Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Opinion: B-

Not the worst but also not the best of the franchise so far, it's somewhat feeling like a self indulging series championed by Johnny Depp's quirky rendition of Captain Jack Sparrows. Well endowed in the departments of production values with top notch visual effects and surprisingly good 3D treatment, this fourth venture seems to have focused a little too much on aesthetics and neglected a much desired character-driven solid story.

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) finds himself on an unexpected journey to the fabled Fountain of Youth when a woman from his past (Penelope Cruz) forces him aboard the Queen Annes Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn't know whom to fear more: Blackbeard or Angelica, with whom he shares a mysterious past. The international cast includes franchise vets Geoffrey Rush as the vengeful Captain Hector Barbossa and Kevin R. McNally as Captain Jack's longtime comrade Joshamee Gibbs, plus Sam Claflin as a stalwart missionary and Astrid Berges-Frisbey as a mysterious mermaid.

The very first Pirates of the Caribbean adventure brought us lots of fun and hilarity through the great performance by Depp in Captain Jack Sparrow along with other interesting characters played by the likes of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. It was very much a cohesive bond between them and whatever takes place during their adventure along with good production values instilled that attracted a large fan base for the series. It has resulted in two more sequels for a complete trilogy.

A new Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy is now in place, starting with On Stranger Tides.

Despite having grown a liking to the quirky screen presence of Jack Sparrow, it is now prominent that the franchise is slowly shedding its iconic charm and is evolving into a mainstream cash cow. Don't get me wrong, Depp is still as interesting to watch on the silver screen as ever (he remains the major, if not sole, attraction of the franchise). It's just how a lack of compelling story driven by well-developed characters has caused some narration and pacing issues, especially in the middle riff of the film.

Of course, this could be due to a lacklustre adaptation of Tim Powers' same-titled novel.

On Stranger Tides opens with a good premise, one that sees Jack Sparrow getting on with his funny business in a London courtroom. This marvelous kick start was also accompanied by the grandeur music by Hans Zimmer hinting at an impending high seas adventure to come. There's even good cameo appearances (though unnecessary) by Judi Dench and Keith Richards (who is responsible for the influence of Sparrow's character). Everything feels right on track and ready for sail.

Things however, become unfavourable from here on.

One affair comes after another in quick succession as Sparrow and company are tasked to a journey in seek of the Fountain of Youth. There wasn't any substantial investment in deep characters and plot elaboration and thus this gave rise to a detachment of the audience from the film. A strong impression suggests that a lot of reliance is now upon Sparrow to propel and maintain interest.

With a shallow supporting characters' involvement in the film, Sparrow isn't as funny as before now that nobody is bantering much with him on screen. Communication works two-ways. Sparrow is sometimes found to be isolated and self-indulging most of the time, which led to little or no chemistry with any of the other characters. Ironically, there's a scene of Sparrow subconsciously saying something but later realises that there's nobody around him. That restraints Sparrow's potential to entertain.

Sadly, not even his love interest Angelica manages to spark sufficient fires of passion.

Rob Marshall probably visions the new Pirates trilogy to begin with a film that isn't too mainstream in terms of its story and tries to explore certain subtle themes on good and evil, as well as hatred and forgiveness. In the midst of doing so, he allows plot holes and question marks to surface as he performs touch-and-go techniques to the journey of the Fountain of Youth.

On Stranger Tides remains a blockbuster entertainment behemoth through applauded production values.

Visual effects by ILM is superb to start off with, much enjoyed especially during the Mermaid scenes where VFX coupled with the physical beauty of the mermaid casts are simply magically mesmerising and unforgettable. The Fountain of Youth scene was also another visual eye candy. It won't even be a surprise if they earn a nod for VFX later during the award season.

The third dimension offering also proved conventions wrong by appearing well-lit and vibrant that is uncommon among the vast number of other 3D films before. Still yet to view this film in IMAX 3D, so I'm not in position to comment on the quality of the large format (but I think it should be as good if not better). Likely also to the credits of Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who shot very pristine digital images on the RED camera system.

Much to what's mentioned above, the entertainment value is very high on aesthetics indeed and will not disappoint blockbuster fans. But it is likely to be insufficient for the serious audience's expectations. What they are looking for is more fun and hilarity through Sparrow and friends. When we say friends, we really mean the likes of Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, and the irritable yet influential Monkey.

God, I really miss them here.

Sparrow needs friends for the fifth adventure to tell a good tale, savvy?

(Gala Premiere courtesy of Nuffnang SG)


  1. Great review! I can't wait to see this. However, I'm more excited because it's Keira Knightly free. Sorry, but I never liked her character. To me she added absolutely nothing to the story after the first film. I was more interested in Zoe Saldana's Anamaria. They should have kept her.

    Jack could still use Will, I loved the push-pull relationship between the two.

  2. @Melissa Fair opinion on Knightley, and I agree that Anamaria and Will could have been elements of fun and interest if retained for this film. Yes you should definitely give this film a try because you might like this better than I did (sometimes I wonder if I nitpick too much, haha!)

    Thanks Melissa! ;)

  3. This is just the sort of reiew I was looking for as my dad is pestering me to see the film with him! Question, do you think it's really worth seeing in 3D as the plot is so lacking even if the effects are good, or should I just save money on a not-so-great film and see a non-3D screening?

  4. Hi Amy!

    Personally the 3D was just vibrant and not dim like many others, but you don't get to benefit a lot from the third dimension. So I feel that watching it in digital 2D will be good enough.

    However, there's the IMAX 3D that many have raved about. I've yet to watch it in that large format so I can't comment on that.

    Then again, there's the Dad factor. Nothing beats kinship, so if he desires a 3D screening, maybe it'd be nice to indulge in his request?

    Just my two cents worth and thank you SO MUCH for dropping a note Amy! Do visit again! :)

  5. Disagree. Thought it was above average and quite entertaining. Nice review, though ;)

  6. Hey George!

    Yes, I've been hearing similar from some people around me. Very likely that it's just me having an issue with the plot structure. The production and entertainment values were extremely high, this I very much agree with you. I was mesmerised by the visuals and... the mermaids :D

  7. I love the movie! totally AWESOME!


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