Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Familiar Tides

The latest installment of the greatest movie series ever to be based on an amusement park ride has recently launched to tepid-to-negative reviews.

It’s like these people haven’t seen any of the earlier Pirates movies.

I have, fortunately, so when The Flower said she wanted to see it, I was not especially surprised at all by the content found therein. I was largely pleased, in fact, that they’d dialed it back a few notches from the previous two movies excesses.

I love Gore Verbinski’s way of making a lot of movie out of a little material, but he also can make way too much movie, flogging the crap out of the material. Rob Marshall helms this entry, somewhat inexplicably, but he does a good job at keeping the proceedings moving and fairly well grounded

The plot—does it matter?—is a race to the Fountain of Youth. The English (with Geoffrey Rush as a pseudo-reformed Barbossa, having nicely recovered from his death in the first move), the Pirates (with Ian McShane as Blackbeard himself, and Penelope Cruz as his comely daughter) and the Spanish (who act largely as a convenience for plot points and a sort of deus ex machina).

Johnny Depp, of course, is back as the mascara wearing, mincing trickster, Jack Sparrow, along with his First Mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) being the only original cast member I could spot reprising his role from the original trilogy.

You got all the expected stuff: Ships a-sail (though no ship-to-ship combat), sword fights (Sparrow has become a good swordfighter, it seems, inexplicably), swashbuckling, and general shenanigans. These are competently done and fun enough.

Good stuff you might not have expected: Depp and McNally have a sort of buddy movie thing going on. This actually works well. Gibbs is loyal without being naive, and Sparrow seems to earn the loyalty plausibly enough. (A far cry from the original’s refrain of “pirate!” to excuse any and all bad behavior.)

Depp and Cruz have a pleasant sort of chemistry, which I wasn’t really expecting. Cruz is sort of a mystery, part jilted lover, part schemer, part pirate—and I say this as someone who has gone through much of the past years saying “I don’t get it” whenever anyone brought up Ms. Cruz. You never really get a good sense of her real backstory, because she’s so willing to lie to get what she wants, in which wise she makes a perfect companion to the scurrilous Sparrow.

Bad stuff: The main criticism I’ve seen leveled at this is that none of it mattered. That events sort of move one to the next without any real flow. And, honestly? The Flower had insisted on eating at Denny’s for breakfast which is punishing on my digestive tract. The significance of this being I missed about five to ten minutes in the middle of the movie.

And it didn’t really matter.

I don’t know if that’s a bug so much as a feature for a summer flick. I mean, you could miss huge hunks of Star Wars and it wouldn’t really matter, just for example. We don’t go to these things for the tightly constructed plots—and, really, the plot in this is quite good (stolen from an unrelated pirate book, I believe). It just doesn’t matter that much.

These movies are really about big name actors chewing scenery in between special effects. Nothin’ wrong with that. The actors are really good and the effects are better for the restraint lacking in the previous two films.

So, I liked it. Met my expectations, even slightly exceeded them. The Flower liked it, though she wished more of the original cast had been in it. The Boy—who can be quite savage of this sort of thing—was also not displeased. None heaped praise. None heaped scorn.

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