As the fourth installment in the series, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” brings adventure back to the big screen. With a smaller budget and cast, its tight-knit story, more subtle humor, and focus on its biggest stars delivers a movie that will entertain and amuse those who have stuck with the “Pirates” series despite a few bumps along the way.
The first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film (“The Curse of the Black Pearl”) was a smash success, with Johnny Depp’s eccentric role as Captain Jack Sparrow leading the way in turning a classic Disney theme park attraction into a worldwide film phenomenon. The two sequels that followed (“Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”) did so in true Hollywood style, with a bigger budget, larger cast, and more special effects, raking in millions more at the box office. But while the profit made was big enough to excite any treasure seeker, it came at a cost. The first “Pirates” film is widely regarded as the best in the series, with the two sequels confusing many audiences with winding stories of pirate lords and voodoo spanning across both films.
But “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” takes the series back to where it began, with a smaller cast leading viewers through a much simpler story. Don’t take “smaller” and “simpler” as negatives. They’re quite the opposite, allowing viewers to sit back and follow along as Captain Jack seeks out the Fountain of Youth.
And “On Stranger Tides” is indeed the story of Captain Jack Sparrow. While the supporting main cast of Hector Barbossa (Geoffery Rush), Angelica (Penelope Cruz), and the infamous Edward “Blackbeard” Teach (Ian McShane) are fantastic, they are indeed supporting the antics of Depp’s Sparrow. Nearly every scene and story branch features Sparrow, either alone or playing alongside others, which is decidedly a good thing, as he’s exactly who audiences flock to “Pirates” films to see. Though admittedly Barbossa is as important to the “Pirates” saga as Sparrow, receiving plenty of screen time following a fun twist to his ongoing story arc, beginning with audiences wondering how he could possibly have wound up serving as captain of a king’s navy, a far stretch from piracy.
Surprisingly, the majority of the pirate crew seen in the previous three films is absent. Only Gibbs, Sparrow’s right-hand man, returns to this film, with the rest of the regulars replaced by Captain Blackbeard’s crew. These new roles support the story but are entirely forgettable. Only one of the new crew characters sticks out, but not always for the right reasons.