Nothing has done as much to revive the popular interest in the Golden Age of Piracy than Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which started in 2003 with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. That’s good for maritime history geeks; at least it got people asking interesting questions when they visit the local maritime museum. The trouble with franchises is that they multiply like a disease, and the latest Johnny Deppisode is threatening to turn this POTC plague into a pandemic.
The newest picture, aptly subtitled “On Stranger Tides,” pits Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) against Blackbeard (Ian McShane) in a four-way race to find the legendary Fountain of Youth. The other two contestants are Sparrow’s sometimes nemesis / sometimes partner Capt. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) as a royal hireling (Wha?) and a good chunk of the Spanish Navy. Confused yet?
Then add two love duets, one between Sparrow and female pirate Angelica (Penélope Cruz) who says she’s Blackbeard’s daughter, and another tête-à-tête between Philip, a young religious sailor (Sam Caflin), and a mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey), whose sisters would just as soon rip your throat out with their vampire teeth (there’s Twilight DNA in these sexy monsters) than take you on a midnight skinny dip. The Jack/Angelica thing works, but the man/mermaid thing seems dropped in to lighten an otherwise very dark mood in this dull picture.
Of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks are never about interesting characters or a logical story. They’re all about an atmosphere fed by 11-year-old male fantasies of endless swordfights, silly accents (I love Rush’s, by the way), and tri-corner hats. If that’s what delights you about the Pirates’ shtick, by all means, see Number Four. But if you want an engaging, logical story with characters you can care about, re-read Treasure Island. At least Robert Louis Stevenson knew when to quit while he was ahead.