After a somewhat lackluster reaction to At World’s End (don’t get me wrong, it made money) the franchise went quiet. And it may be that it could have been just left at being a trilogy.
But Disney wanted to keep it going, and four years gave us On Stranger Tides. This time, they leave aside Will and Elizabeth Turner. Will is apparently off being the new Captain of the Flying Dutchman, content to visiting Elizabeth and their baby once every ten years.
Instead, our focus is now squarely on Jack Sparrow. This time around he discovers that someone is pretending to be him to gather a crew for a new quest.
He discovers it is Angelica, whom he took the virginity of on the night before she took her vows to be a nun. Angelica is also the daughter of the infamous Blackbeard. Their quest is for the Fountain of Youth. Blackbeard and Angelica are not alone in their desire to find the Fountain. King George and the Spaniards are both looking to find it for their own reasons. Everyone is seeking Jack because they believe Sparrow knows where to find it.
In the midst of this race, there are a lot of random crew, along with the regulars, such as Barbossa and Gibbs. We are introduced to Philip, a compassionate young missionary who is under the protection of Angelica. She still holds strong to the idea that God must be respected and is hoping to save her father’s soul.
As they get closer, they must capture a mermaid. The mermaid Syrena is kept in a glass coffin as they make their way to the Fountain. While most of the characters are indifferent to her pain and suffering, Philip is both drawn to her and overwhelmed with compassion. This sets up a nice moment where a mermaid’s tear is needed and Blackbeard finds they cannot extract it through torture. He notes Mermaids are “too cold for that”.
On Stranger Tides was intended to kick off a new trilogy, though it feels like a one-off story. It is pretty clear that this film was based on an outside source (a novel by Tim Powers), fitted into the existing film mythos.
That is not to say that it is totally close-ended. Much like the Curse of the Black Pearl, it simply ends at a point where you do not have a lot of dangling plot points. Well, except for the storyline of Philip and Syrena.
The overall story is pretty weak, the fountain of Youth is not really that interesting of a MacGuffin, and it is a bit unclear of how it works. The film makes mention that you get all a person’s years if you and that person drink from the fountain. Plus, the Spanish explorers have somewhat nebulous goals. I mean, apparently, they are trying to stop anyone from gaining access to its power. But who are they? So, while much of the film feels like a one-shot, there are random mysteries left hanging.
Overall the cast is strong. Ian McShane’s Blackbeard is primarily dependant on his performance. Which is a good one, but the character is pretty undefined. Does he have a mystical power? Unsure really. He collects other pirates ships and keeps them in bottles. Not sure how or why. And what exactly makes him more fearsome than other pirates.
Cruz holds her own with Depp in their playful and innuendo-laden banter.
The visuals are great, and that is pretty much par for the course in the film. There are plenty of great action sequences holding the film together. But ultimately, On Stranger Tides feels like a placeholder as Disney tries to determine what to do with a franchise, rather than a kickoff to an epic new trilogy.