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Critical mass: 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides' doesn't hold water with reviewers

May 20, 2011 |  4:18 pm


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."


'Pirates': ILM delivers mermaids who are both beauty and beast

'Pirates': No cannonballs fly this time -- but is the story seaworthy?

Photos: Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz bring 'Pirates' to Cannes

— Patrick Kevin Day

Comments () | Archives (42)

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What's with all the critic hate? They're just doing what their paid for, and they can be very helpful, especially with all the poor pictures that the mainstream film industry pumps out these days. I am perfectly capable of enjoying an escapist picture as long as it has more going for it then the latest CGI technology, especially all the money going into them.

I haven't seen the movie yet. With all the poor reviews, less then promising trailer, and the presence of Penelope cruz, I think I'll wait until it's on movie central, or at least out for rent.

Saw Pirates 4 tonight, fantastic. I have learned NOT to listen to critics. What they consider good is some dreary highbrow thing with a moral. Hate that. I go to the movies to be entertained, I was very much entertained! Lots of action and mysterious dark places. Johnny Depp is alway 100% in what her brings to the screen, and he seems to really enjoy what he is doing -sort of tongue in cheek. Didn't stay for all the credits as they were chasing us out for the next group to come in. So don't know if anything was shown after the credits. Like what happed to the hot sexy minister and the beautiful mermaid. Absolutely adored the mermaids! BTW-I never see the 3 D versions-there is enough action I don't need that "in your face" experience. Thumbs up for this one!

This is a deeply frustrating movie. It could have been so good with zombies, vampiric mermaids and a magician as pirate captain who can capture ships in a bottle and incinerate enemies with a blast from his ship's bow. Instead, we get the tamest possible treatment, presumably intending to keep the film suitable for those under the age of 10 year. McShane must be the least threatening pirate captain since Captain Pugwash, a British TV program for children or Errol Flynn swashed his buckles as Captain Blood. Penelope Cruz demonstrates you cannot banter when your English is carved out of wood, while the rest of the cast were obviously only in it for the money. Why can Hollywood not make good independent movies, but must force every good idea to conform to a franchise template?

Critics are exactly what their name says they are, Critics! They could take an awesome film and make it sound like the worst film ever made, all to get paid. Pirates of the Caribbean isn't about analysing every single detail, the whole point of these movies is to just sit back, enjoy, and let your imagination run wild. Loved "On Stranger Tides", it is the best one out of all 4 in my opinion :D

The film is two dark, much more in land than in the sea and 3d did not work, but who cares, we all go and watch it for only one purpose, Captain Jack Sparrow savvy?
One thing was disappointing although, Jack Sparrow was not wobbly anymore, he was normal, nevertheless it was great to see him again.
Welcome back Captain Jack Sparrow, come as you are, you are the best!!!!

I thought On Stranger Tides was great, fresh new faces, new story...what more could you ask for? I thought Depp, Rush and Cruz were all great! Don't listen to the critics, they forgot that Disney is making movies for US (the viewers) NOOOT for the snobby critics. I thought it was fun and action packed, i LOVED the Mermaids and I am looking forward to the 5th installment.

oh come on. a movie like 'On Stranger Tides' doesn't even have that kind of ambition to even be a disappointment on any level.
film critics today want to validate their cushy jobs and don't tell you that most of the best ideas have already been explored, thus so many sequels and remakes.
most mainstream commercial films are just that. having high expectations beyond that is, well, high.
people need to relax about this kind of thing and not be too critical or over-demanding. concerning this kind of filmmaking, that approach borders on delusion.

First review that I actually agree with. Firstly, more exposition needed with regards to Blackbeard, his use of the vodun, and how that applies to the zombies. Secondly, gratuitous side-plot romance is gratuitous.

Apart from both those things, this movie was definitely better than par for the course. It truly does not deserve the hatred and vitriol that so many are slinging at it.

well well well..despite extremely negative reviews, absence of orlando and keira ..it still managed very good collections and a decent 90.2 million dollars in U.S..although 3d prices helped itz cause one cant deny johnnydepp’s box office pull..this shows there’s no pirates without jacksparrow..:)

Will these movie makers ever learn to edit their stories? This movie had a great concept, riveting characters, cool costumes, and so much more. Then it got stretched and distorted into over two hours of film. PLEASE convince someone in the industry that less is often more, particularly when you're telling a multi-part story.

i went and saw pirates 4 and it was even better that 2 & 3 and will go and see it again 20 of us went and not one bad comment was heard everyone enjoyed it...

We have to squeeze every drop out of this industry. As a big Disney fan, and a huge fan of POTC (was a big fan of the ride before the movies were ever thought of) this is quite disappointing for me, I thought the Disney corporation had more class than that. Apparently they couldn't help themselves this time. Anyhew, I donned my pirate gear and went to this latest movie with moderate expectations because of the afore-mentioned disappointments, as well as disappointment about the lack of the Will and Elizabeth characters, who I thought to be just as essential as Jack Sparrow. I watched the movie, and after it was done had no idea what I had just seen. It was odd, because I could tell parts of it were good, with still wonderful acting by Johnny Depp, but it made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Characters were involved that were never introduced, and we never even knew the names of. The magical powers of pirates were not explained in the slightest, the relationships between characters seemed to totally contradict themselves, and the most random events kept occurring, never to be seen again.
I truly wish this movie had been up to my standards, which honestly were not high, but they just didn't make it. I can't enjoy a movie that is totally nonsensical to the point that I think it was Jack Sparrow himself, high on something, who wrote it. I think it must be just bad writing, the other aspects were decent, even great. This movie was a major disappointment to me, and I am not a movie critic of any kind. I will be going on from here, pretending I never saw it, trying to forget it like the embarrassing incident that it was.

Critics are entitled to their opinion, like everyone else. Question is, are the issues some are complaining about re OST severe enough to make for a bad movie, or even legitimate? In my opinion re OST, the answer is a resounding NO. For one thing (having seen this more than once, and it's better the second time), Depp and Rush are a joy to watch. For another, there is a lively, well-choreographed set of action sequences. For another, it's a neatly threaded narrative. And for another, Marshall managed to pull off a film where the Jack/Will/Liz thing gets some distance, finally. Suspect some of this negativity is an adjustment period, and some of it is just that it is fashionable to bemoan sequels - but you know what? Sparrow, Rush, Gibbs, and the POTC world are really enjoyable, bring on POTC 5 and 6, and I'll be seeing OST again, thanks. Once again, it's like many of the critics aren't seeing the same movie the audience is - and these are the same critics that worshiped Indy 4 with it's terrible CGI and plastic skulls.

saw the movie yesterday= it sucked to no end. none of the humor or inventive action that typified the series, and plenty boring. where are the people under 45 yrs old in this flick. POTC has jumped the shARK W/ THIS ONE.

It's a good Job I don't listen to critics or I would have missed out on a fantastic movie. Pirates was fun and entertaining and a good way to forget about all the crap that's going on in the world today. I for one would recommend people go see it and make up their own minds.

I loved, loved, loved this movie!!! Saw it in 3D it was awesome!! If you can't make up your own mind and see things for yourself I feel sorry for you because you are a big follower and need someone to tell you what to think. Critics are just a bunch of talentless morons who couldn't make a movie if their life depended on it. They really have no credibility other than they have their opinions publicized. Make up your own minds!!! You will miss out on a great movie otherwise!!

Eh critics hate on everything. The movie was terrific! Jack Sparrow was as fun as ever and the new characters were fresh and great! The mermaids were absolutely amazing as well. If you're a fan of this franchise, then ignore the critics and watch the movie! It's a really fun and entertaining movie to watch!

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