It’s hard to believe that On Stranger Tides is the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie to come out in less than a decade. But Disney has found a cash-cow and it’s obvious the two big stars are still having fun with their roles, so the series marches on. But by the fourth film, most ongoing series have run out of material and the second and third Pirate films were showing big signs of burnout. On Stranger Tides needed to be a new beginning as much as it needed to be a sequel, and in many ways it succeeds.
Though the story continues where the third film ends, nearly all the characters from the first three films are gone. This alone is a boost to the series. Like the previous two films, however, On Stranger Tides suffers from having far too many characters. Though it was definitely an improvement to leave Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swan and Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner out of things this time, there still ends up being a gratuitous love story that adds nothing significant to the film.
The living skeletons and fish-men of the previous films are gone, but instead we have mermaids and “zombies.” The mermaids are fairly well incorporated into the story with several characters discussing their mythology prior to the most interesting action sequence in the film. The mermaids are also central to the plot. The “zombies,” on the other hand, seem like an afterthought. Only two characters are described as zombies, and the only thing this name seems to imply is they have ugly facial markings and are tougher than normal men.
But despite the weakness it shares with its predecessors, the fourth Pirates film is fun and a step in the right direction if Disney plans to continue the series. Captain Jack is still an interesting character, and Johnny Depp still brings life to the screen. As long as he still enjoys playing the character, people will still enjoy watching him.
All four Pirates films deserve credit for blurring the lines between hero and villain. Most characters are acting completely out of self-interest and end up betraying one another at some point. Even so, by the fourth time through, the audience should know, if nothing else, Jack will still do the right thing in the end.
But every film has to have a definitive villain and Blackbeard makes for a much more interesting villain than Davy Jones, whose story did not need to be dragged out over two full films. It appears the writers learned their lesson and created a more compact story that could be told in full over a single film. And while Davy Jones’ story got too much screen time, Blackbeard’s could have used a little more. It would have been good to see more time given to the origins of Blackbeard’s supernatural powers, which are only explained with a single passing reference to “dabbling in black magic.” McShane gives a wonderful performance nonetheless. Between this and Deadwood, McShane has proven himself extremely capable of playing a cold, selfish, and greedy bastard.
Overall, On Stranger Tides is probably the best Pirates film since the original, but that is mostly due to the weakness of the the middle two films and not its own strengths. While still a fun summer flick, it has some drawbacks that stop it from be as great a movie as the original. Even so, if the changes made are indicative of what to expect in a fifth film, the series is definitely headed in the right direction.