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Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)
Director: Rob Marshall

review by Jim Steel

The fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean film sees Rob Marshall at the helm, and it is an improvement over Dead Man's Chest and At the World's End (which were really just the one overlong film split into two overlong films). The best and wittiest parts of those films had been cannibalised from the first and finest of the series, The Curse Of The Black Pearl, and it seemed as if the producers had been frozen with fear by the runaway success of the original film. On Stranger Tides, based on Tim Powers' 1988 novel of the same name, manages to bring fresh novelties to the screen and has probably done enough to save the franchise.

Out go Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters after having been painted into a corner by the end of the previous film. Out, too, go many of the supporting characters, and even the Black Pearl is reduced to a cameo here. In fact, aside from Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, and Geoffrey Rush's Hector Barbossa, the only survivor from the first film is Kevin McNally's Joshamee Gibbs. Gibbs is in London at the start of this episode, on trial under the mistaken assumption that he is Jack Sparrow. Sparrow jumps in to rescue him and the pair attempt to escape across London. Georgian London looks perfect, mostly because many of the original buildings are still around to help out in the filming, and the grey weather adds to the authenticity, making for a pleasing contrast to the almost-universal sunshine of the Caribbean scenes.

Gibbs and Sparrow screw it up, of course, and are captured and hauled before King George II (a delicious Richard Griffith in a strangely empty building. A palace..? A ministry..? Where's the clutter?). It turns out that the Spanish have discovered the location of the Fountain of Youth (in Florida, ironically enough) and the British want to get there first. Barbossa, looking wonderfully debauched in powder and uniform, is onboard as a privateer, but Jack doesn't fancy it. He escapes again. There's another great little cameo for Keith Richards as his dad but the remainder of the London adventure is taken up by Pen´┐Żlope Cruz as his old flame, Angelica.

It turns out that she is the real false Captain Jack Sparrow (keep up!) who has been going around London recruiting a crew. When we first meet her, she is dressed up as him and is so convincing that at times it is difficult to work out who is who during their typically swash-buckling introductory sword-fight. It's doubly impressive when we consider that Cruz was pregnant during filming which leads to a great in-joke later in the film when her character lies to Jack, telling him that he can't leave her because she is, yes, pregnant.

They finally leave London by the skin of Jack's teeth only for him to find that he is now on Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, which looks as if it uses the same cleaning company who had the contract for the Black Pearl. Ian McShane inhabits Blackbeard perfectly, presenting him as a truly evil being who controls his ship through fear. He also has the supernatural ability to control rope, bizarrely enough, and is Angelica's father. Blackbeard is looking for the Fountain to circumvent a prophecy that foretells he will die at the hands of a one-legged man. Barbossa, incidentally, has managed to lose a leg between At The World's End and On Stranger Tides. Coincidence..? Probably not...

The three-way race for the Fountain is now underway across sea and jungle. The gamers (sorry; the adventurers) have to collect several items on the way such as the map, a mermaid's tear, and two magical chalices. There is much interaction and swapping of items between the three groups. The mermaids are particularly effective and have teeth but be warned: there is a preacher played by Sam Claflin who makes Orlando Bloom's Will Turner look like Oliver Reed.

The version I watched was the 2D one and seemed none the worse for that, although the 3D edition is there for those who would prefer it. This film is well over two hours long, though, and at times seemed as if it were never going to end; a state of affairs not helped by making the opening London section the most enjoyable. But, flaws aside, the triumvirate of Depp, Rush, and McShane are enough to ensure that you'll want to finish the voyage.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

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