movie review—Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Remember how fresh and novel Pirates of the Caribbean seemed in 2003? Remember the fun of seeing Johnny Depp’s off-the-wall portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow for the first time? It may be hard to think back that far, because the lumbering, pointless sequels have buried every trace of spontaneity and given us “more of the same” in heavy doses.

That hasn’t stopped audiences around the world from turning the series into a money machine, but for me, that’s what it remains: a machine, or rather, a piece of product. The original film, while distended, at least had a story to tell. The highest compliment I can pay the new, fourth installment is that it isn’t—

—as long or as dreary as the third.

Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have again contrived a convoluted screenplay that attempts to string a handful of big-scale action sequences together. There is no point trying to make sense of it, from the opening scene onward, but there is a lot of tumult. Depp plays his role as an old-fashioned comedy drunk—a once-common archetype we haven’t seen in decades. Penélope Cruz has a thankless part as a woman who supposedly has some past history with Jack Sparrow, which is mighty hard to swallow. Another newbie, Ian McShane, snarls and growls as the pirate Blackbeard, but I can’t tell you anything else about his character.

It pains me to see talented actors like these wasting their time on such drivel. Director Rob Marshall does his best to keep things lively, and, to his credit, has fun staging some in-your-face 3-D shots. But that’s a small reward for an investment of two hours and 17 minutes.

For me, the new Pirates is a film to be endured, not enjoyed. If that puts me in the minority of moviegoers, so be it. I’d rather walk the plank than have to sit through another of these waterlogged concoctions…but I suppose it’s inevitable, since the Jerry Bruckheimer juggernaut makes so much money. In Hollywood these days, that seems to be all that matters.


  1. Rachel says:

    It's almost like Depp forgot how to potray Jack Sparrow. I feel like he lost a bit of his insanity and it ruined the movie for me. He seemed too moral and less pirate-y. If they were going to make a 4th then they should have done it right!

  2. Doc says:

    I haven’t even seen number 4 yet, and I agree with your review.

    The original was good, right up until they started showing the “muppet skeletons” on the boat. Then it sort of fell apart into a children’s fairy tale of special effects and nonsense.

    What made the original movie good was when it seemed real. Jack Sparrow stealing the Interceptor, the Dauntliss giving fast pursuit. The British Navy and their war against the Pirates. But all the magic, hocus pocus nonsense just turned it into a kids movie at the end, although a pretty good one.

    But then came number 2, and with it all the kids nonsense and special effects cgi world that entertains the mindless juveniles with money who pay to see it, without any of the that early “realistic” feel and historical ambiance.

    And number 3, more of the same. Just bigger, louder, more special effects and more nonsense. So I won’t even bother with number 4, because I know what its going to be. 3 D? Who cares? Special effects? yawn.

    When Hollywood decides to make movies again, someone wake me. Until then these cgi cartoons they’re making to entertain the easily entertained masses are a waste of time, money and brain cells.

    It would be cheaper and just as effective if they’d just jingle some key’s in front of the camera for 2 hours. Because most people today wouldn’t know the difference.

  3. Kevin Crocker says:

    Geez… Lighten up man. I think there should be a law that says when you reach a certain age, you shouldn’t review movies anymore. I know I will be an old jaded bastard too!

  4. Sarah .M. says:

    I agree with this review, save for one thing. The third fil wasn’t dreary! AWE was AWEsome!

  5. E. Hobbs says:

    I enjoy revisiting old friends in the movie.
    “Someone make a note of that man’s bravery.”
    was worth the trip for me.

  6. Richard says:

    As much as I agree with this review. I have to say that Maltin does not know what a good sequel is just look at his reviews if “The Dark Knight” and “Terminator 2” both of which surpassed the original. He needs to realize that not all sequels are made for just money.

  7. james west (blimjo) says:

    Thank you so much for writing (so well) what i was vilified for writing of the 3rd installment on Amazon . Big thanks and i love you books , takes and blog my friend…..Jim

  8. Marcus says:

    Come on, Leonard. Lighten up! It’s fun stuff

  9. Hank Zangara says:

    I agree, Leonard, they should have just stopped after “Pirates” One (“Black Pearl”). The genius of that first movie was to bring us aboard expecting a revival of the classic pirate movie, and then thrill us with the surprise hair-raising supernatural twist half way through.

    Kind of like seeing “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in it’s initial release — not knowing too much about it, expecting a good action/adventure film, and then shifting into effects high-gear at the finale.

    Once the secret of “Pirates” is out of the bag, there’s no surprise component left for subsequent sequels. And that’s only one reason why Psycho 2, 3, and 4 do not pack the punch of Hitchcock’s original.

  10. John says:

    Thanks Leonard for saving me $13.50 or whatever my local multiplex is charging for such drivel, on 4 screens yet, 2 in 3-D, 2 in 2-D flat. Another of my favorite reviewers Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gives it the same negative assessment that you did. in fact I haven’t read a good review yet although that won’t stop the masses from spending their money this weekend and throughout most of the summer. Meanwhile I’ll stay home and watch “The Crimson Pirate” for the umpteenth time instead! Now THAT’S entertainment!

  11. Jill Kennedy says:

    I’m stunned that a movie without much story can last 2 1/2 hours – that’s 3 hours with extended trailers and ads. It’s nuts.

    Here’s a funny review from a Finnish film reviewer who is attempting to write in English. He seems to like “In Alien Tide” and really seems to LOVE Johnny Depp.

  12. Jeff Heise says:

    Leonard, considering that you gave the first film a **1/2 and the rest progressively lower scores, I guess this one would be **. Fascinating.

  13. Brian Carpenter says:

    Leonard, Glad I found you on the internet. Looking forward to finally reading “honest” movie reviews!!!
    Thanks, BC

  14. Jim Reinecke says:

    Remember the immortal words of H.L. Mencken, Leonard: “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Amen!

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