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Massawyrm shrugs off ON STRANGER TIDES

Hola all. Massawyrm here.

Leave it to the PIRATES franchise to plunder the last of its own remaining goodwill. In what will be overblown by many as “a disaster” or “a franchise killing event”, many of the folks behind the successful series have returned to make what amounts to your average, every day, run of the mill sequel. While there are no doubt a number of missteps here, ON STRANGER TIDES never commits the sin of being terrible; it merely, contrary to its own title, sails through all too familiar waters and squeezes out every last bit of personality it can from its characters before running aground on the shores of mediocrity. It is the first of the series that fans can easily skip without feeling like they’ve missed much, if anything, at all.

The series has painted itself into a corner, a fact its creators seem to acknowledge with the choices they’ve made in the film. Having consistently ramped up the levels of fantasy present in each installment, this film feels obligated to maintain its genre bending adventures by throwing in fantastic elements almost wholesale, regardless of what purpose those elements serve. There are zombies just for the sake of having them; a man can command the riggings of a ship to attack its crew; and Jack Sparrow once again has his magic McGuffin compass just to move the story along. Only a few of the elements feel natural at all and serve the story in any real way. And in this way, the series feels like it has actually lost its magic rather than having maintained it.

But the worst offense of the film is its insistence that Jack Sparrow is the protagonist. Jack Sparrow was never meant to be a protagonist. He is Coyote, Puck, Loki; the trickster that causes the leads of the story to go off into wildly different directions than they should, simply for his own amusement or gain. His narrative purpose is to cause adventure, not to go one. What made him so compelling was that he is a self-interested pirate who will screw over anyone to get what he wants, but is occasionally taken by feelings of guilt when he hoses someone truly pure, and then throws out that self-interest to help them out of the jam he’s gotten them into. He is fantastic in that role and Johnny Depp has crafted him into one of the truly great and instantly recognizable characters of our day that will no doubt go down in history as the bar by which other such characters are measured.

But he’s not a hero. Making him the focal point of the story means that we lose everything great about him, leaving only the impersonation and self-interest. He’s boring as the lead and you get the sense that he is acting only in a way that serves the story they were adapting to the screen.

What really drives this home is that the film has the prefect protagonist for a PIRATES film – a missionary, captured by Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and forced along on an adventure of which he wants no part. Sadly, this character is sorely neglected, left like a family dog permanently chained up in the backyard. Characters only speak to him when they have to and by the end, you could have cut him from the film completely and only have one narrative problem to solve. But he’s genuinely interesting. I would have loved to see the story of a holy man dragged ashore by pirates and exposed to faith questioning monsters and pagan rituals. What would a story about *that guy* be like when he ends up standing next to the legendary scourge of the seas Jack Sparrow? That would have been a movie worth seeing.

But this isn’t. It’s just there, feeling very much like the fifth or sixth book in a fantasy series only still kept alive by the author’s need to put food on the table when his other books don’t sell very well. If you are a diehard PIRATES fan, then you will see Jack Sparrow being Jack Sparrow, a number of your favorite side characters will make an appearance, and all the iconography you expect from the franchise will show up. There are some halfway decent action set pieces and a number of funny gags and one-liners. It is, for all intents and purposes, adequate popcorn fair. But nothing here will raise your pulse or make you hungry for a fifth installment. It simply exists and throws in enough interesting elements to keep your attention while you watch it.

I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the hatred this is getting vomited on it – it never commits any cardinal sins or loses the audience with truly terrible choices. It’s not bad; it’s just the exact kind of fire and forget movie making we are used to spilling out on screens over the course of any given summer. And it’s worth skipping unless you’re just looking for something to pass the time on a Saturday afternoon.

But if you see it, see it in 2D. The 3D only exists to fleece you of a few dollars more and stick swords out over the heads of the audience once every 20 minutes. It’s not the worst I’ve seen, but it certainly is fairly worthless.

Until next time friends,


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Readers Talkback
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  • May 20, 2011, 4:30 a.m. CST


    by george

    I'll bet the choreography is wonderful though. Rob Marshall ftw!

  • May 20, 2011, 4:30 a.m. CST

    oh yeah

    by george


  • May 20, 2011, 4:34 a.m. CST


    by TheIceJ

    This franchise has long out-stayed it's welcome. And all because of one well played character. And no, I'm not talking about the parrot.

  • May 20, 2011, 4:34 a.m. CST


    by Righteous Brother

    they had a good opportunity to get the franchise back on track, but they blow it. It will still make a mint at the box office though.

  • May 20, 2011, 4:35 a.m. CST

    Wasted my hard earned on this shit sandwich yesterday -

    by john

    when I shuda went to see Thor again!

  • May 20, 2011, 4:38 a.m. CST

    Spot-on review.

    by You Have MY Voice

    It's not bad, it's just lazy. It's meh. You watch it, you're entertained while you watch it (how much depends on how much you paid for your ticket, I suppose), and you forget it as soon as it's over. And you're absolutely right about Jack Sparrow not being a protagonist, as well. I understand the need to have a bland hero, so as not to overshadow Depp (see Bloom, Orlando), but having Jack as the hero neuters the character and thus the film. And it doesn't help when Depp looks bored, either.

  • May 20, 2011, 4:39 a.m. CST

    I guess I should clarify: The FILM is lazy, not the review.

    by You Have MY Voice

    Sorry if I possibly riled anyone there.

  • May 20, 2011, 4:43 a.m. CST


    by Massawyrm 1

    I don't think you need a bland hero at all. It would be a herculean effort to overshadow Depp. You just need one forced to make tough choices, someone the audience could root for. The Missionary was PERFECT for that. His arc, properly expanded, would have made for some compelling storytelling.

  • May 20, 2011, 5:16 a.m. CST

    I've tried

    by jasper Stillwell

    But I've never been able to connect with this franchaise at all, although I do loves me some pirates. That's my problem I suspect. To me Depp's constantly giving this ironic quotation of a 'good performance'. The camera loves him, he's easy on the eye and by all accounts he's a pretty decent guy but what he gives here is a series of tics and mannerisms that show me he's 'acting'. Get Depp back with the likes of Jarmusch, keep him the fuck away from Burton for a while (who just seems to encourage these sorts of 'comedy turns' from him) and give us a pirate film with some soul.

  • May 20, 2011, 5:43 a.m. CST


    by bellscorners

    Think I will avoid this one. I prefer my pirates in space anyway.

  • May 20, 2011, 5:44 a.m. CST

    Well, that takes care of the objective review.

    by the dolphins are in the jacuzzi

    Now, all that's left is for Mr. Knowles to give his inevitable "Harry Says, 'Aye! Aye!' to On Stranger Tides!" review, and we can put the last nail in the coffin of this turkey.

  • May 20, 2011, 6:07 a.m. CST

    Bloom's performance in the first film

    by Spandau Belly

    I actually thought he was pretty funny. His humour came more from his stiffness and sensitivity. He was a solid straightman in my opinion. A good straightman can get laughs by their reactions to the obnoxious buddy character and also make the obnoxious buddy character funnier by contrast. So I would say he did his job.

  • May 20, 2011, 6:08 a.m. CST

    I think the negative reviews are franchise backlash

    by Spandau Belly

    All the guys who gave the second two films a pass are trying to compensate by being extra harsh on this one.

  • May 20, 2011, 7:19 a.m. CST

    Makes you appreciate how crazyly ambitious the last two were.

    by knowthyself


  • May 20, 2011, 7:52 a.m. CST

    All the bad reviews really make me want to see this!

    by Stereotypical Evil Archer

    Its not like anyone has complained about a Jar Jar or dumb black street transformers being in this film. Could be mindless spectacle with monsters, action, and music by Hans Zimmer and Rodrigo y Gabriela. I love Rodrigo y Gabriela, they do some killer Metallica covers with those finger picked acoustic guitars. That's it, I'm leaving work early and hitting a $5 matinee.

  • May 20, 2011, 8:37 a.m. CST

    The Pirates series reminds me of the Matrix

    by Epsilon

    First film was great, second film had its ups and downs but by the end you were into it and looking forward to seeing how things were going to turn out, and the third just left you going WTF was that? Probably gonna skip this one unless I get extremely bored one day.

  • May 20, 2011, 8:39 a.m. CST

    "But it certainly is fairly useless"

    by Chadley BeBay

    Do you read your own writing? Do you talk like this is real life? Quit affecting elements of what you consider essential to movie reviews and learn to create a sensible statement. Assclown

  • May 20, 2011, 8:45 a.m. CST

    Rodrigo y Gabriela

    by mexxican

    I love RodGab, but I couldn't figure out why they were included in the soundtrack. There's maybe one scene I think that made me rememer that they were on the soundtrack. Everything else was that same theme Hans Zimmer recycled from Gladiator, and lots and lots of explosions (none from cannon fire though) Oh, and the whole Fountain of Youth storyline plays like Indy and the Holy Grail, with Spain being Nazis, Penelope the mysterious love interest, special maps, etc. All in all, it's pretty underwhelming and it makes me appreciate the Masters of the Universe rip-off that is Thor a little more.

  • May 20, 2011, 9:13 a.m. CST

    141 minutes???

    by MrFusion

    Holy shit, I was planning to see this tomorrow because it looked like some mindless fun, but nearly 2.5 hours of this shit? Trimmed to 100 minutes I bet this would have been much more tolerable, count me out.

  • May 20, 2011, 9:17 a.m. CST

    Next up on the chopping Block: Hangover the sequel to the first.

    by knowthyself

    Anyone NOT expect that one to also suffer the sequel curse? It looks like it makes every mistake they make when creating a sequel.

  • May 20, 2011, 9:29 a.m. CST

    I'll say it proudly: I liked it.

    by SagaciousPenguin

    I'm with you on a lot of your points, Massa -- particularly in that I can't fathom why so many critics have reacted with so much sheer spite toward it. Like they have their own vengeance to get after not liking the third while it made gazillions. Or maybe 4th movies in franchises just piss them off regardless. Either way, it's nothing earthshattering, but I found it was a good deal of fun and the folks in the theatre I was in seemed to agree. This is the first Pirates film since the first that has a crowd-pleasing ending, and the crowd seemed to appreciate that. <p> It has flaws, but I dub them all flesh-wounds. It's held afloat by fun characters and situations. Could have been better, but after the nobly over-reaching failures of 2 and 3, it's nice to see them play it a bit safer and come out okay. Here's hoping if they make a 5, they'll be able to be a bit more daring but not loose sight of what sort of films they're making (like 2 and 3 that seemed to think they ought to be Lord of the Rings).

  • May 20, 2011, 9:33 a.m. CST


    by Mo_Rephus

    "this film feels obligated to maintain its genre bending adventures by throwing in fantastic elements almost wholesale" "Only a few of the elements feel natural at all" Yes, because as everyone knows, Pirates of the Caribbean, even the ride, has always been about realism. That's why the entire crew of the Black Pearl appeared to be immortal undead in the moon light in the first film. That happens when you steal cursed gold, you know. And of course, real pirates really did sit around drinking rum while sitting on a barrel and singing "Yo, ho, yo, ho, a pirate's life for me".

  • May 20, 2011, 11:05 a.m. CST

    Great review Massawyrm! I'm now more excited to see this film!

    by Orionsangels

  • May 20, 2011, 11:31 a.m. CST

    Any more nails in this coffin...

    by D o o d

    it will turn into a tool shed!

  • May 20, 2011, 12:12 p.m. CST

    I knew this movie wasn't gonna work

    by seasider

    as soon as I heard that they were making Jack Sparrow the protagonist. I mean I get that he was everyone's favorite character in Pirates movies but he only worked when he was put together with a main character who was in stark contrast to who he was. What we're left with in Stranger Tides is a Jack Sparrow with nobody to play off of. They try to get Penelope Cruz to be that character but it doesn't work as well.

  • May 20, 2011, 12:27 p.m. CST

    All other reviews for this film on this site consist of

    by sweeneydave

    lots and lots of colorful adjectives describing their loathing for this movie. I've found myself trying to pick through the rants of reviewers to try to find and actual review. Massa, you hit the nail on the head with this one and I thank you for it. Sparrow's character is truely meant to be a Puck character. He doesn't show up for quite a while in the first and third ones. Jack Sparrow IS the sea. We need stories about what happens to people on the sea, rather than just stories about the sea. The trilogy that came before almost seems like it's the epic tale of how the son of the grim reaper of the ocean was born. We see the boy at the end and I feel like he is going to grow up to be someone epic and important. And now there's this whole legend of how his parents were supernaturally swept together by the greek-god-like characters of the ocean - just so that he could be born. I wouldn't be suprised if there was a prophecy in some ancient annals somewhere about this boys future existence. This series needs to be about mortals colliding with immortals at the edge of an age before the immortals fade into obscurity. Yes, I have a passion for these films. And if this one sucks, like everybody says, maybe I'll just have to stay home and watch the trilogy again.

  • May 20, 2011, 12:38 p.m. CST

    I forget, did anyone at AICN like 2&3?

    by Billyeveryteen

    Everyone of these asshats gleefully claim to not like the Pirates sequels, and then... Surprise, don't like this next one. Do any fans of the first 3 like this?

  • May 20, 2011, 1:52 p.m. CST

    Jack is the focal point now because

    by Kremzeek

    that's exactly what everyone wanted (in the studio's eyes). There were tons and tons of complaints that Jack wasn't given enough importance in parts 2 or 3 - or did we all forget that? So, they're trying to make up for that, but, as Massa said - somewhere along the line, they lost sight of what the Jack Sparrow character really is/was and how he works best in the story. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it seems to me they've just swung the pendulum too far the other way. So, now, we're given too much Jack. Maybe the filmmakers should watch the original film over again and study it instead of listening to fairweather moviegoers. I'm still looking forward to seeing it, and I hope it's better than most people are saying.

  • May 20, 2011, 2:45 p.m. CST


    by the dolphins are in the jacuzzi

    I'm sure Harry did.

  • Having expectations sufficiently lowered, whenever I get around to seeing it I might be pleasantly surprised. Like with PRINCE OF PERSIA and CLASH OF THE TITANS (and neither were really panned, more like split). Probably not worth theatre money, though. And probably certainly not 3D theatre money. Great review, as always, massa.

  • May 20, 2011, 5:15 p.m. CST

    My first AICN comment!

    by Cameron Harrison

    I will disagree on one point. It does leave me wanting a 5th....if, and only if, because I know that there is a truly great Pirates movie out there..and it just hasn't been made yet. Though it probably never will unless Bruckheimer passes it off to someone else who doesn't need to see something explode every 10 minutes.

  • May 20, 2011, 10:44 p.m. CST

    What I wouldn't give for an Alexandra Dupont review of this

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • May 21, 2011, 12:40 a.m. CST

    Needs more Davy Jones

    by D.Vader

    And Barbossa with two legs. And a monkey.

  • Its about time you guys pointed out that a lot of critics just like to bitch.

  • May 21, 2011, 1:16 a.m. CST

    What's really sad is the 3D looked GREAT in the trailers

    by D.Vader

    I guess that was all the good stuff, eh Merrick?

  • May 21, 2011, 1:56 a.m. CST

    I loved it too.

    by DarthMusashi2112

    That is all.

  • May 23, 2011, 11:25 a.m. CST

    IT was not as bad as reviews stated

    by majortom25

    This was not as bad as reviews stated. It was to me a little better then your normal summer blockbuster movie. I also feel most reviewers did not look deeply into the story line. These reviewers should really see the movie a second time. PS I did like it.

  • May 24, 2011, 7:04 p.m. CST

    Tim Powers's novel On Stranger Tides was awesome...

    by Hat Man

    ... and when I heard about the original POC movie and that there were zombies in it, I instantly thought that they had adapted this novel. Never having been to Disneyland, you see.