It’s fitting really that the fourth installment in Disney’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series, ON STRANGER TIDES, finds everyone’s favourite captain, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) searching frantically for the fountain of youth. The franchise itself has not exuded any true vigor since the first time it sent sail and, now serving under the new direction of Rob Marshall (CHICAGO), it simply drifts aimlessly at sea while trying to recapture its former glory. Drastic changes were made to the format, most notably a major cast overhaul, to rejuvenate it and allow it to stand alone as a one-off story in hopes of keeping Disney’s treasure chest plentiful. The only strange thing about these tides though is that anyone is still watching and waiting for them to come in.
Some of the aforementioned drastic changes include the shedding of previous series regulars, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, to make room for fresh blood, Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane. Also gone are the overly complicated plot lines incorporated into the second and third installments to justify their existence. All they managed to do was infuriate audiences and suck all the fun out of the franchise anyway so that’s no loss. Instead, this adventure is meant to exist unto itself and it most certainly does this. It just doesn’t bother having any fun in the process. Depp returns as the character he has brought nothing new to for years now and he joins a bunch of other pirates, including Cruz, whom he had some sort of sordid affair with way back when, as they search for the location of the fountain of youth. Aside from an encounter with some of the most vicious mermaids I’ve ever seen, this amounts to little more than a lot of walking and talking in the jungle.
The truth is there is nothing strange about these tides really and this is why the film doesn’t work. A new director and a new approach were supposed to thrust some fresh gusts of wind into the aging franchise’s sails but all it truly manages is to raise this sunken ship to the surface again and leave it there to rock monotonously back and forth, in unnecessary 3D no less. (This by no means applies to McShane, who is the only point of interest past those scary mermaids.) Considering previous pirate complaints centered around how confusing it all got, I am surprised that Marshall leaves us with more confusion this time around too – more specifically, why is this series still going? Oh right, treasure.