I really like the Pirates franchise: it’s got pirates (sometimes undead), swashbuckling, ships ‘o the line, monsters, magic, necromancy and demonology, back-stabbing, swindling and mincing ponces getting out of trouble by the skin of their teeth. It also has Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush playing parts they seem to really love, which is a joy to watch. This one has the addition of Dan McShane from Deadwood as Blackbeard, and a host of evil mermaids. It’s also dialled back on the double-crossing and plot twists from part 3, which is good – colour me old-fashioned, but I like my action movies to be sparing on plot and heavy with good dialogue and action. On Stranger Tides delivers this with its old passion, giving us a healthy run of piratical interchanges, some entertaining fight scenes, some excellent swash-buckling escapes, and the usual sinister context of black magic and evil.
The basic outline of the plot is very simple: the Spanish, the British and Blackbeard the Pirate are all making an attempt to get to the Fountain of Eternal Youth, and Captain Jack Sparrow has been caught up in it all, along with Barbossa. Everyone has their own very distinct agenda and purpose for the fountain, which we aren’t going to discover until the final confrontation; all the way through we’re kept guessing at people’s motivations, without the thankless task of trying to keep track of the threads of all their betrayals and swindles. To get what they want from the Fountain they need to get some components for a ritual, so the middle part of the movie is all about the contest for the parts, a contest that is at times more than a little deadly and at other times surpassing cruel; the last quarter or so is where all the disparate plots come together and we find out what everyone’s really up to. It’s about 2 hours long but with a better pace than parts 2 or 3; you get a few breathers in the middle, which I think helps to contribute to the sense of a less needlessly complex plot.
We don’t learn much more about Sparrow (though we get some tales from his past); we do get to find out a lot more about Barbossa, a character I really like, and we get to see a very nice vision of the Fountain of Youth. We also get a nice helping of new magic, mainly that under Barbossa’s command, and get to enjoy Sparrow in a new setting (London, as far as I could tell). Overall it’s a nice addition to the series, and makes me think there’s life in this old seadog yet. I reckon it’s good for another one or two instalments before it dies in the arse; I recommend checking in on this one because, in my opinion, it’s a slight improvement on the previous two, and it is fun in and of itself.
And I wonder – would it make a fine role-playing setting? I think it would!