When it was released in 2003, no one expected a movie based on a Disney theme park ride to be any good, but Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl surprised everyone by becoming a phenomenon that turned Johnny Depp into a mainstream megastar along with Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, and then went on to spawn two so-so sequels.
Four years on from the last salty outing (the confusing and disappointing At World’s End), Depp returns to the high seas for another adventure as Captain Jack Sparrow, jettisoning Bloom and Knightley’s characters in favour of Cruz as a feisty ex-flame/adversary who is integral to his latest swashbuckling adventure.
That adventure is the search for the Fountain Of Youth. It seems everyone is after it, including Captain Barbossa (Rush), Angelica (Cruz) and the legendary pirate Blackbeard (McShane), and after a spectacular carriage chase through the streets of London (featuring a very brief cameo from Judi Dench), pirate Jack is off on the voyage, too.
After such a terrific opening, things slow down a bit (it’s hard to get excited about a quest for something no one really needs) and too many contrivances and characters are introduced to be able to keep up with, as Jack, Angelica and a ship containing Blackbeard, zombie pirates and a missionary (Sam Clafin) head to the fountain.
Apparently they need a few things to perform a ritual giving them eternal life including a mermaid’s tear, but when the crew meet the fishy gals they discover they’re less like Ariel and more like the brides of Dracula – these mermaids drag men to the bottom of the sea to drown, hiss at people and flash their fangs. (Despite this, our sappy missionary hero falls for one of them, providing a bit of weedy romance that makes you yearn for Knightley and Bloom’s more convincing lovers).
Of course, it all looks spectacular, from Blackbeard’s ship to the mermaid attack and the fountain itself, and Depp is, of course, a joy to watch as Sparrow. Unfortunately, because there are so many characters, he just doesn’t get enough screen time, and the frisson of sexual tension between Sparrow and Angelica is never properly explored. All in all, it’s an improvement on Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End in the sense that you’ll actually be able to follow the plot, but at almost two and a half hours in length, it’s also a rather meandering rather than exciting adventure on the ocean blue.
Is Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
Younger children may find the vicious mermaids scary.
If you like this, why not try: Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, Alice In Wonderland 2010, Peter Pan 2003,