Pirates of the Caribbean 4 Review: Enjoyable, but leave your brain at the door

Sandra Scherer via Flickr

This was written last June, but if you’re looking for something to watch tonight you could actually do worse than On Stranger Tides.

Before I review this film I think I should make it clear that I have had an unhealthy obsession with Captain Jack Sparrow since I watched the first Pirates movie on DVD, Christmas Eve, 2003 (I told you it was unhealthy). So when I heard that Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was all Johnny, I took the benevolent view that it was an opportunity to spend two and a half hours in his company rather than a cynical moneymaking exercise on the part of Disney.

It starts well. In a rip-roaring opening sequence, Gibbs (Kevin McNally) is rescued from the gallows in a most unlikely fashion by none other than Captain Sparrow (Johnny Depp of course), wearing a judicial wig and Rimmel’s entire warehouse of black kohl.

They’re off to find the Fountain of Youth before the dastardly Spanish do, and they’re in turns abetted and thwarted by Blackbeard (a wonderful Ian McShane) his smoking-hot daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz) and old foe Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). It wouldn’t be a Pirates movie without some double-crossing, and it is Angelica who provides it this time around. She is the one woman that Captain Jack admits he might once have had ‘stirrings’ for, which is understandable, because she is almost as morally dubious as himself. Yet their romance doesn’t convince- mainly because the character is too thinly drawn. Angelica seems far too one dimensional to cause the cynical Jack into feelings of any kind.

Ian McShane is deliciously evil as Blackbeard, and provides the film with a real baddie. Captain Barbossa is too busy bickering with Jack to be any kind of threat- he is now firmly comic relief.

The film loses momentum somewhat when we leave London. As well as the opening escape sequence there’s an inspired cameo from Judi Dench and Captain Jack’s impromptu audience with the corpulent, wheezing King of England (Richard Griffiths). And then to sea, where nothing much happens for a while. In the previous movies, most of the action took place at sea but in Pirates 4, even the mermaid action takes place in the shallows.

Ah yes, the vampire mermaids. They are one of the best things in the film, entrancing even this heterosexual female with their siren song before launching their fangs. The tentative romance between the enthusiastic young missionary Philip (Sam Claflin) and mermaid Serena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is a thousand times more convincing than the supposed chemistry between Cruz and Depp. Claflin is definitely an actor to watch out for in the future. Philip also provides Jack with his best line: ‘I agree with the missionary’s position’.

Pirates 4 is not Oscar-winning fare, but nor does it pretend to be. Pirates fans will be happy with the return to form; Johnny Depp fans will be happy with the sheer amount of screen time he gets; neutrals who enjoy a blockbuster will be happy if they suspend all critical faculties. Enjoyable, but leave your brain at the door.

June 1 2011

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