Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

2011. Dir: Rob Marshall. Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane and Kevin McNally. ●●○○○

Since seeing Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides last week the question I've been asked more than any other was "Is it better than the last one?". If there was every a bigger display of the public relations disaster that was At World's End it's hard to imagine. Right now the potential audience for the latest in the Pirates franchise are trying to decide if it's worth going to. The answer is that it is, for the first 30 minutes at least, a better film, however it is still a predictably bad film.

After a bit of Spanish business, introducing the search for the fountain of youth to those of us who didn't really pay attention during the last film, we are thrust into Hanoverian London, with the crowds of artistically dirty peasant baying for the blood of Pirates in the Old Bailey (maybe a better directorial/writing team might have made some parallels to the hysteria over Bin Laden, but perhaps this isn't the right vehicle for that), and pretty soon we're re-introduced to the star of the show Johnny Depp's Captain Jack and his most loyal sidekick Gibbs, played by the good value Kevin McNally. In my cinema the punters cheered with delight when Depp first appeared proving this is his vehicle and as long as he's willing to do this you know there'll be an audience.

We are quickly launched into a hilarious escape bid from the palace of King George (although it appears to have been filmed in Hampton Court which kind of messes up London's geography) and the clutches of his arch-frenemy Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) which works like a Looney Tunes cartoon full of unlikely ducks and dives, hankerchiefs and strawberries all perfectly placed to aid Sparrow's delightful progress before he is launched onto the streets and into the arms of Judi Dench's cameo - again more could have been made of this, even a hint of Edith Evans in manic Tom Jones would've made it perfect but I did chuckle at her line - until finally he ends up in the pub where Penelope Cruz, masquerading as Sparrow, is recruiting a shipful of pirates to aid her and her father Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The fight between Depp and Cruz is well choreographed and funny to watch, easily the equal of the Depp/Bloom confrontation in the first film.

And then the film shudders to a halt as the various characters make their way to sea.

Like the previous film we spend over two hours with allegiances being swapped and endless exposition of the fantastical plot elements. There's a love story between a Priest and a Mermaid that's insipid enough to wish Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom would come back, all the battles from here on seem perfunctory or confused and only a final act twist involving the Iberian troops offers anything close to a interesting moment. Given the film repeatedly talks about destiny and fortune telling there are few surprises in the final reel as each characters fate unfolds exactly as you would expect.

Depp and Rush appear to have watched the first Pirates movie and decided to do hammy impersonations of themselves rather than try for any characterisations, whilst the newbies do nothing to ingratiate themselves into the minds of the public. Ian McShane in particular does nothing memorable - there's nothing he does that comes to mind one week after having seen it.

Rob Marshall, the hack director taking the reins (known for his musicals Chicago and Nine), does some nice stuff in the London scenes but he doesn't have either Gore Verbinski's loopy vision or the ability to maintain tension in the second half. Although he's not helped by the flat script peppered with Carry On level double entendres ("I'm for the Missionaries position", "I'm still bent, devilishly so") that remind you this is an action comedy but not enough to persuade.

The highlight, as with all these films, is the music. Klaus Bedelt's main theme is still a corker that acts as a centrepiece for a score that works just as well (maybe better) without the rest of the movie.

Overall I wouldn't bother with this pointless retread, but when it hits TV in a couple of years time it'll be fine to watch the first quarter whilst waiting for something better to come on.


Jose said...

Cruz was awesome in a totally "you should be doing better things!" way.

Runs Like A Gay said...

I felt watching it that she was concentrating on the better things she might be doing.