Full disclosure: I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. The first movie was a pleasant surprise and probably one of my favorite action/adventure movies of the last decade. I enjoyed the two sequels even though they were admittedly a bloated, convoluted mess. What can I say? The action scenes are always a blast, At Worlds End had what was probably my favorite movie wedding of all time, and Johnny Depp's Captain Jack always cracks me up. They're just fun. I even have the Pirates mouse ears from Disney World. So I love the Pirates franchise, and I make no apologies for it.
Now I wasn't sure we needed a fourth movie, but at the conclusion of the last film I was hoping we'd get a Jack/Barbossa film without all the other nonsense bogging down the proceedings like the previous two sequels had. With On Stranger Tides, we kinda got that, and it was surprisingly good - it's much better than the dreadful reviews I'd heard about going in.
As promised in the final scenes of At Worlds End, the new Pirates adventure is about the search for the Fountain of Youth. Captain Jack, still without a ship or a crew, is ordered by the King of England to help Captain Barbossa (now a peg-legged royal after mysteriously losing the Black Pearl) find the Fountain before the Spaniards do. Of course, Jack quickly escapes, but he just as quickly ends up in the clutches of the evil Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his daughter Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who are also searching for the Fountain on their zombie-infested ship. Making matters worse for Jack, it turns out Angelica is one of his spurned past-loves, and needless to say, she's not happy with him.
Wow. I actually managed to explain the plot of a Pirates movie in one paragraph. There's an improvement to the series right there.
For the most part, this new and improved Pirates works. The story was fairly simple to understand, and while new director Rob Marshall's action sequences didn't quite have the epic scale of Gore Verbinski's films, they were still pretty damn good. It had lots and lots of sword fights, which I loved.
I did see it in 3D. You don't need to. Outside of some swords coming right at you in a few shots, you don't even notice it for the most part. It wasn't as useless as the 3D in Thor, but disappointing nonetheless. I love 3D when it's done well, but I can't wait until they stop slapping it on everything.
As far as villians, what On Stranger Tides no longer has in Davy Jones it makes up for in the awesomeness of Ian McShane as Blackbeard, who is as great as he usually is in any role. Penelope Cruz was also a decent addition as Angelica, who seems just as devious as Jack, which almost makes them a perfect pair. Geoffrey Rush just seems to love hamming it up as Barbossa - I would have loved to have seen more interaction between him and Jack.
Former Pirates couple Will and Elizabeth are unnoticably absent from the new film, and their replacement couple, missionary Phillip and mermaid Syrena don't add much. In fact, I can't even figure out what the point of either of those characters were. But the mermaids themselves are quite cool, and provide one of the best and creepiest sequences in the film.
I did miss a few of the characters from the previous films, such as pirate BFFs Pintel and Ragetti and the two British guard dolts that Jack is always getting into verbal confrontations with. Maybe they're still with the Black Pearl, which appears to be alive and well? I hope so.
I would put On Stranger Tides as my second favorite film in the series behind the first film. It's definitely better than the two sequels, and if left me hoping for the first time that maybe we might get a fifth film. Looking at the opening weekend numbers, its star might fading a bit in the US, but it's still doing gangbusters overseas...so we may just get one. And I would be fine with that.