Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane
Director: Rob Marshall
It's not the destination, it's the journey, says Pirates of the Caribbean's protagonist Jack Sparrow, as this fourth instalment enters its final straight. Well said, captain, but that sums up a grievance a viewer might have after sitting through On Stranger Tides, because this bloated swashbuckler is mostly a trip through exasperatingly conventional visual trickery and more of the same from Sparrow and crew.
This Disney franchise has become a textbook case of the law of diminishing returns - not the financial kind, mind you, but the creative. On Stranger Tides runs aground in a way that is the opposite of the previous, 2007 film, At World's End, which perplexed because of convoluted subplots: On Stranger Tides tries to make very little go too far.
The premise is a race to the Fountain of Youth. The journey has endless action and stop-start humour, with much of the latter revolving around the new leading partnership of Sparrow (Depp) and Angelica (Cruz), his feisty former flame; complicating matters (a little) is that the Spaniard is the daughter of Blackbeard (McShane, above right with Depp and Cruz), Sparrow's nemesis, under whom he now has to serve.
With Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom having jumped ship - together with director Gore Verbinski, replaced by Rob Marshall of Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha fame - Geoffrey Rush's Hector Barbossa is the only other main character who returns, as he heads yet another crew, to compete with Blackbeard's to get to the age-defying fountain. Rush is a saving grace: with Depp and Cruz not really clicking, it's the chemistry between Depp and Rush that instils some old-time flamboyance.
More troubling is how Marshall and producer Jerry Bruckheimer try to attract a limited, hot-blooded-male audience, rather than opening the thing up to everyone. Sauciness has been there throughout the series, but On Stranger Tides explodes with innuendo and misogyny. Angelica always has flesh bared - in the first scene with her and Sparrow he tears open her blouse for no reason; and the dialogue is peppered with unnecessary sexual allusions.
Sparrow resists admitting to his underling Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) that he's got feelings for Angelica (he calls them 'stirrings'). A film derived from a Disney Parks fun ride cannot be expected to delve into the soul, but Sparrow's emotional constipation highlights a general superficiality that bombastic action scenes can only rarely salvage.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens today