These kinds of reviews are the most difficult to write. When it comes to a great movie, the words flow like a river. Same with really lousy films - it's easy when your dander is up and you want to take it out on the movie a little bit. But movies that just sit there, without any kind of care behind them (at least, that's the perception), a paint-by-numbers film - those aren't easy to write about. If the filmmakers didn't care enough to go beyond the call of duty and make something of quality (or at least competence), why should I care enough to write something about their film?
Beaks, and other reviewers around the Internet, seem righteously angry at PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, and I understand their position. I can even agree with it. But for me, it's somehow worse to see something so devoid of ambition, so workmanlike, and watching it you know this film's an accountant's wet dream and you can see the money rolling in.
I've never been a huge fan of the PIRATES movies. I think the first one's good, and could have been great with some selective editing. The second and third are simply too much. I have no problem with films that have ambition, but it's a nonstop assault in those two films. I don't hate them - I think Davy Jones is a terrifically realized character, at least until the third film - but I feel no real need to revisit them.
At this point Johnny Depp can play Jack Sparrow in his sleep, and maybe that's the problem - in ON STRANGER TIDES he just seems bored. When the actor no longer cares about what they're trying to do in a film, well, I tune out as well, and by the time Sparrow does his escape in the streets of London from the King's chambers that sets the film's plot in motion - what motion there is, anyway - I no longer cared about Sparrow, his former girlfriend Angelica (Penelope Cruz), or the Fountain of Youth.
I could summarize the plot, but really, does it matter? Various parties try to reach the Fountain of Youth, including Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, who at least looks halfway alive, but nowhere near the levels of the previous films), who is now a privateer in the King's navy, Blackbeard (Ian McShane) who is trying to stave off a prophecy that predicts his death, and the Spaniards, who have absolutely no motivation to get there at all. So we get what seems to be the most uninvolved chase in film history - a race to see who gets to the Fountain first, but you know how all these films turn out anyway, so why even invest in caring about the pursuit?
The rules regarding the Fountain are so needlessly convoluted - apparently you can't just drink the water, but you have to collect a tear from a mermaid, and use two magical chalices to gain the life of another. So we have a diversion to capture a mermaid, and... blah. I'm actually getting angrier at the film as I write this. There's more story with a mermaid and a missionary and a "romance" between the two which is about as tepid as it sounds. Again, there's nothing in the story that even comes close to being entertaining because nowhere in pre-production did anyone stop and think if any of these characters or situations were interesting enough to warrant paying attention to.
What can I say about Rob Marshall? Nothing. At least Gore Verbinski, even though I think he brought way too much to the plate (along with screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio), he still had ambition. Here, the script just lays there, flaccid, and Marshall's direction isn't much better. At least in CHICAGO he showed spark - here, there's none. The action scenes are bland and meaningless. Even the climactic battle at the Fountain has no point to it - without spoiling it, it makes no sense as it never even needed to happen. Since one party involved had an item necessary to do the Fountain ritual before losing it, once they gain the item again, they simply destroy it. Why didn't they destroy it when they had it originally if that was their intention in the first place? Ugh, this movie.
If you have to see this film, knock yourself out, but don't bother with the 3D, which is pointless. Other than characters shoving their swords at the screen, there's hardly any depth of field or use of the technology that justifies paying the extra money to see it that way.
It's funny, I started this review just feeling mediocre about the film and here at the end I'm pretty much full-on hating it. Use your own judgment, but as for myself, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES was a waste of my time and a waste of the filmmakers' energy. Avoid.