Going into watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), I kept telling myself, “Just one more after this one.” That will be a true statement until they release the sixth installment of this idiotic franchise. Who knows when that will be, and that ambiguity offers small comfort. Based on the limited rumors that I have gleaned from the world wide interwebs, Disney is not bringing back Johnny Depp to reprise his series stalwart Jack Sparrow, which I guess has to do with the actor’s current legal troubles. Does that mean that they are bringing back Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom as, respectively, Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner from the first three? Who knows? Who cares? Not me, that is for certain. Between ships with flame throwers and the mountainous Florida in today’s installment, I have had enough of this nonsense. Only one more to go. . . .
In what I am guessing is the Atlantic Ocean, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides begins with two Spanish fishermen catching a delirious man in the nets. I mean, it cannot be the title body of water as this person is brought immediately to King Ferdinand of Spain (Sebastian Armesto), which is a historical joke, but whatever, right? The man claims to be a crewmate of Juan Ponce de León, which means that the Fountain of Youth is real. Immediately, the Spanish launch an expedition. If you are wondering what our old familiars are up to, well, we now shift to London where Jack’s first mate, Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally), is being tried for piracy. In Jack’s typically convoluted rescue attempt, he ends up being captured and brought before King George II (Richard Griffiths). Why they had to have the historically correct monarch for England and not Spain at this time is frustratingly bewildering to me, but whatever. The reason for Jack’s august audience is because he is known to have been in pursuit of the Fountain of Youth (which is how he ended the last film). The British cannot abide the Spanish getting to it first, so they want him to show them the way to its location. Because Jack is a contrarian, and due to the fact that the British are employing Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) as a privateer in this endeavor, Jack declines and manages to escape. Luckily for the British, they still have Gibbs in custody, who had stolen the map from Jack. As for our making-it-up-as-he-goes-along pirate, he heads to the coast intent on finding a ship and raising a crew. In a seaside tavern, he encounters an old flame of his, Angelica (Penélope Cruz). As expected, their reunion is fraught with anger over his cuckolding her in some unseen past tryst, and she ends up kidnapping him. He wakes up aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge. If you know your history (which is a detriment with these movies), you will know this is the flagship of perhaps the most infamous pirate in history: Captain Blackbeard (Ian McShane). The vessel looks nothing like it should, but again, nobody seems to care. By the way, it has flame throwers, and can be operated by Blackbeard pointing his sword at various ropes, or in a direction. Sigh. Anyway, Angelica is his daughter, and she wants to get to the Fountain of Youth in order to prevent a prophecy regarding Blackbeard’s death at the hands of a one-legged man. Did I mention that Barbossa has one leg now? That is not foreshadowing, is it? Despite nobody knowing where the Fountain of Youth is, everyone seems to understand the ritual that must take place to make the waters do their trick. This involves mermaid tears because why not, I guess. Blackbeard and his crew head to where the mermaids live, which is conveniently on the way to the Fountain of Youth. Understandably, the sea creatures do not willingly give up their eye drops, and actually are quite deadly. Still, they manage to capture one, who happens to be caught by a hapless preacher that Blackbeard has imprisoned named Philip Swift (Sam Claflin). He falls in love with the mermaid, who he names Syrena (Ástrid Bergés-Frisbey). Blackbeard takes advantage of this growing romance by making her think that he is dead at one point, only to come back in a seeming betrayal, which produces the necessary tears. While this mishigas takes place, Jack is sent to locate the necessary chalices to perform the ritual, which are reputed to be located aboard Juan Ponce de León’s ship. There, he encounters Barbossa, and they work together in extracting themselves from the situation. As it turns out, the Spanish had already recovered the cups, and they must steal them from their camp. With this accomplished, everyone meets at the Fountain of Youth. This is the moment that Barbossa has been waiting for because it is Blackbeard who had stolen Barbossa’s ship, the Black Pearl. Before the fight can commence in earnest, the Spanish arrive. Instead of securing the waters for themselves, they seek to destroy it so that nobody can have it. Anyway, insert fight scene number 3,495,274,103,586, ending with Barbossa mortally wounding Blackbeard, and the Spanish accomplishing just what they set out to do. Still, there is enough of a trickle left that Jack is able to give the cups to Angelica and Blackbeard. However, because Blackbeard does not trust Jack, he takes the opposite cup, which grants Angelica long life and Blackbeard a gross death. Barbossa takes over the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack maroons Angelica, and Gibbs and Jack wander off into the sunset.
Finally, there is something in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides to talk about other than the historical nonsense. Oh, wait, I guess I did that, too. Oops. At any rate, there is Philip Swift, who is alternately described as a catechist, missionary, and preacher. None of this is meant to be specific, of course, but he clearly is a Christian. When I heard catechist and missionary, my mind immediately said Catholic. This would have been the right era, too, because during the colonial era of history in the Americas, the Church sent thousands of missionaries to the New World to convert native peoples to Christianity. The professed Faith of millions in North and South America is a testament to their work, if not the film’s content. His character, though, is aggravating, which should not be surprising given my feelings on the rest of this codswallop. On the plus side, he says some great things about God. Specifically, despite calling a spade a spade in pointing out Blackbeard’s aberrant behavior, he also tells the legendary pirate that nobody is beyond saving. This is as true of a statement about faith that I have heard in a film, and remarkable considering the source. On the negative side is the fact that he falls in love with Syrena, who is a mermaid to boot. Admittedly, a large part of my disapproval over this development has to do with an assumption on my part that he is a priest, and thus sworn to celibacy. But, because everyone who comes in contact with Jack (including Angelica, who is said to have been about to become a nun before Jack seduced her) becomes corrupted, it should be expected that even a Catholic would fall. He ends the film with an unknown fate. Wounded during the brawl around the Fountain of Youth, he makes his way to Syrena to free her. In turn, she says that she can save him, which apparently involves taking him down into the depths of the ocean. Did she forget that we humans cannot breathe under water? To be fair, this is meant to be an allusion to stories about what mermaids do to men, but all we see is them swimming away. Why could she not stayed on shore with her legs that magically appear when she is out of water? I mean, as Philip points out, she too is one of God’s creatures. But, no, we have to have him journeying into the unknown. Ugh. Only one more. . . .
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a bad movie for all the reasons I have stated in previous reviews of others in the series, but also because Jack seems to simply be along for the ride. It is other people that are controlling events, not him, and yet he is supposed to be the star, or so I thought. Thus, in addition to historical chicanery and dumb action, we have aspects of the plot that do not work. Only one more. . . .