I went into this movie with very low expectations and I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. The basic premise for all these movies is fairly bulletproof. You’ve got your standard mythological pirate, the original lovable rogue, sailing the high seas, carousing and pillaging, but always with a heart of gold and only really killing the bad guys. Which is bollocks, of course, but all tremendous fun. Then you wind that in with a decent supernatural story, a few good chase scenes and some shit blowing up, and populate the movie with actors guaranteed to draw a crowd. Win.
But the Pirates movies have suffered something in the way of diminishing returns with each new release. The first one was excellent and the next two, while good fun, very clever with their special effects and excellent fantasy escapism, didn’t really hit that high again. This installent, however, did. I don’t necessarily want to suggest it’s the best of the lot, as a several people I know have said, but it’s definitely a return to form.
Essentially, Captain Jack Sparrow meets up with an old lover, Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz, and she has a plan to find the Fountain Of Youth. There’s a Spanish fleet also looking for it, and King George has got Captain Barbossa to turn over an honest leaf and captain a ship to find the Fountain for Britain. Turns out that Angelica is actually on board ship with Blackbeard, the pirate that even pirates fear, and the whole thing gets very complicated. But therein lies one of the strengths of the film. The plot is complex and characters have agendas other than those we initially believe and so on. It’s not so complicated that we can’t keep up, but it’s not simplistic either. It’s a good, convoluted story, and you all know how I appreciate some good storytelling. There are some issues that crop up. A few times there are characters who do things completely out of character, or purely for convenience. There are some twists that don’t really make sense and are obviously there to shoe horn the next twist or create a set piece that’s expected in the franchise. But these are all small niggles in an otherwise good yarn.
The performances are excellent as always, especially Ian McShane as Blackbeard. And, on a side note, I want Blackbeard’s coat. I mean, I really want it. If you’re reading this and you know how to get it, I want to know! Geoffrey Rush is excellent as always playing Barbossa, Cruz is good as Angelica, Depp is perfect as Captain Jack Sparrow and Keith Richards has a brief cameo return as Jack’s dad.
The story comes from Tim Powers’ 1987 novel, On Stranger Tides, with the Pirates Of The Caribbean characters woven in. There are zombies, though they are a bit unexplained in the film, other than being the voodoo kind, and turned that way because they obey better and Blackbeard likes his crew to be easily controlled. There are mermaids, and part of the problem the characters face is getting a mermaid’s tear to make use of the Fountain Of Youth. This led to the best scene in the film for me – Sparrow, Blackbeard, et al travel to Whitecap Bay, famous for being the kind of place from which people never return. This is where they’ll find mermaids and they set a longboat of crew out as bait, with a spotlight from land lighting the water, to attract the mermaids. The mermaids themselves are the nasty siren kind, that start off all lovely and desirable, then grab you and eat your face off. Which is, of course, the best kind of mermaid. The scene with the sailors in the long boat as bait and the first appearance of the mermaids is a proper creepy bit of film-making and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole film. The required Jack Sparrow escape scene at the start was contrived and not very well done, some of the plot was a bit too convenient, some people did mystifying things, but on the whole it was a clever and creepy yarn, well told and well played, with the expected level of special effects eye candy. And a nice line in drumming as part of the score, which I noticed on a few occaions. If you like your pirates and your supernatural adventures, you’ll like this.
Seriously, I want this coat. Badly. Get it for me.