The swords and mermaids of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The fourth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise had high expectations set for it, and it met most of them.

This film was classic Jack Sparrow, as developed through the first three movies by the expert Dep, in a story which was not written for him, and it shows.

On Stranger Tides is a novel about pirates of the Caribbean searching for the Fountain of Youth, surely, but Jack Sparrow was not a character in that novel.

Disney wanted to do another supernatural pirates film, and so inserted their own supernatural pirate into the existing story.

Most of the time it works, but occasionally you can tell that this tale was not really meant for our Jack. I guess when you base a franchise of films on an amusement park ride, things like this are bound to happen.

Even ignoring the historical inaccuracies – which is easy, as we’ve been doing it since we met Jack years ago, the mythology of this entry is a bit strained and over-exposed.

Usually the advantage to sequels is that the characters don’t really need to explain anything. The audience already understands how the world and plot work through the developments of the story so far.

Here however, the characters have to take the time to explain because the tale is so far divergent from the preceding trilogy. It’s not all bad, however, as they often managed to artfully mix the exposition in with fight scenes and chases, so it’s almost like a Police Squad gag in which it’s entirely possible to completely ignore the dialog because it feels almost extraneous to the scene.

The only really deep characters, ironically, are a pair of secondary characters, a cleric and a mermaid, who fall for one another, and finish the tale somewhat mysteriously. I can only guess – since I didn’t read it – that their touching story played a larger role in the novel.

Of course, we don’t go to see a Pirates film for the deep back-story, we go for the swashbuckling. The action scenes are well crafted. We even get to see some exciting day-light swashbuckling, as Jack escapes from the king’s palace, and moves through the streets leaping onto the tops of coaches. 

The sword-fighting is well choreographed and clearly understood, relying on humor as much as action to entertain. Especially good is the melee between Dep and Cruz’s characters. They match strike for strike, and without the fog of most of the rest of the film the action is pointed.

The visuals, scenery and CGI are matching in style with the previous three films. As I mentioned, there is lots of fog. Particularly impressive was the ruined lighthouse the characters found when they left the ships behind and headed inland to locate the fountain. The fantastic elements were a bit muted compared to the third film, which was nearly incomprehensible, actually reminding me more of the first Pirates film in that way. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is just as fun as you’d expect it to be, and about as deep. 

The film is in theaters starting this weekend.