REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Rob Marshall, 2011)

So releasing the heathen god Calypso from her imprisonment in the oddly sultry (save for those teeth) human form of Tia Dalma doesn't appear to have untamed the seas but in fact brought the misfortune of Rob Marshall upon our pirates and their Caribbean (and beyond, from Britain to Florida, as it were). "On Stranger Tides" is the "Mighty Joe Young" to the "King Kong" that was Gore Verbinski's one-two knockout of "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End". What made those predecessors great, in a (pea)nutshell, is that they weren't satisfied to merely deliver a reliable Disney product - they had the ambition, like their free-spirited characters, to go where no blockbuster had gone before and do it better than most could hope to in the future.

Here, the continued adventures of Jack Sparrow in which the now-notorious rascal more or less takes center stage to show us how he attains his self-preceding reputation (though in what becomes a stooge's manner), it is as though returning writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and whoever else were afraid to bust in spin-off mode and have gone for some heartless amalgam of the original's structure and an '80s "B"-fantasy feel with an unwarranted excess of new and painfully rigid supporting characters (meanwhile leaving behind the Greek chorus of Pintel and Ragetti). From the art departments, in comparison the makeup is lacking though I'll concede some fine work was done on Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge.

On top of it all, where a handful of directors have already publicly experimented with the on-set technology to great - or at least interesting - ends, Marshall apparently has no idea how to take advantage of 3D. Not a single composition in "Tides" lends itself to the format and what's more, the heavy use of fog and candlelight washes out much of the basic, action-compromising cinematography's would-be depth.

Whining and moaning aside, once I reached a point in this picture - which relies on foreknowledge of its characters whilst decidedly ignoring all the nuance that makes them endear - when my anticipation no longer felt betrayed, I conceded that more Johnny Depp as Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush as Hector Barbossa (and why not, Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs) isn't exactly a horrible thing, and I walked out rescued from ultimate disappointment's depths with a feeling that while yes, it would seem everyone in the "Pirates" world is still weary from "sailin' to da inds ahf da ert" in their last installment, at least there are a few fairly earned laughs alongside a hope that the inevitable sequel(s) will get back to form. Obvious first step: ditch Marshall on that minuscule isle where Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swan famously set fire to the rum supply and don't look back. Hopeful second step: Give us more of Orlando Bloom's Will Turner as captain of the Flying Dutchman alongside Stellan Skarsgard's Bootstrap Bill! At a loss, hey, we have Verbinski, Depp, Elliot and Rossio's "The Lone Ranger" to look forward to.

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