At the Movies: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

When the third “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie ended, I was exhausted and a bit relieved. I suspect I was not the only one.

While the first film was an unexpected treasure, nothing ruins success like success, and the second and third movies were confusing, bloated special effects extravaganzas that managed to suck out a lot of the charm that made the original special.

I assumed the series was dead and buried in Davy Jones’ locker, but it turns out Johnny Depp loves Captain Jack Sparrow as much as we all do, and as long has he’s willing to keep playing him, Disney is more than willing to keep making “Pirates” movies.

For this fourth installment, they’ve pretty much wiped the deck clean. Gone are Will and Elizabeth, whose love story was central to the original trilogy. Now Capt. Jack (Depp) is mucking about getting his right-hand man Gibbs (Kevin McNally) out of trouble and trying to find out who is impersonating him. It seems some other Captain Jack Sparrow is trying to put a crew together.

But before that mystery can be solved, Jack is captured by the authorities and brought before King George (Richard Griffiths). The king wants Jack’s assistance in tracking down the fabled Fountain of Youth. The French already have a lead and are in pursuit, so the English need to play catchup.

The expedition will be lead by an old colleague of Jack’s — Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Barbossa gave up piracy after the dread pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) sank his ship.

Jack declines the offer and barely escapes in the first of many fight/chase scenes. Shortly thereafter he hooks up with an old flame, Angelica (Penélope Cruz), who just happens to be Blackbeard’s daughter. Blackbeard is also looking for the fountain, and now a three-way race is on.

“On Stranger Tides” has all the hallmarks of the PotC series — a fun cast, nice production values, good special effects, a story that’s far too convoluted than need be and a too-long running time (although this is the shortest film in the series it still runs more than two hours).

A missionary (Sam Claflin) and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) have been brought in to fill the Will and Elizabeth holes but they come up short. Cruz is a good addition and plays well off Depp. McShane is a decent if not memorable Blackbeard. Depp and Rush continue to make entertaining adversaries. Capt. Jack is still befuddled but charming.

What’s missing, though, is the spark. It’s all become too familiar and when the story isn’t compelling and much of the action takes place at night in the dark, that leaves too much riding on the casts’ charm to pull it through.

Oh, and as usual, the 3D isn’t worth it.

Did it work for me? ‘On Stranger Tides’ isn’t bad, it’s just lackluster. If you love Captain Jack and want to see more of his adventures, it’s not a waste of time. I can’t think of any other reason to see it.

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