Before anything, I just have to say that I've been a huge fan of the Pirates franchise all along. Pirates of the Caribbean was always one of my favorite rides at Disneyland. I've always loved "all things pirate" and was super excited when the first movie came out. As with most viewers, I wasn't quite as impressed with the second and third films individually but I loved the trilogy as a whole. Black Pearl was just fabulous and really set the bar for what an epic pirate fantasy adventure should be like. The next two films maintained that epic feel and kept the story and characters alive and vibrant but I felt they suffered a little from being a little two "dark" (both literally/visually and thematically) as well as trying to do too much.
At Worlds End left us very much open for and expectant of a fourth movie in the series. So it wasn't a huge surprise when the info started trickling out, but it was very exciting to know that it was finally coming. Still, I was a little nervous to see what they'd do next. Over the course of the films, I'd grown fond of the dynamic between Jack, Will and Elizabeth. They played so well off each other. I was glad to see that Barbossa would be returning, but seeing him as a "King's Man" made me a little wary.
NOTE: I will attempt to avoid spoilers where I can but be warned there may be some minor mention of spoiler-esque elements.
ADDITIONAL NOTE: This is a fairly lengthy review starting with my general thoughts on the movie stepping through each element (trying not to "spoil" anything) followed by an overall reaction. If you just want my overall reaction, skip to the last couple of paragraphs. :)
The opening scene was intriguing. It set the stage for the adventure to find the Fountain of Youth. It also presented new characters/players in the game...the Spaniards.
The escape sequence from the King's palace was absolutely ridiculous to the point of madcap. It was entertaining but truly stretched the limits of believability in a few places. Still, in light of the overall nature of the adventure, I overlooked them and moved on since had Jack not escaped, the story would have been considerably less interesting. :)
Angelica as a character continued to be a connundrum for me. She always seemed to have her own selfish motivations and yet she also seemed to be altruistic and seeking for the general and greater good. I like the idea of her internal turmoil and conflict with reconciling the bad with the good, but it felt a little forced or rushed at times. To an extent, she was a parallel to Will Turner, the good boy forced into bad situations and still trying to do the right thing but through "bad" means. While Angelica preached good morals and chided her father for his wickedness, she also did some things that seemed downright underhanded and just plain shady without good reason for being dastardly. I just had a hard time reconciling her.
Before long, we finally get a glimpse at Blackbeard. He isn't played as over the top comic-book evil in some of the ways Barbossa was. Instead, Blackbeard is evil just through his character and his actions. His emotions are generally very calm and collected, which makes him all the more frightening. He is definitely a force to be reckoned with. From his first appearance on screen, it is quickly evident why Blackbeard is the "pirate that all pirates fear" and it adds new tension to the story as it now looks very unlikely that Jack will be able to properly escape.
As per the other Pirates films in the series, there is plenty of supernatural goings-ons with Blackbeard. First of all, he seems akin to Tia Dalma in that he is a practitioner of voodoo. He has Zombie crew members that he himself has "zombiefied." He has voodoo dolls to further control individuals. And he has a mystical sword that gives him some rather interesting powers. We get to see some of this magic in action but we never get a good explanation of what this sword is, where it came from or what it's capable of. I personally would have loved some back story on the sword. Maybe in the extended DVD?
So Blackbeard employs a wicked trap to catch himself a mermaid. The mermaid mythos presents them as beautiful and utterly enchanting to sailors but also dangerous in that they drag sailors down to the depths and drown them. The mermaids here are shown as very lovely creatures but with a predisposition to turn into vampiric demonic creatures. This turnabout was very abrupt and interesting...almost as interesting as the almost instant "love at first sight" way the sailors reacted on first seeing the Mermaid. As my brother pointed out, the sailors must never have seen a pretty girl before in order to be that taken so quickly by a pretty face in the water, especially knowing how dangerous they were.
As can be expected by the "love at first sight" spell, Phillip falls in love with the mermaid. Due to his missionary spirit and general goodness, he works to help her be comfortable and safe while imprisoned. And thus she also falls in love with him. This strange romance seems to slowly bloom as the group treks across the island for the fountain. By the end of the movie, a lot is made of their relationship...but it is left very unresolved and ambiguous...one of those loose ends I'd have liked tied up.
Now on the path for the Fountain, Blackbeard and company need two silver chalices found long ago by Ponce de Leon. For whatever reason, Blackbeard sends Jack Sparrow to get the cups alone while the rest of the group continues on looking for the fountain. The reasoning was partly explained by the geographic situation, but it still felt odd that he was sent off entirely alone. He doesn't stay alone for long as he then stumbles upon Barbossa and his crew and we're given a comic scene as the two clatter about in Ponce de Leon's ship and then form a temporary alliance.
The Spaniards finally come back into play. They are also on the island. Jack and Barbossa have to sneak into their camp and more battle ensues along with a degree of nonsense.
The final battles play out. We're given a happy ending for some, a sad ending for others and just "an ending" for most. As with the other films, there is a short clip after the credits. While this clip made me smile a bit, it seemed a bit more forced/leading than those from the previous films.
....And now, my reactions to the film. Overall, I still give this movie thumbs up and really enjoyed it. From the franchise, Black Pearl is still my favorite, but this movie is still enjoyable.
A couple of things left me a little unsettled or wanting more. In many ways this film had the same problems as Dead Man's Chest and At World's End...it was dark and tried to do to much. Except On stranger Tides took these problems and made them worse. So much of this movie was in the dark and/or at night. Blackbeard was evil and dark. And I felt like even though there was a single goal (the Fountain), the movie tried to do too much...too many characters trying to be "primary" characters but without the depth to make them accessible or make me really root for them...too many important elements that we're left with a bunch that can't adequately be explained (Blackbeard's sword, the Spaniards, Syrena and Phillip).
I really wanted some sea battles...would loved to have seen the English and Spaniards get into it...or maybe seen Blackbeard sack a couple of ships along the way to Whitecap Bay. Instead, we're given a couple of distance shots of ships and only hear about the sea battles in a narration from Barbossa telling about the capture of the Pearl.
The sword fight sequences weren't as engaging as the previous films...the initial fight between Jack and Angelica was alright but it was dark and wasn't nearly as engaging as the initial fight between Jack and Will or the later fight on the yardarms between Jack and Davy Jones.
Disney has left themselves open to keeping the franchise going as long as it makes them money...and even though they've set the bar too high to easily be reached, this movie is still a success and I wouldn't be surprised to see a follow up. I'd go see a fifth movie. And I'd definitely be willing to see this one again...though given the choice, I'd watch Black Pearl first.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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