reason he had to be there is to add relevance to Ponce de Leon being a famous Spanish explorer. Adding them in was a way to tie a few of the many trailing plot threads together. That, and the Spanish costumes and aesthetic were kinda hot. So, there’s that.

I would have liked Will and Elizabeth to have been part of this movie because they were significant parts of the first three. However, if they are supposed to now be in a safe and committed relationship, it doesn’t make sense for them to be in there unless yet another story line was introduced. The single female role of Angelica couldn’t have been swapped for Elizabeth by any stretch of the imagination. Will could only appear if the story needed the Flying Dutchman to make an appearance. So it was a good thing they got left out. I guess.

The mermaid bit also felt underdeveloped and forced. It was as if the producers were looking through pirate lore and noticed they hadn’t mentioned mermaids yet and did a brainstorming session of how to incorporate them into the film. Their whole contribution to the story was the single forced tear and a very light romance with a character whose entire reason to be in the story is to be the religious voice of reason – and fall in love with a mermaid.

In all, Pirates 4 has an ages old mystery to be solved, but it turns out finding the fountain of youth is kind of easy, so they threw in some extra action and romance to liven things up.

Did I mention the burning coal cart chase? They literally threw in a car chase in case the explainy bits got boring in the beginning.

Recommendations

If you’ve made it this far in the series you might as well keep going. The already established captains do a great job at what they are already good at doing and that’s pretty entertaining. The story, while weak in some aspects, has lots of interesting emotional elements going on, none of which feel terribly compelling, but are amusing nonetheless.

The violence, while still there, is notably less intense than the other movies and, since it’s a Disney, the cursing is non-existent. But, there are some lovely nekked mermaids who remain carefully draped and shadowed so you don’t see anything. Good thing they have long hair or they’d have to change the rating of the film. And get a different production company.

I rate Pirates of the Caribbean, On Stranger Tides 2.5 of 5 stars for too many underdeveloped ideas.


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