Reviewed by Lamar Kukuk
Before the 20th Anniversary Star Wars reissues and the subsequent prequel saga infected Hollywood with a crazed worship of the trilogy, movie franchises sprawled on and on like the undead, grasping ever more desperately with an increasingly small number of original cast members at some, any new excuse to collect your ticket money. The 2003 blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was designed to cash in on and reinvigorate public interest in a popular Disney theme park attraction and succeeded at doing both and more in large part thanks to an astonishing Johnny Depp performance that almost walked off with an Oscar. But it’s easy to forget that the original Pirates was also a really great movie, and in fact both of the sequels that retroactively trilogyized it did just that. Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were insanely busy, dark-hearted spectacles filled with long-lost families, new characters and above all else double-crosses, piled up so noisily and relentlessly that one noticed only in retrospect they were twice as long and half as interesting as their predecessor. With the benefit of hindsight, director Rob Marshall (replacing Gore Verbinski, who helmed all three previous Pirates) tries to get back to basics with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. But instead, what he’s come up with is an old school desperation sequel.
Depp is back in fine form as Captain Jack Sparrow, and fans of the character should get a kick out of seeing him actually at the center of his own story for a change. But after a strong start, Tides flails about harder and harder looking for a reason to exist, and by the climax has lost almost all of the energy and inventiveness that made the original something special. If you like Jack, odds are, you’ll like On Stranger Tides. But as missed opportunities and sub-par new characters pile up all around him, it’s hard not to be a little disappointed with it as well.
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