PotC4: On Stranger Tides

So, Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides.

I went to see it yesterday afternoon with Miss P, who insisted she was only there because of JD, and I don’t mean Jack Daniels.

Here’s the trailer:-

For starters, while it might have carried the title On Stranger Tides and involved the Fountain of Youth it didn’t have much else to do with Tim Powers’ novel. The credit said only that it was ‘inspired by’ Powers’ work, and I’d say that was an accurate assessment. It was a prequel to the original trilogy, and while not quite on a par with the first two outings for this franchise, I’d rate it a vast improvement on the tedious third, and I’m puzzled by criticism that the plot was too confusing.

Everyone is after the fountain of youth – the Spaniards, Barbossa on behalf of King George, Blackbeard and his daughter Angelica – and Jack Sparrow happens to be the person who knows where it is, which makes him a valuable commodity. To ‘activate’ the fountain, you need to have a mermaid’s tear, which entails a detour to White Cap Bay, where mermaids frolic and lure sailors to their doom. And then, once the fountain has been found, everyone has an agenda of their own, and it’s up to Jack Sparrow to save his own hide and do the best he can by ex-girlfriend Angelica.

Of course, that’s only the bare bones of the plot, and it’s a skeleton which gets fleshed out with any number of set pieces. We hit the ground running with Jack mounting an ingenious rescue attempt for a pirate friend standing trial, only for that to go wrong resulting in a lively escape from Buckingham Palace. Then there’s a duel with someone pretending to be Jack Sparrow and recruiting sailors. Next up Jack is on Blackbeard’s ship and leading a mutiny that gets crushed, after which there’s the detour to White Cap Bay and a fight with the vicious mermaids. And finally, we’re on the home stretch, with the prize of the Fountain of Youth beckoning, and the stage set for a battle royal between all contenders.

But still I’m only skimming the surface, not mentioning such things as Blackbeard’s magical abilities and the doll he uses to keep Jack in line, or the subplot involving captured mermaid Syrena and the preacher who falls in love with her, Barbossa’s motives and the history between Jack and Angelica, coloured by the complicated relationship between Angelica and her father. Plenty more of the same.

Depp makes the most of the role of Jack Sparrow, with the best lines and an inexhaustible supply of gestures and expressions that make it almost impossible not to smile when he’s on screen. Geoffrey Rush is as good as ever as Barbossa, here given a more human side, while Ian McShane is superb as the ruthless and amoral Blackbeard, prepared to sacrifice even his own daughter to attain his ends. Penelope Cruz as Angelica adds glamour and a romantic interest for Depp, but her character is more than simply eye candy, in many ways being the one who does most to drive the plot forward. And a nice cameo from Bill Wyman as Jack’s father.

There’s plenty of spectacle, starting with the escape from Buckingham Palace, which put me rather in mind of the opening sequence from a James Bond film, and reaching a climax with the fierce battle against the mermaids, who are nothing like Madison in Disney’s previous mermaid romcom. After that things are rather muted until the end, when all parties come out fighting and there’s a scene with echoes of the end of Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail.

It’s not a classic film, and perhaps a tad on the long side, though I have to say I didn’t notice the time pass, but with plenty of laughs, plenty of spectacle, lots of incidental invention, some romance and a touch or two of horror, it was a great way to pass the time on a slow Tuesday afternoon. Oh, and no sign of either Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightley, which was a definite plus as far as I’m concerned. I enjoyed it.

My favourite line – Jack’s response when Angelica recalls an episode involving a convent. I won’t spoil it for you by revealing his response, but it’s a mistake anyone could be forgiven making.

Ms P enjoyed it too, for her own reasons. And I have my fingers crossed that it will help sell truckloads of the Powers’ novel.

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