Action Movie October Edition: On Stranger Tides

It is time for Action Movie October Edition, where I treat an action movie like an action movie and not like a drama and stuff. All movie reviews are subjective and while I may like something, you might think it’s shit, and vice versa!

Title: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Release: 2011
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Astrid Berges-Frisbey
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, Tim Powers
Distributor: Disney
Budget: $411 Million
Box Office: $1.05 Billion

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 32%

Gingersnaps Rating: Four and a Half cookies!

Summary:

Jack Sparrow is in need of a ship and a crew in order to find the Fountain of Youth on his quest for eternal life. But Jack Sparrow isn’t the only one looking for the fabled waters once found by Ponce De Leone. There is someone else claiming to be Jack Sparrow also searching for crew and when Jack finds himself pressganged by an old flame and aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the dreaded ship of Blackbeard. He finds himself on a hunt for mermaids and treasure and mixed up in a plot for revenge.

Review:

It’s my opinion that On Stranger Tides is a perfectly acceptable Pirates movie. And it would have been better received if it had come before Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. Narratively speaking, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were Elizabeth’s and Will’s story. The audience, us, got attached to Elizabeth and Will given they are the hero types and Jack most certainly is not. So, without Will and Elizabeth in On Stranger Tides, without a true “hero” type that the audience was willing to root for, the movie didn’t do so well. If On Stranger Tides had come before Dead Man’s Chest etc, then the audience might have been more willing to sit back and watch a Jack Sparrow morally ambiguous pirate caper.

By the time On Stranger Tides came around essentially, Jack had been regulated to this goofy main side character that of the three main characters (Will, Elizabeth and Jack) he might have been the catalyst for everything but in essence he was the least important. They were so focused on the emotional elements of Will and Elizabeth’s story that they sort of forgot to develop Jack entirely.

So, On Stranger Tides is the first movie that truly focusses on Jack. Who isn’t a hero. Who has an agenda and a set of rules that he lives by and a past that is still influencing the story. Because here we get answers to two more of the lines from Curse of the Black Pearl. Do Mermaids exist? Yep. And why was Jack pretending to be a clergyman. And oh boy, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

My point is that I think we would have been better off with a movie that focused on Jack before Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, whether or not it was On Stranger Tides isn’t the point, but a movie that focused on Jack himself in order to give him the character development, so that once we finished with Elizabeth and Will’s story we could say “and now back to Jack” and have the audience be more comfortable with the notion.

Or it might be that I’m personally fascinated by the hints of Jack Sparrow’s past and how he attained the Black Pearl and his tumultuous past with Becket and the East India Trading Company. (It’s not that I don’t like Will and Elizabeth, but to be honest their story boils down to a romance novel.) I want to know more about Jack’s story.

The second mark against On Stranger Tides and why it or a story like it should have been before At World’s End is that it’s not as epic in feeling as At World’s End. So, we have a tonal shift from epic grand sweeping story about freedom fighting, to small scale pirate caper about Jack trying to find eternal life.

But on to the story. Here we are, in London, where Jack is trying to rescue Gibbs and find a ship and a crew to return to the Caribbean and find the Fountain of Youth, but you see, he doesn’t have all the information. Things go a bit sour, Jack finds himself in an audience with the King, manages a daring escape and ends up confronting his doppelganger in a tavern to be press ganged into service aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge under the leadership of Blackbeard and his beautiful daughter, Angelica. While Gibbs, ends up back in the Royal Navy under the leadership of Barbossa. And everyone is racing to the Fountain of Youth for different reasons. Barbossa desires revenge against Blackbeard (and the Queen Anne’s Revenge.) Angelica wants to save her father from death due to a prophecy. (As usual, the irony of in order to thwart a prophecy they cause the prophecy to come to pass.) And Jack, well, Jack is going for several reasons that change as he learns about the Fountain of Youth.

Instead of chasing after a macguffin like most of the previous movies, Jack is setting off on more of quest to gather the items needed to make the “profane” ritual of the Fountain work. They need a mermaid and a couple of goblets plus the water and it’s difficult to get to the Fountain in the first place. Complicating matters is a Catholic priest that is trying to save Blackbeard’s soul and that they need a mermaid who is alive.

So, while Jack and Angelica deal with old issues between them and Jack dances around Blackbeard being Angelica’s father. (Man, not the meet the parent date I’d want to be involved in.) The priest and the mermaid have an interesting little romance subplot of their own. That Angelica and Blackbeard cruelly use to their advantage. And once again, we see more of how Hector and Jack may be rivals but they are also friends. Though not even Hector fully understands Jack’s methods. And Blackbeard is definitely played as affably evil and a good contrast to Jack’s still morally ambiguous but not as low on the ranking scale of good to evil. As usual, there are some rather fridge horror moments.

Honestly, it’s a fun pirate caper movie that has funny dialogue and interesting characters. I have only one cringe moment but that’s more of a personal thing (Phillipe naming Syrena) than anything against the movie. One cookie.

The light house scene where Jack blows it up even after several viewings still makes me go “holy shit.” One cookie.

There are a lot of fight scenes in this movie between Jack’s inventive escape techniques, him fighting Angelica and others and the mutiny. They’re fun, they’re light hearted and you begin to wonder how many ways they can construct a set so Jack can swing around and do pirate flips. One cookie.

Now, let’s talk about Angelica! I love Angelica. Anna Maria, Angelica, can we have a movie with the two of them back in Jack’s life and causing trouble? (Not them fighting over Jack because Angelica is fit to kill him by the end of the movie, and I don’t think Anna Maria feels anything like romance for Jack.) The first time we meet Angelica, she’s impersonating Jack. (And Jack makes a rather crude comment about always wanting to kiss himself. Man, what a narcissist!) And for a while, Angelica manages to lead Jack about by the nose on the idea that she is conning Blackbeard into believing she is his daughter. Angelica is not a damsel in distress. She’s not the girlfriend. She’s a player in the game. Now, she’s not a very good one and obviously has some daddy issues. But she knows how to manipulate people and ugh, clearly, Jack and her love each other. (Which I like by the way, the ugh is for them  to get over their issues and get on with it already.) And I find it amusing that both of them use this emotion against each other. If they decided to work together for real, I’d pity the crew and royal navy that stood against them.

Syrena isn’t nearly as good of a character. She is “the prisoner.” And it’s really hard to have agency when you’re the prisoner trope. Syrena’s character is more of a moral quandary for Phillipe (who also gets very little development) than an actual character. Now, I find the story line to be rather cute and sweet. But that’s my hopeless inner romantic. Though I wish he’d asked for her name rather than giving her one. (Granted being a mermaid and something of a fey creature she probably wouldn’t have told him since names have power.) I think in a different medium, Syrena could have gotten more development and character agency. But, in a movie that is only so long, they ran out of time. I’m still taking a bite of the cookie due to lost potential.

This movie is really more of a stand alone movie in the pirate’s universe than having anything to do with Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. In fact, other than a few characters and items, most of the previous movies world building has been thrown out or ignored for an entirely new adventure. Voodoo, zombiefied pirates and ships in bottles were all well and good, but they also didn’t really do much with it. It seem more tossed in there because “oh, we had skeleton pirates and fishy pirates, we need to continue the tradition of supernatural pirates.” (And Dead Men Tell No Tails is also more zombiefied pirates in  the dead men walking sort of way instead of voodoo zombie sort of way.) So, the zombie pirates in this movie were more flavor than serving any actual purpose. That and I really wanted to see the Black Pearl being freed from the bottle. That was something that did not get a grand pay off and the movie suffered for it.

I loved the mermaids. I loved the idea of the Fountain of Youth. But for once, the supernatural things they added didn’t always quite gel with the rest of the story. So, one bite out of the cookie.

On Stranger Tides is a delightfully fun pirate caper movie with a strong female character and exploration of Jack’s character and motivations. Four and a half gingersnaps.

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