Pirates return with no flounders

By Mike Shames
[contributor]

Grade: A+

When people first caught wind that Disney was making a new Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a cringe-worthy piece of news for everyone.

After the disaster of Worlds End what could possibly compel them to try anything with this franchise again?

The Curse of the Black Pearl was a joyous thrill ride with all the makings of a great movie.

It was a huge disappointment when the next two came out. The acting was almost forced and the actors tired.

The third instalment had more plot twist than a few well-known Fox shows, and it was all very unnecessary.

The latest, Stranger Tides, eliminated the entire cast save for Johnny Depp –– of course –– Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa and Kevin McNally as Gibbs, Jack’s First Mate.

This move was brilliant and the wave of new characters, including Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane opened many new possibilities.

It all comes together to create a movie that’s nearly as good as the original Pirates of the Caribbean.

Stranger Tides is the movie that should have followed the original.

The film is set a few years after the events of At Worlds End. Jack is lacking a ship and a crew, Barbossa is a privateer and Gibbs is, well, still a pirate.

The whole flick revolves around the race to the Fountain of Youth between the English, lead by Barbossa, Blackbeard’s pirates, guided by Jack and the Spanish –– who we don’t see much of.

The opening scenes come with a scare and the Spanish king ordering a fleet to search for the Fountain of Youth. Meanwhile, Jack comes to London to rescue Gibbs from being hanged, using a judge disguise.

After nearly escaping, Jack gets an official offer to guide Barbossa to the Fountain before the Spanish. Jack escapes in the usual Sparrow fashion –– a mix of the old Indiana Jones and James Bond –– including a chase through the streets to a pub were someone is posing as him. He ends up on Blackbeard’s ship were he runs into an ex-girlfriend,  Angelica (Cruz) who is Blackbeard’s First Mate.

Gibbs, in the meantime, is pressed into Barbossa’s privateers, and the race beings. Jack and Angelica fight, plot and scheme, Blackbeard has magic powers and yet is fearing for his life, while Barbossa pursues them, and we rarely see the Spanish at all.

Despite its 33 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film is a thrill and a joy to see the best characters return with much renewed and re-energized performances. Many people could tell by World’s End that Depp, the rest of the cast and crew were sick of characters and didn’t want to do it anymore. As a result, the performances and movies suffered severely.

After a four year break, Depp has found his love for Captain Jack Sparrow again, and it shows in the delivery. Jack is his usual goofy, drunk, scatter-brained, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants self, and yet manages to be a cross between super-spy and Navy SEAL. He’s a joy to watch, never knowing if he’s going to be the brave and fearless pirate or run away screaming. Rush, McNally and the writers have also rediscovered their enthusiasm.

Cruz’s character is the only woman that could ever truly capture Jack’s heart, and match him in wits, sword play and plotting. She is strong, stubborn, rough, deadly, manipulative and yet manages to be sexy, merciful and feminine. Without spoiling the plot, there is a missionary she manages to spare.

McShane plays Blackbeard, an actual historical figure. What the writers were going for with this character we’re not sure, but he didn’t seem all that evil, more like a strict father with a kick ass ship, super bad rep, and zombie officers. Giving him telekinetic control of he ship to recreate someone like Davy Jones comes off as hoaxy. Also he’s running to the Fountain to escape some horrible death but he has made zombie officers, so why bother with the Fountain?

If anything, Blackbeard come off as tragic, trying to cheat death, yet condemning himself to it anyways. But still is very evil, despite being tragic.

The missionary is on board Blackbeard’s ship trying to save souls, including the Captains, at the behest of Angelica. Okay –– missionary on a pirate ship –– not all that likely, and annoying. He spend most of his screen time helping a captured mermaid in a side story resembling Will and Elizabeth or the other Disney mermaid. Other than the love story, he is useless.

I can’t help but think many of the things he does could easily be performed by anyone in the main cast, and the Jack-Angelica love story should have more attention. The mermaids are beautiful and terrifying. Fashion models are cast as the main mermaids, giving them an unearthly beauty, and massive seductive powers. But you know at any moment they are going to attack.

The mermaids are smart, complex and all this is transferred to the audience in a few short scenes.

The story itself is fun, twisting and grandiose. While the other movies are grand in scale, this one limits itself to a few specific areas. In doing so, we can have a much better, more developed story that allows the characters to develop. There are a few plot twist to keep things from getting boring, but not too many to get silly. There are times you may have to just go with a plot hole or two, but the story is still strong and exciting.

One disconcerting part is the Spaniards. We see them at the beginning, and once more before their final appearance at the end of the movie. We don’t know what they want with the Fountain of Youth, we just know they are the reason the English and maybe Blackbeard have to get there first.

In some ways, they should have been fleshed out more, to make them seem more threatening. On the other hand, the secrecy adds to the mystery and suspense.

Like Terminators or Ring Wraiths, little is known but they have a mission and they are unstoppable.

They should have been shown in this context more, at the cost of the missionary’s boring subplot.

Stranger Tides should have been the sequel to Curse of the Black Pearl. There are many elements to this film that could have a brief explanation, or remain unexplained.

Like Jack’s compass, it could just be something he acquired from somewhere. The second and third films were silly in every aspect, this is the only one that could follow the first.

This movie is great, wonderful, thrilling, fun, and funny. It can be compared to the original, but doesn’t surpass it.

Stranger Tides has a few issues, can be silly, slow at times, has a few plot holes, but definitely is a must see for this summer.

 

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