PG-13, for naked mermaids that eat people. I really wanted them to make a Little Mermaid reference while these sadistic mermaids ripped into a bunch of sailors. But noooooo. They have reeeeesssppppeeeeccttt for their other licensed properties.
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
I hate when I take the hipster route. Okay, no I don't. I like being the guy who likes the movie that everyone else hates and hates the movie that everyone else loves. I don't know what compulsion is in me that makes that happen, but it happens. Well, it happened again. After I was pretty flippant about this movie when writing a review for the most recent Pirates movie, I decided to go back and give the one that no one saw a chance. It's the one I like the most. This movie was great. I was nearly everything I wanted out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, despite the fact that nothing should have really worked. Also, this movie almost made me have to go back and rewrite my recent review for Dead Men Tell No Tales because I griped about people aging in that one for a long time. Then I found out that On Stranger Tides was all about the search for the Fountain of Youth and I just started pinching my temples really hard. My hubris!
I don't think that I'll ever be a fan of this franchise. These movies are watchable, to be sure, but I never really fall in love with the characters and the stories are always a little weak. But what makes On Stranger Tides works when I don't think many entries in the franchise do is the idea that it does a simple story well. The other movies have the attitude of overcomplicating the living heck out of each film. This movie is very straightforward and it kind of works. I admit that the secondary characters have goals and side stories, but they are intimately linked to the A story in natural ways. Watching Dead Men Tell No Tales, it was painful to see how these characters tried to get shoehorned into the story. On Stranger Tides really just follows multiple groups to the same challenge. It's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with less comedy and more people being eaten by attractive ladies. (Maybe one extra lady eating a guy. Otherwise, the same film.) The story surrounds Jack Sparrow, finally in the role as the protagonist, as he is coerced into revealing the location of the fountain of youth. Multiple parties, including the inexplicably tied Captain Barbossa, race for the Fountain of Youth before their separate lives are put in danger. Oddly enough, Jack's motivation is the weakest considering that he's the hero in this situation. Jack Sparrow really has become a bit of an Indiana Jones in this one, searching for mysterious artifacts since he lost his precious Black Pearl. LIGHT SPOILER / NOT A SPOILER IF YOU'VE SEEN DEAD MEN: It is a wacky random happenstance that he runs into the Pearl in its current condition, which seems to be typical of the Disney "Small World" (Pun intended) So much happens in these movies that defies the laws of coincidence, but that's part of trying to tell a complex story with a little more than two hours at your disposal.
It's odd reviewing On Stranger Tides after seeing its sequel. There are beats that the filmmakers wanted to share that may not have been deemed successful in On Stranger Tides. (Again, I disagree because I think that On Stranger Tides is the superior film) The whole theme of the relationship between estranged parent and child plays very heavily into this movie. The exact same theme is revisited in Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is an odd choice because it really is effective here. HEAVY SPOILER: It takes the opposite message in the end. Dead Men Tell No Tales examines how blood is thicker than water and that there is always a tie between a father and a daughter. On Stranger Tides seems to contradict that message with Blackbeard's ambivalence towards his daughter. He is selfish and evil through and through, which makes Ian McShane's Blackbeard all the more fun. Sometimes a less complex villain is what a movie needs. I can't help but compare his character to that of Javier Bardem's complex pirate captain. I didn't like the complexity of the character because it kind of made him the hero in a way. Blackbeard never really shows a moment of goodness that makes him likable, which is even the more strange knowing that the character is meant to be a real person. Adding all of this historical fiction in the form of fantasy just feels odd because there's no real benefit to including the real pirate Blackbeard in this story. There's the instant recognition of the Queen Anne's Revenge and the association with Blackbeard as an infamous historical figure, but his origins and story play little into the narrative of this one. The best one could pull from having Blackbeard appear in this story is the legend that the details of Blackbeard's actual death are ambiguous and there is a legend of him surviving beyond his public death. Any pirate legend could fit there, so it is odd that the character isn't fiction. Regardless, I still liked the idea of a supernatural version of the Queen Anne's Revenge spewing fire everywhere. It looks cool and I can shut my brain off on command.
One of my many complaints about Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it is a big step backwards for Jack's character, whom I found really annoying in that film. People must like the idea that Jack is a bit of a scoundrel, but that also eliminates any growth for him. I don't want him to be a TV character, staying the same and only having minor character changes. I liked this one because Jack has a weird sense of rogue chivalry (chaotic good) in this one. He was the Zorro / Han Solo of this movie. He jumped and leaped and fought with a sword while stealing a little on the side. He looked out for the greater good and sacrificed himself for others. He even shows regret towards his previous actions and much of the movie is him trying to redeem himself from his awful ways. He never loses the character of Jack Sparrow in those moments though. He still has the overarching selfishness that the character has been associated with, but also has a much greater moral compass (pun unintended) than he did in the other films. It makes it all the more somber to see him as a useless drunk in the next film. I like that Jack learned something from the events of the first three movies. He's allowed to be salty (I don't even know if "salty" is a pun here) about his losses in the past, but that saltiness should come with a bit of a smile. Having him drunkenly survive situations makes him come off as cheap. Nah, I liked this version of Jack. He is brazen in the face of the king and knows how to control a situation. A world of coincidences and good luck is good for a punchline, but not for a long running franchise where character development is a must.
Penelope Cruz's Angelica was super fun, especially when she out Depps Johnny, but her choices are very very odd. I don't know if the people steering the ship (I'm just going to stop) know what they want out of this franchises, but Angelica kind of feels like a Bond girl: far too disposable. I can understand the frustration of the higher ups. By having Jack get his life together and achieve all of his goals, it is a momentum killer. Having Jack win over woman after woman as he finds his wife in the sea means the story goes on forever. But it also makes these women far more vapid than they should be as characters. The shame of it all is that having Angelica act as a foil for Jack is really great. The big success that the movie presents is that Jack is not unkillable (okay, he kinda is) because someone else has the same skill set that he does. It's just that Angelica never really undergoes the emotional trials that she should be. The main plot of the search for the Fountain of Youth really affects her more than any other character, but she ends the movie even more deluded than when she started the film. She seems so fun and in control and then just becomes a flat character who doubles down on the initial character trait that she presented in the first few minutes of the movie. Why do this? Regardless, the inclusion of Angelica brought my favorite kind of action to this movie. The Pirates movies, when done right, kind of mirror the wire-fu action sequences of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They are larger than life and there is definitely someone doing them. These movies are overloaded with CGI, but the movie always becomes way more watchable when I see actors doing real stunts and real fight sequences. Since Angelica is modeled after Jack, watching two Jacks with their distinct ridiculous fighting styles is just a joy. I could watch some of the swashbuckling sequences all day. They never really get going.
On the question of faith, I'm not quite sure what the movie is trying to say. There is a character who is a chaplain who keeps getting spared from absolutely awful things that happen at sea. He acts as a good luck charm for the crew, strapped to the mast so nothing happens to his ship. I love seeing Christian characters in stories that actually have their faith defended by the events. I know, that's not how God works, but it is refreshing to see a religious character not portrayed as a complete nutbar. But he starts becoming kind of dumb. The mermaids in this movie are monsters. I loved that that the mermaids are evil beasts who drag men to their deaths, only to eat them beneath the waves. Upon capturing one of these mermaids, they must collect a tear from a mermaid because of made of mythology. This is where I get confused on the message of this story. Many of the men fall in love with the mermaids because they are drop dead gorgeous. They're over sexualized and the men think that a beautiful girl needs a strong strapping man to take care of her. This is their folly and it leads to their dooms. However, when the mermaid is captured, the chaplain falls for the mermaid real hard and defends her from any cruelty that the crew throws her way. His major plot surrounds his defense of this poor creature. Because he's handsome and she's gorgeous, they fall in love...which seems to be the opposite message that the movie was talking about only moments before. The chaplain constantly refers to her beauty, using that as his justification for the fact that she must be innocent. I kind of have a problem with that. All of the mermaids were Hollywood pretty, but they murdered left and right. Why is it she who is the right one? Why is her beauty more of a validation of her innocence than anyone else's? Why is beauty tied to morality whatsoever? It's a really weird call and I don't know what the story was there. Happy to see someone religious in a place of non-craziness; not so happy that God uses him as a lucky rabbit's foot and nothing makes sense with his character.
I repeat: I'd rather see a simple movie done well than a complex movie done poorly. That said, I like complexity. This movie might be the best in the franchise, but it is far from perfect. A lot of that comes from the fact that I'm not a Pirates of the Caribbean fan nor will I probably ever be. The movie is a good time, but I don't think we'll be seeing any more in the franchise mirror the attitude of this film.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.