Critical mass: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' doesn't hold water with reviewers
Disney's trio of "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. So it's a no-brainer that Johnny Depp would strap on Capt. Jack Sparrow's boots one more time for a fourth adventure, the newly released "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
When we were last in these waters, critics threatened to mutiny, giving the franchise's third installment, "At World's End," the worst reviews of the series to date. Now that they've had some time to cool down, are they more welcoming of Depp's return to swashbuckling?
Times' critic Betsy Sharkey remains a fan of Mr. Depp and his oddball take on piracy, but she calls the rest of the movie "still not seaworthy, nor Sparrow worthy for that matter." According to Sharkey, the film's shabbiness is one of its biggest flaws. She writes, "If all that sounds like a promising place to work a lot of 3-D magic, then boy are you in for a major letdown. The Ds in this instance stand for dark and dismal and disastrously claustrophobic."
New York Times critic A.O. Scott sees the film as a big overstuffed mess: "It’s almost as if a 'Harry Potter' movie had dispensed with Harry, Ron and Hermione and devoted itself to documenting a meeting of the Hogwarts faculty." But despite his complaints, Scott seems a bit resigned to his irrelevance in the face of the "Pirates" onslaught: "People will go, and more energy will be expended parsing the box-office returns than discussing the merits of the film, which is likely to be judged entertaining enough and therefore, in the end, not much fun at all."
Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips' review echoed the sentiments of many critics, who saw Oscar-winning director Rob Marshall's crowd-pleasing skills suffer in comparison to those of Gore Verbinski, the director who manned the franchise for its first three outings. Phillips writes, "Say what you will about the combined 127-hour running time of the first three, but Verbinski, particularly on the second picture, managed some creative and engaging set pieces (the giant hamster-wheel bit, for one). Dutifully, by contrast, Marshall must learn on the job, with plenty of tech support but not much on the page."
AV Club's Tasha Robinson gives Depp lots of credit for trying to save this slimmer film, but his efforts just aren't enough. She says, "For the most part, Sparrow (Johnny Depp) swaggers, swans, and swashbuckles through the center of the story, trying to fill all the narrative roles himself, which means he’s by turns cowardly and bold, selfish and self-sacrificing, an egotistical monomaniac and a tenderhearted softie. It’s like watching a one-man show where the roles keep changing."
But some prominent critics actually like the latest Jack Sparrow romp, including the Washington Post's Ann Hornaday. Once upon a time, Ann was a doubter: "A movie based on a theme park ride? How good could it be?" But today, she's a true believer and sees the new installment as worthy of the towering achievements of its predecessors. She says, "The whole of 'On Stranger Tides' could be described as appropriate, clear and neat, as first-time 'Pirates' director Rob Marshall swiftly and without fuss delivers the action set pieces and eye-popping escapism the series has come to stand for."
— Patrick Kevin Day