One of the biggest mistakes most people, writers and audiences alike, have made with the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy was understanding who the protagonist was. I am still unsure if the second and third installments even had a protagonist; it certainly wasn’t Will Turner, the actually protagonist of the first film. The source of this confusion lies in Johnny Depp’s performance of Captain Jack Sparrow, a character so quirky bizarre and likable, that it simply outshines everyone else. But while Jack has been the poster child for the franchise, he was never the protagonist. On Stranger Tides outdoes this problem by removing the excessive amount of side characters, side pirates, pirate ships, pirate lords, pirate crew, and pirate monkeys, and centering the story on the latest of Jack’s shenanigans. All in all a more fitting title for this movie would have been: The Next Installment of The Captain Jack Sparrow Adventures; it highlights the story’s pulpy silliness much more than On Stranger Tides and since the movie doesn’t really take place in the Caribbean there is little point in keeping it on the title.
The movie opens in Spain where news that the Fountain of Youth had been found send the country and Europe into frenzy. Every pirate and privateer out there wants to get a hold of the map that, if you remember correctly, was in Jack’s possession at the end of the third movie. The Fountain of Youth is just a McGuffin to get everyone on a roll, and any other supernatural treasure could have easily replaced it. Anyway, Jack finds himself in London freeing his trusty first mate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin R. McNally), who has been accused of being Jack Sparrow. After an amusing chase across the streets of London in carriages, Jack runs into his old - I’m guessing girlfriend here, the relationship isn’t really explained -, Angelica (Penelope Cruz). Like everyone else, Angelica is after the Foutain, so she kidnaps Jack (why? Who knows) and sets sail aboard The Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s infamous flagship. Following the Queen Anne’s Revenge is Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack’s longtime rival, who has left the pirate’s life behind and is now a privateer sailing under the English flag. And close behind them the Spanish ship follows.
Why Penelope Cruz was not in the franchise before this movie baffles me. She would have been perfect for it since the beginning. Like Depp, Cruz is perfect for over the top performances. Her eccentricity, accent, and mannerism come from the heart. Yes, this is a performance but I always took Penelope Cruz for a telenovela character that accidentally stepped into the real world to become an actress. She keeps her stance and character alongside Johnny Depp, and Geoffrey Rush much better than Kiera Knightly ever did. Ian McShane does a fine job as Blackbeared, although there really isn’t much to playing a villain who is evil only because he has to be.
There are also two new characters that are bound for a return in any upcoming installments, Phillip Swift, a church going boy captive aboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and Syrena, a mermaid who also winds up as a prisoner of Blackbeared. They are incredibly stale and uninteresting for being side characters in this franchise. They won’t be unwelcomed in any future installment but I could really careless about them.
In his adventure Jack will encounter zombies, mermaids, more pirates (although not as many as in At World’s End), and water that falls up. Basically, all the ingredients needed for a swashbuckling adventure of its kind. The film is for the most part what you would expect; a cheery adventure filled with captian-jack-sparrowy madness. It is leaner, and better passed than the second and third installments. And will likely appeal the most to those who liked the first one and feel as strong aversion against the other two. It is not to say a better movie than the last installments; it is just easier to swallow down.