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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Wrecks the Franchise
by Scott Nehring, Contributing Writer

Pirates of the Caribbean: Stranger1 starDo you remember how you so loved the first film PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL? Then the follow up PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST came out and wasn't as good.  It was darker, campier and less structured.  The series came to an end with PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END.  Perhaps you liked it, I didn't, but still you have to admit that it didn't seem like it was made in the same universe as the first outing.  Everything was even darker, grittier and the action sequences were downright cartoonish.  On top of that, the plot seemed incomplete and hurriedly assembled.

This film makes the first two sequels seem masterful.

This sequel, penned by original screenwriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, only retains fragments of the original set of films.  It, of course, retains the franchise title.  It also revives three characters: Gibbs (Kevin McNally), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).  The mismanaged plot points from the original series have been cast aside, being messily resolved in the last film.  This is a clean slate for the franchise and could have been a launching pad to reintroduce the series with a fresh and inviting storyline.  One look at this film and it becomes obvious they didn't show up to tell a story but rather squeeze some final drips from their cash cow.

Instead of taking the time to meticulously build a memorable plot with strongly designed characters all fueled by simple but compelling motivations, the Pirates crew has delivered one of the most confusing, half-baked sequels in memory.  This film isn't just disappointingly bad, it is now a textbook example of how to wreck a franchise.  I do not see how it possibly lays the foundation for any additional movies.  Given that the original series is resolved, if this production is standalone.  Since it can't logically establish any additional films this makes this production wholly unnecessary beyond the simple goal of making some more bucks off the desperate hopes of the audience being entertained.

Synopsis
Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow in an action-packed adventure. Crossing paths with the enigmatic Angelica (Penélope Cruz), he's not sure if it's love-or if she's a ruthless con artist who's using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth. When she forces him aboard the "Queen Anne's Revenge," the ship of the legendary 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.

Flaky and Disheveled Plot
Jack pops up in London to spare his crew mate Gibbs from the gallows.  Jack gets arrested and is ordered to lead a vessel to the Fountain of Youth.  The Spanish have already left for the supernatural wonder and the English want to get their first.  Of course, Jack's nemesis/partner Barbossa has joined the English navy and will be leading the expedition.  Barbossa now sports a peg leg, having lost his limb in the same battle he lost the Black Pearl to the infamous Blackbeard.

Before leaving London Jack learns someone is posing as him and assembling a crew.  Jack investigates and discovers Angelica (Penélope Cruz) a former resident of a convent he had led astray.  Angelica - Angelic - she's a fallen angel - is putting a crew together to hunt for the Fountain of Youth.  Jack is shanghaied and finds himself on the ship captained by Blackbeard (Ian McShane). Blackbeard is searching the Fountain of Youth because one of his zombie crew members has prophesied that he would be killed by a man with one leg - Barbossa.

Tied to the mast of Blackbeard's ship is a handsome clergyman (Sam Claflin).  He doesn't do too much except introduce some theological arguments that are quickly discarded in favor of...well, not much.  The crew eventually runs into some mermaids.  They have to capture one because they need a tear from a mermaid in order to get the fountain to work.  The mermaid they ensnare, Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) falls in love with the clergyman and the two pair up.  No one questions the very real issue of inter-species dating.

As you can tell, the plot is rather flaky and disheveled.

No Structure, No Motivation
Where this film goes wrong is in its lack of structure and character motivation.  If one looks at one of the best screenplays ever written, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (IMO), they will see a strongly structured tale with well-drawn characters all moved by individual goals that conflict.  The curse at the center of the plot is explained in a straight-forward fashion and confirmed by rules that follow simple logic.  In this film logic doesn't play a role.  We are introduced to rules and motivations that make little to no sense and are not even explained.  This can be seen with every single aspect of the Fountain of Youth.

The Fountain of Youth is set up as the central goal of all of the characters early on.  Their specific desires for the Fountain are easily explained, everyone wants to live forever.  The British King demands Sparrow lead an expedition to the Fountain with Barbossa.  He claims the Spanish have already set sail for it and he wants to beat them.  Why?  Because the Spanish are filthy dogs.  That's why.  How did the Spanish come to know the whereabouts of the Fountain?  Not entirely clear.  What do they want with it?  Not explained.

Curses on the Screenplay
In order to get the Fountain to work our heroes, if I can be allowed to call them that, need to get a tear from a mermaid, drop it in one of two special silver cups along with water from the Fountain itself.  One person drinks from the tear-lined cup while another sips from the one with just the water.  This moves the years of life from one person to the next.  Why?  Dunno.  How?  Meh, you ask too many questions.  What does this have to do with mermaids?  Nothing, except we get to include wet, half-naked models in the marketing.  Why those two silver cups?  Because they have specific words etched on them.  Why is this critical?  Couldn't say, it was lost in all the mumbo jumbo dialog.  Say, who made the Fountain?  Who cares, let's watch Johnny Depp do an impression of his previous performances.

The lack of explanation that surrounds the Fountain curses the entire screenplay.  Blackbeard is able to control his boat with his sword, which is apparently magical.  How?  Never explained.  He is able to encase the ships he defeats in bottles.  How?  They forget to mention.  Better yet, why?  Apparently, it’s not important.  This goes on and on in nearly every aspect of the film.  The audience is issued actions, rules and motivations without the courtesy of a logical explanation (internally logical to the storyline).  Things are the way they are because they are the way they are.  This is the exact wrong way to go about telling a memorable story.

Dark, Despicable, Self-Interested
The production itself is literally very dark.  Often the action is muddled by shadows and poor lighting.  There is a scene which takes place outside during the day.  The bright blue sky is striking for a moment because it’s the first time in the first hour where full sunlight is seen.  It is as if someone quickly turned on the lights.

The characters have become more despicable and self-interested.  Rossio and Elliot have removed Will and Elizabeth from the storyline.  The problem is that the couple served as a moral anchor for the films.  They contrasted the chaotic morality of Sparrow.  Their exit means the evil in the hearts of the pirates is the only meaningful morality on screen.  Sure, there is the clergyman, but he is an ineffectual whiner who discards his faith at the precise moment he should be clinging to it.  Ultimately, this is a poorly made movie about bad men fighting and killing to serve their own selfish goals.

Save your money.  The real greedy pirates here are the folks behind the camera.

Rating
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action/adventure violence, some frightening images, sensuality and innuendo.

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