Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) – Review

Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is entertaining and succeeds with its fans due to the world and characters created in the previous three films (basically, the unabated love of Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean world). The film fits the Pirates of the Caribbean Series with fun action scenes, humor, supernatural creatures, and a grand scale to the action and world (however, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Walt Disney Studios wanted to scale down the story aspect, after At World’s End was a little bit of a mess and all over the place). Director Rob Marshall is able to shoot very well done action scenes and gets the look of the world right, but does not develop the new character enough and continues the trend of turning Jack Sparrow and company into exaggerated caricatures of themselves (i.e. cartoon versions), which along with a messy story hurt the third film and hurts this one too. There are a few scenes that just seem out of place and odd (even for Jack Sparrow), as if they were a spoof on the series and film (for example: the scene with the King of England), only to see the film return to its playful but serious tone. Marshall is unable to establish a keep the tone consistent throughout the film, which undermines the dramatic effect of the characters and story elements, thus hurting the film immensely in its ability to fully engage its audience. The narrative structure is lacking in character development among new characters. Blackbeard, the film’s villain, is never set up to be the menacing pirate that all pirates fear, thus the audience never believes he is a real threat and therefore his confrontation with Sparrow is debilitated, never garnering the emotional impact needed. Angelica, Sparrow’s potential and only real love, is not given too much to do dramatically, rather deriving character from stereotyping easily translatable Hollywood archetypes. Plus, she does not really have very much chemistry with Sparrow (which is maybe on Marshall, Bruckheimer and the casting department), which lessens the viewer’s stake in their relationship (you cannot just cast stars and great actors like Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane and think that is enough to make a good character; the characters still need to be well written!). Philip and Syrena (the religious man and mermaid) are not given enough dramatic work either, as their relationship is forced and thrown together quickly (though Sam Claflin gives a good performance which helps). The main issue with the film is that Marshall and the writers (who need to be replaced for any potential sequels as they, being the writes, have clearly lost their magic and have fallen too in love with their witty, if not whimsical dialog and character elements and have turned Sparrow into a soulless cartoon version of himself) do not care enough about the characters and their interrelationships, as that is where the film suffers the most. That being said, fans of the series are still going to probably like this installment as it is exciting and entertaining and there are brilliant moments for Sparrow and Barbossa (and the actors, even without much true dramatic weight given, do good work). On Stranger Tides is the weakest of the series, but still provides enough fun and commitment to the world of Pirates of the Caribbean to make for an enjoyable (but disappointing) addition to the series.

Technical and acting achievements: Rob Marshall comes from a musical and choreography background, which is evident in his ability to stage well done action sequences. But his last few films have lacked character development (Chicago working because the songs and theatrical aspect carry the film, and the characters are well written in the musical without much adaption needed for the film version), and it is becoming more evident with each film that he is a very good visual director, though without a strong storytelling ability (despite having excellent actors to work with), impairing the quality of his films. Hans Zimmer delivers another great score (but what else would you expect; I particularly like this piece of music). The same can be said for cinematographer Dariusz Wolski’s work. Both have contributed wonderful stuff to the series and this film. New to the series, production designer John Myhre does great work as well (I really liked his set for The Fountain of Youth, and the costumes designed by Penny Rose). Although their characters are underwritten, Ian McShane (who could play an excellent villain in his sleep, I suspect) and Sam Claflin are both very good. Penelope Cruz is a great actress, but does not work well in her role and against Johnny Depp’s Sparrow. Newcomer Astrid Berges-Frisbey is good playing against Claflin, even in spite of having almost no character development. Geoffrey Rush and Depp however are the stars of the film. Both reprising their roles marvelously, they know and love their characters and are the best part of the film (now if only the writers would give them something worthwhile).

Summary & score: On Stranger Tides has a lot to like, but even more to be disappointed in. 6/10

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