This wasn’t a film, I think, that anyone was particularly desperate to see made. The first ‘Pirates’ was arguably a classic summer blockbuster; The Adventures of Robin Hood if made by Steven Spielberg, with Johnny Depp as a swaggering, myopic Errol Flynn. The next two, while not necessarily ‘bad’ movies, were nowhere near as memorable. Double-crosses aplenty (triple-crosses, quadruple-crosses, ad nauseam) and a massive sea-fight centred in a maelstrom was enough to prove the adage that ‘Bigger is not always better’. In this regard, at least, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is something of a return to form.
Having gone back to basics, there’s now a whole new mythology. There’s Penelope Cruz as Jack’s feisty, somewhat obligatory long lost love; Ian McShane as a glaring, fuse-bearded (criminally underused) Blackbeard. There are zombie crew members (again), toothy mermaids, a peg-legged Barbossa, and the Spanish. It’s all very entertaining and it moves along at a brisk pace, but it all feels a bit… shallow. For a film called ‘On Stranger Tides’, you might at least expect a few undercurrents. There is one fantastic sequence involving a swarm (herd? school?) of carnivorous mermaids aside, and the rest is utterly forgettable.
There are ideas here, loads of them, good ones too, but too many have been jam-packed into a single film, with characters, emotions, plot, etc., taking a backseat to spectacle. Depp is still charming; Rush snarls admirably; Sam Clafin is bland and hugely underwritten as the new god-bothering supporting hero, though Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey is, for what it’s worth, very pretty, which is all the movie really requires of her. When you find yourself missing the acting chops and character development of Orlando Bloom, then you can be fairly sure that something’s gone amiss. For all the new fantasy – voodoo dolls and animated rigging – the magic’s gone out of it.
Still, however throwaway it all is, ‘PoTC: OST’ is never less than entertaining. It’s throwaway, popcorn, fluff, but if you’re willing to get swept up in it, it’s enjoyable enough. In a season that’s offered up Thor thus far, and still promises X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern, and Captain America: The First Avenger among others, there’s no shortage of big high-budget, star-powered actioners out there, and the new Pirates will likely prove one of the lesser lights. But if you’re at a loss for something to do, you could do a lot worse. Turn off your brain and enjoy it for what it is, and it should make for a decent enough trip to the cinema.
Star Rating: * * *