Here’s the Rotten Tomato count:
Notice any discrepancy?
Fourth time around, Oscar-winning Rob Marshall (Chicago, Nine) mans the poop deck, and I’m afraid that’s precisely what he does on it. The “stranger tides” of the title are nowhere apparent, it being merely the same clotted, nonsensical to-ing and fro-ing as before, with the Fountain of Youth as the centripetal attraction to a cast that includes Penélope Cruz as a feisty old flame of Jack Sparrow’s, and Ian McShane as her fearsome swashbuckler dad, Blackbeard. They are up against a party of British sailors led by Geoffrey Rush, who started out as a ghost pirate but over the series has been cured into an old ham. With Orlando Bloom gone, Sam Claflin supplies the pretty-boy garnish as a virtuous missionary whose romance with a mermaid is, in every sense, wet.
Kevin Maher for The Times [**] was barely tolerant:
It was perhaps inevitable that Johnny Depp would wear out his welcome. And certainly, the sight of the 46-year-old actor galumphing yet again into frame in kohl eyes and red bandana and essentially announcing, “Hello boys and girls, my name is Captain Jack, and I’m a little bit crrrazy!” is not quite the same when he’s been doing it for eight years, and over the course of four increasingly shambolic movies.
Thus, in Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides he is back, and slowly morphing into a thrift store Widow Twankey as he attempts to discover the Fountain of Youth while dodging an equally colourful bunch of screen-chewers, including Geoffrey Rush as the snarling Barbossa, Penélope Cruz as the cross-dressing Angelica, and Ian McShane as the bug-eyed Blackbeard.
Crucially, though, and this is why film with a capital F is forever fascinating, the movie itself is also clearly bored by Depp. No, really. Every time he’s on screen, whether he’s double-crossing Cruz’s strangely sexless pirate-ess in a London tavern or haggling with Rush’s Barbossa over some sacred chalices, the entire project sags into ho-hum tedium.
Maher, though, has a soft spot for the missionary-mermaid “sub-plot” (a term which suggests some artistic depth in itself).
Tim Robey, in the Telegraph [**] reports that his eyelids drooped for long stretches in the middle, and even vampiric mermaids and a buff missionary were struggling to prise them open. His main criticism is the 3D nonsense that’s all the rage. Even so, he spots an intriguing and imaginative analogue:
Depp still has that lovely, floppy-limbed, seasick uncertainty of his, and there are a few frisky bits of business — swinging from a chandelier in a Georgian palace, scaling a palm tree despite being tied to it — that are worth the character’s while. Still, the movie never tops an early moment when he dives into a passing carriage in London, only to land in the lap of an astonished Judi Dench.
Sadly for those who’d pay handsomely to see a Depp-Dench spin onThe African Queen, it’s only a cameo. Instead of the screwball sparring we want between Jack and Penélope Cruz, playing a feisty old flame installed as first mate for her father Blackbeard (Ian McShane), we get history lessons about their past, ad nauseam. Maybe the romance and comic chemistry were ablaze in those early days, but it feels like you probably had to be there.
Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian [***] is closest to the popular zeitgeist:
… our Jack is discovered evading the hangman’s noose in Ye Olde London by various confusing and nefarious impostures, and then having one of his many uproarious chase scenes through the CGI landscape. He finds himself confronting an old rival, or possibly an old flame: fiery buccaneer Angelica, played by Penélope Cruz, who has been trying to pressgang a crew of ne’er-do-wells among the city taverns to set sail with the terrifying Blackbeard – who she claims is her father.
He is played by rumbling-voiced Ian McShane, whose face here attains the texture and consistency of a leathery old boot heel. Their mission is to find the waters of the legendary fountain of youth, an Indiana-Jonesish objective shared by a couple of other maritime powers. One is the King of Spain, who is enraged at the thought of the English getting it; another is the King of England (Richard Griffiths) who is enraged at the thought of a Catholic getting it. So our own stately George II engages a notorious rival pirate, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to head up the official Team GB effort. A deadly contest ensues.
Once again, Keith Richards gets his cameo as Sparrow’s dad, Captain Teague, and he gets one very nice line. Asked if he knows where the magic elixir is, Teague points to his ravaged face and snarls: “Does this look like the face of a man in possession of the spirit of eternal youth?”
Some might find their enthusiasm for the Pirates films sinking. I have to say that mine is still there, just about. Depp’s Sparrow is a genuinely funny character and Depp still puts the ho-ho into yo-ho-ho.
For Malcolm, Bradshaw comes closest.
It must be hell trapped in the closet darkness of a cinema for hours a week, just to turn an honest crust — the nearest Malcolm, a paying customer, came to that was when he should have been preparing for his TCD finals. He’s been addicted to the stuff ever since.
What these newsprint guys are failing to see is the need for a loud, brassy picaresque movie — the kind of thing John Osborne and Tony Richardson gave us half-a-century gone, in Tom Jones. And didn’t the critics love that one. What’s more, they can slap a 12A rating on Jack Sparrow (Tom got “unrated” in the States) and flog him to the teenies.
So Malcolm remains a fan. Nobody with half a brain cell takes this stuff seriously, and to do so is breaking a butterfly on a wheel. So long as we get our fair ration of thrills, spills and laughs, let’s go for it, and go home happy.
Art-house this is not.