It's a journey too far for Captain Jack in Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
My oh my, where to begin? Despite the presence of Rob Marshall as director and the absence of Orlando Bloom as furniture - two factors which had piqued my interest in this fourth franchise installment - I still had two major concerns about POTC4 when entering the cinema this morning. The first was Oren Aviv's (Disney's Head Of Production) intention and promise that this be the first part of a new trilogy, and the second was the fact that Johnny Depp had signed onto the film before even reading a script. My best guess is that he never got one, and now regrets the decision, because a script for this mind-numbing shipwreck doesn't exist, and even the slightest sliver of an idea is as elusive as the Fountain Of Youth itself, which our 'characters' are on an unexplainable quest for. That said, they take about two and a half hours getting there, and you'll feel every second of those long, long minutes. Lets make this review short then: the film can't be arsed, so why should I be?
On Stranger Tides is better than At World's End (Verbinski, 2007), but then so is tertiary syphilis. And Marshall's film isn't totally without merit - Ian McShane is camp as a row of pink tents and it's biologically impossible for the beautiful Penélope Cruz not to hold my interest, although her considerable acting talents get lost here. But outside of that and the slick production design (I'll always praise the costume design in these films, they have genuine authenticity) On Stranger Tides is a completely vacant exercise in accountancy: it's not exciting, romantic or funny, and everyone is taking themselves infuriatingly seriously. If the film were tongue-in-cheek or even just a bit light hearted I might be able to relax into its lobotomized 'narrative', but it's just so plodding and earnest. From the overbearingly muddy cinematography (Dariusz Wolski) to the darkly stone-faced tone, this is about as far away from a theme park ride as you can get - there are no giddily thrilling highs, only a succession of tedious lows which everyone seems to be enjoying but the audience.
I'm not angry with the film either; I don't care enough about it to get that worked up. But I did want it to have learned its lessons from last time. Is it really so hard to imagineer a story which makes sense, has a narrative through-line and doesn't divert into pointless subplots all the time? On Stranger Tides doesn't have any narrative structure, it just has loads of bits. It's a film of stuff, like zombies and flame-throwing ships. By the way, why and how are the crew members zombified, and exactly how do those flamethrowers work? Y'see, absolutely nothing in the film works or is explained. The filmmakers attempt to flesh out Jack's backstory but they flounder in awkward exposition and can't muster up anything more than a predictable and clichéd love story. We ramble from scene to scene like a drunk nightclubber would stumble from bar to bar at 2AM on a Saturday morning: with no coherency or grace, and mumbling a load of incomprehensible jargon which nobody cares about. Depp's performance is still completely off the rails and nothing seems to be able to reign him in. But in a way his performance reviews the whole film. It's a film without focus or depth, and therefore one without interest. Even as empty headed entertainment I'm left baffled as to where exactly I was meant to engage with it and at what point I was supposed to be... well, entertained.
So, Aviv wants a new trilogy. I have no doubt that he'll get exactly what he wants when the money rolls in this weekend, but creatively the franchise is well and truly dead. In fact, to paraphrase John Cleese at the end of that classic parrot sketch, "It's kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!!" In summation On Stranger Tides is myopic, bloated, insipid, irritating, nonsensical, soulless, clunky and boring. Does that about cover it me hearties? I hope so. Because I will not be doing this again.