30 Movies in 30 Days: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Had I seen it before: No! We have officially reached uncharted waters with the PotC franchise. I always got the impression that On Stranger Tides was where they officially crossed the line from storytelling into money grubbing and thus I lost interest.

What IMDb says: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a movie starring Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, and Ian McShane. Jack Sparrow and Barbossa embark on a quest to find the elusive fountain of youth, only to discover that Blackbeard and his daughter are after it too.

Requirements fulfilled: 

– At least one series of movies (parts 4 of 5 complete)

Why I picked it: I’ve written in my previous PotC blogs that I picked this franchise for my series requirements in part because it had a mix of one movie I absolutely love, some movies I thought were alright but a little confusing, and some movies I’ve never seen before. I was somewhat excited about On Stranger Tides because I really wanted to see where this franchise ended up going after I stopped paying attention and I really wanted it to pleasantly surprise me. (spoiler alert: it didn’t).

What I liked about it: There’s a line where Jack says “I support the missionary’s position.” It was almost worth watching the whole movie for that.

I will also say that I think the idea of looking for the fountain of youth was a good one. It provided a great opportunity to maintain some of the franchise’s fantasy/cheating death elements but in a fresh way. This one also gets credit for establishing somewhat early on exactly what needed to be done in order for our heroes to drink the water from the fountain and live forever.

What I didn’t like about it: It was painfully obvious that unlike the first three movies, this story wasn’t initially written to be part of the PotC universe. Instead, the writers took a novel called On Stranger Tides that was written in 1987 and threw Jack Sparrow into it. It almost felt like fan fiction rather than a natural continuation of the story because for the most part, Jack felt like the only thing that was consistent with the first three movies.

THE biggest mistake they made here was not revealing the motivations of Captain Barbossa earlier on. In the beginning of the movie, Barbossa is a privateer for England, no explanation why. We know that neither him nor Jack has the Black Pearl, no real explanation why. We also have Barbossa on this quest for the fountain of youth which perhaps makes sense if Barbossa was just your run of the mill pirate. However, when you recall the fact that this character was literally immortal in The Curse of the Black Pearl and spent that entire movie trying to become mortal again, it seems a little weird. Would a survivor of that curse REALLY chase after the fountain of youth without the slightest trace of skepticism?

Eventually, Barbossa reveals his true motives in a rather anti-climatic way (I won’t reveal this bit of backstory in the name of not spoiling anything). I shit you not, this moment happens around the 95 minute mark. That means I spent two thirds of this movie wondering why a main character was making any of the choices they made. I don’t think I’m overstating the matter when I say that Barbossa is literally a different character when you don’t know this bit of backstory and I’m not cool with it. It’s why I say Jack Sparrow was the only thing this film had in common with the first three.

This is a classic example of why you’re supposed to “show not tell.” As the brilliant actor he is, when Geoffrey Rush told this story I WANTED to see it. I wanted to see it as one of the first scenes of the movie, if not the very first scene. It would’ve kicked things off with some action and established Barbossa’s motives for the whole movie. It would also mean we could’ve spent the whole movie waiting for that ultimate confrontation that happens towards the end. When we don’t learn the backstory until the beginning of ACT 3, it makes for less tension in these moments.

In my view, the writers blew a major opportunity with how they handled Barbossa and his relationship with Jack. The two have relatively little screen time together which is a shame given how much chemistry they had in At World’s EndEven without Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, I think the rivalry between these two pirates could’ve powered a couple more movies if developed properly.

One of the things I admired about At World’s End is that it really took advantage of all the information we learned in the first two movies. It took the world and the characters that already existed and enriched them, pulling off amazing character arcs that a standalone movie couldn’t. That is how franchises are supposed to work. Without Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann returning, the ONLY shot Part 4 had to really do this well was with Barbossa and Jack. And they blew it.

Also, if they’re not going to actually write any kind of interesting relationship between Jack and his father, they need to stop putting his father in the movies. Keith Richards has enough money I think.

Will I watch it again: I don’t want to. You can’t make me.

 

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