Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Stephen Graham, Gemma Ward, Judi Dench, Kevin McNally, Richard Griffiths, Keith Richards

Director: Rob Marshall

Writer(s): Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski

Original Score: Hans Zimmer

Running Time: 137 Mins.

For those of you who had bid farewell to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise…more fool you, for as much of a critical dud the third film (and to a lesser extent the second) was it was still that years biggest money-maker and a producer wouldn’t let a little thing like a critical slating get in his way. So it transpires that here we have the fourth installment of said franchise, many presumed the chance was being taken to strip away the clogged up and mess of a narrative that plagued parts 2 and 3, meaning less characters, more of the interesting characters and a more streamlined stand-alone plot that allowed for some great action set pieces, enjoyable characters and some macabre humour. All this was expected especially in the face of the film sourcing it’s plot from a novel, On Stranger Tides, concerning the hunt for the fabled Fountain of Youth (mentioned at the close of part 3).

So the pieces were in place, fat was trimmed from the cast including Knightley and Bloom, while Depp himself promised a return to the heyday of Curse of the Black Pearl, mermaids and zombies were added to the mix and most excitingly Ian McShane was cast as Blackbeard, the pirate all pirates fear. Shame then that all of this is squandered in the face of a film that had promised so much and delivers very little. The main issue here is scripting, Elliott and Rossio return using Tim Powers novel as a starting point, however what could have been a thrilling race to the fountain of youth is given the flabbiest treatment possible, three parties race to the fountain, the spanish who could quite easily have been dropped altogether, the king’s men led by a turn-coat Barbossa and Blackbeard who, it has been prophesised will die in two weeks by a man with a peg-leg (also Barbossa). Add to this the fact that the fountain can’t simply be drunk from, the competitors must retrieve a mermaid’s tear (!!!) and two chalices.

If this sounds convoluted, it is, though that’s not the problem, the problem is the apparent need to have so many characters, so many scenarios, so many relationships that none are afforded the time to grow. Some ideas are great, others awful, I’ll start with the good (out of good-will for the franchise). Blackbeard, a great character, fantastic introduction, and a perfect coup of casting in McShane, thing is he is totally wasted after the introduction, there’s the idea he may be into voodoo and has zombie crew members but none of it rivals Davy Jones or the cursed crew of the Pearl, it is here that budget cuts become apparent. In trying to up the fantasy element stakes film by film the best we have here is a ship controlled by its captain’s sword, a neat trick and used well once but from then on it is never used again, dropped in favour of yet another plot strand and yet more half-baked ideas.

Another sub-plot (if you can even class it as such) is that of the missionary and the mermaid, again a strand that could have been spun out into many interesting directions but is once more squandered in a handful of scenes, we learn little of each character and the character development is nigh on non-existent, not because of the actors but once again with the script that rushes to jump into the next mim-scenario adding nothing but more muddied waters to the overall plot-thrust. Speaking of mermaids, they provide the one standout action scene, re-imagined as devilish creatures  they ambush Blackbeard’s crew at his behest and are truly menacing, something which makes a love story with one all the more improbable and complex…but this film isn’t concerned by that!

So the action scenes are plentiful as ever and romp along at a pace that helps ease the overlong running time (again), Barbossa is good fun and hams it up as well as ever while Depp steps out of the shadows as something of a hero, a nice little twist in the tail, I for one think he is in his stride with the character though many bemoan he is phoning it in I simply cannot see it, as for Cruz she wasn’t nearly as irritating as expected, though is also given little to do bar act as a love interest. While I’m talking about shadows it would seem an appropriate time to mention how the fact that 80% of the film happens at night or in a very dark place makes watching it in 3D incomprehensible, despite belong shot utilising 3D cameras there really is no call for it when all you’re going to do it poke a sword out of the screen every so often, new director Rob Marshall (of Chicago and Nine fame) brings little flair to proceedings and clearly hasn’t the panache to imagine a world in 3D as James Cameron et al. do.

So while it lacks Gore Verbinski more macabre leanings, this would seem to be the least of the franchises issues, a real jolt is needed if the audiences are expected to continue flocking in their droves. For the little goodwill I have for watching the same mess of events re-enacted while adding yet another fantastical and pointless element is running thinner by the film, yes there will likely be worse films this summer and no it’s not a total disaster (that would make it easy to write off), and at times it shows a great deal of promise but as was suggested last time they really do need to trim the fat!

VERDICT

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides had the potential to be a streamlined, fun adventure that recaptured the spirit of the franchise at its best. Sadly it flounders amidst a mess of plotting that bungles something that really should have been idiot proof, the magic is there but only in the briefest of flashes with anything good being frittered away as soon as it’s introduced in favour of the next half-baked idea.