Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
By John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service
The fourth movie in the series inspired by the Disneyland attraction,
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (Disney), spins a yarn
that leads to the Fountain of Youth. No wonder it makes the popular
franchise feel long in the tooth. While not a bust or a bore, "On
Stranger Tides" would benefit from more vim and vigor.
After 2007's convoluted, never-ending installment "At World's End,"
producer Jerry Bruckheimer hired director Rob Marshall to do just that. In exchange for a
leaner, more compact entertainment, this picture lacks awe-inspiring
visuals and a grand scale.
"On Stranger Tides" amounts to miniaturized hooey—the cinematic
equivalent of a ship in a bottle. There's not much memorable
swashbuckling and the humor isn't particularly jolly. Johnny Depp
doesn't appear enthused about reprising the role of foppish Captain Jack
Sparrow, despite being given a worthy new love interest played by
Much of the enervating aura can be attributed to the fact that few
scenes take place on the open ocean. Marshall heightens the sense of
claustrophobia by favoring medium shots and close-ups, adopting the
perspective of a spectator in the front row of the orchestra section
rather than that of a viewer in the back of the auditorium positioned to
take in the full breadth of the spectacle. On the plus side, the
scenario doesn't attempt to incorporate previous story lines or
introduce a confusing array of new characters.
In mid-1700s London, we learn of Jack's interest in finding the Fountain
of Youth discovered by explorer Ponce de Leon two centuries earlier.
Reluctant to join his rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) on an
expedition backed by England's King George (Richard Griffiths), Sparrow
is conscripted by sword-wielding old flame Angelica (Cruz). Angelica's
father is the malevolent pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), a character
schooled in the dark arts and the only one wearing more eye mascara than
Jack. They set sail aboard his vessel Queen Anne's Revenge, crewed by
Meanwhile, the Spanish crown has dispatched three galleons to the island
where the font of eternal life is supposedly located. The ritual
necessary to unlock its regenerative powers entails obtaining a
mermaid's fresh tear. The movie's centerpiece is an aquatic melee
involving a host of these enticingly beautiful yet predatory creatures.
Philip Swift (Sam Claflin), a missionary clergyman in Blackbeard's
custody, falls in love with one, whom he dubs Syrena (Astrid
Their romance adds a youthful note to "On Stranger Tides," but Swift's
faith also affords screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio the chance
to fortify the plot by contrasting his theistic worldview to one rooted
in magic, including voodoo, and a pagan belief in Fate. There's
considerable banter about the salvation of souls promised by
Christianity and the fountain's superficial kind of redemption. This
includes some mildly provocative comments regarding religion, and
Catholicism in particular. They needn't deter potential viewers,
however, especially since the values of compassion and kindness
championed by faithful agents are appropriately affirmed.
And yet plotwise, the tension between theology and magic does end in a
sort of a stand-off. As regards the handling of almost any substantive
topic in a mainstream summer movie, "On Stranger Tides" hedges its bets,
taking great care not to offend—or to say anything of real
The film contains recurring action-adventure violence and peril,
including nongraphic knife play and swordplay; some lightly suggestive
humor and innuendo; several scary sequences; one rude expression; and
frequent alcohol consumption.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-II—adults and
adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is
PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for
children under 13.
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