On Second Thought: “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”

Just because a franchise is incredibly popular and can make massive amounts of money, doesn’t mean it should ever see another installment come to pass. More often than not, a long running series has already started to wane due to old age and less than compelling storytelling. But, the audience is there, and most are too stupid to know when to quit. They’ll pay anything to see their favorite character in action again, even if it means sitting through one uneventful and tedious film.

The Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures film “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, may still entertain and take you on a journey, but it lacks a lot that was needed to make it worth while or worth the time.

This action adventure film stars Johnny Depp (“Tusk”, Transcendence”), Penelope Cruz (“The Brothers Grimsby”, “Zoolander 2”), Ian McShane (“Game of Thrones”, “Doctor Thorne”), Geoffrey Rush (“Lowdown”, “Green Lantern”), Kevin McNally (“Bounty Killer”, “The Challenger Disaster”), Sam Claflin (“Me Before You”, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”), Astrid Berges-Frisbey (“Alaska”, “I Origins”), Stephen Graham (“Orthodox”, “A Patch of Fog”), Richard Griffiths (“The History Boys”, “Harry Potter” films), Greg Ellis (“Star vs. the Forces of Evil”, “Transformers: Rescue Bots”), and Oscar Jaenada (upcoming “Hands of Stone”, “The Shallows”).

The film was directed by Rob Marshall (“Into the Woods”, “Nine”) and written by Ted Elliott (“Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, “Treasure Planet”) and Terry Rossio (Déjà vu”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: “The Curse of the Black Pearl”).

It originally opened on May 20, 2011.

I expected to have a lot of problems with this film, but I in no way was prepared for what really occurred. This film made me seriously regret taking on the whole “Pirates” series, and not just because I’d have to watch the two films in the series I hate the most, but because that meant I had to set aside time to watch this fourth one. I really didn’t want to. Nevertheless, I made it through! I can’t say how, but I did. So, without further ado, here’s what had me regretting this film’s existence, and wraps up our time with this particular film franchise. Well, you know, until next year when the newest installment hits theaters.

There’s a theme with this film too. If not a theme, something. This film was just lacking. Lacking in what? Well, just about everything. Everything that made the previous films enjoyable and memorable. This film largely didn’t have it, even though Elliott and Rossio tried, I think. I’m not sure if they did, but I’ll get to their sin in a moment.

First, I want to throw out there, so it’s done with and we can all move on a whole lot quicker, that there was still so much that got me into this film and the world again. Yes, once more the sets, costumes, hair and makeup, score, visual effects and filming locations (this one’s sorta new as I never previously listed it), all looked authentic and amazing! The entire world quickly jumped out and took me in for what would turn out to be a dull time. Regardless, I was there. These elements were what I’d expected. What I’d come to know and love. The fact that there’s this consistent dedication through four films says so much.

However, all that being noted and loved, there’s still a major drawback with some of this. None of these elements were used to tell an epic story. The previous films each had epic stories, even if some of those got tangled up in several other stories and became incomprehensible. At least I knew I could look forward to that. At least I knew I’d have something worth getting excited about. Not so here. Even the visual effects couldn’t do anything for me. They were good, and sold you on the film and the adventure, but that’s it. They were just good. Can’t complain about good. However, the problem with this, and the lack of excitement, lies in the fact that there just wasn’t any wow factor. Nothing that stood out or drew you in to leave you in awe. Fight scenes are good only so far, and this film barely achieved that.

One thing I wrote down, after it dawned on me, was that this film was way too safe. It was very paint by numbers. There was no danger. Mind you, the characters would’ve had to have been doing something dangerous for that to be even slightly possible. They wren’t. Half the time the characters did nothing. Certainly nothing of consequence or interest. It’s definitely why I find this to be the most boring of the “Pirates” films, and an utter disappointment.

But it wasn’t just danger, or an exciting and epic story that this film lacked. It lacked a big scope and need for visual effects (which is more an observation than anything), which I already mentioned. This film had only a few worthwhile action sequences, and both of those came within the first 35 minutes of the film. When Depp is escaping from the palace and running throughout London, and when Depp’s fighting Cruz, plus when they were trying to escape. The latter I consider to be part two of the second fight. Regardless, these were entertaining, but brief overall. After that, I just followed people on a boring adventure, and wondered how any of them didn’t kill themselves along the way.

Speaking of characters! It’s the same with TV series’ really. When you lose specific cast members, for whatever reason(s), some part of what made it so good before is lost, and can never be regained. Apparently, that’s true here. Depp, well, he played Depp. He wasn’t at all irritating like the previous film, but he also didn’t have that same level of charm or charisma that even allowed for us to like him in the first place. He could do his thing, again to a lesser annoying level, but it still didn’t come through and affect me the same way. Even Rush and McNally couldn’t do it. Like with Depp, these two could only bring so much, which turned out to be a problem. I felt like I didn’t recognize these three returning characters. Traces came through, but they were completely different characters. Now, don’t get me wrong, characters should be different to some extent, as that’s how we see growth and change, but this wasn’t that. It was something else.

I also found that the new characters, which took over for all the others not returning, didn’t fill that void. It’s more that they couldn’t. They weren’t given enough. Cruz in particular was short changed. Sure she can swing a sword and go toe to toe with the men, but she never gave me a reason to care about her. Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Turner, née Swann, at least by the first film’s end had so much more of a character arch, which also made her an almost complete character. I really can’t say the same here. McShane on the other hand, well, I’m not sure. Great casting, but he’s not my favorite villain. He was just mean and that’s it. I found no way to love to hate him.

Which now brings me to the why of it all. It’s Elliott and Rossio. For as much as I complained and hated about the previous film, and some of the film before that, this film could’ve used some of what the previous two had. Clearly, in an effort to not make the same mistakes they did in the previous two films, Elliott and Rossio over corrected. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, these two franchise writers tried to balance the good and avoid the bad, that they ended you delivering an inferior sequel. I’m not sure what went through their heads, but clearly the idea that maybe they’d taken out too much and not provided enough excitement wasn’t something that came up.

Perhaps a lot of this has to do with sequel fatigue, especially in my case here. We here it talked about a lot, as there’s hardly a year, let alone a summer movie period, where somewhere between 20 to 30 (if not more) sequels come out. There’s no time to rest with so many, and barely enough time to do so with specific film series. This year alone saw six straight weeks where there was at least one sequel opening, with many more set to open a few weeks later. Six weeks! WOW! I’m surprised I kept up and made it through like I did, seeing as I wrote about some of the original films to those sequels. Or maybe it’s just that Elliott and Rossio couldn’t deliver for a fourth straight time.

Some long running film franchise just can’t keep you interested each and every time. Some can’t continuously pull off what was done so well before. You can tell where there’s effort, but that means little when so much else is missing. One would think that several years would be enough to get the story right, but they’d be wrong. Sometime it’s as simple as having an interesting story to tell and cast of characters to send on the adventure. On character isn’t enough to carry a film. It’s a tall order for writers to appease fans and deliver a story that doesn’t carry on too long, or carry over the same mistakes from before., but is it really so much to ask for? Don’t audiences deserve the best? I guess we’ll see next year. Maybe it’ll finally be time to call it quits.

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