‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated May 21st, 2011 at 11:00 pm,

Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides Review Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Rob Marshall’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides may be one of the most highly anticipated films of the summer – set to reinvigorate Disney’s theme park ride-turned movie franchise. Despite racking up nearly $2 billion in combined box office revenues worldwide, the last two installments in the original trilogy failed to capture the same magic as the first film. Sure they were epic in scale and tied-into historical pirate lore but each subsequent film grew increasingly convoluted as love triangles, multi-film betrayals, and one of the least satisfying act two cliffhangers in film history, muddled what was originally a carefree summer surprise.

To combat franchise fatigue, producer Jerry Bruckheimer enlisted the help of his Curse of the Black Pearl screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio who tossed out most of their prior character creations to inject the film with a lot of fresh and fantastical blood. But the team didn’t just bring back fan-favorite scallywags in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, they also introduced a smorgasbord of fantasy genre staples – including zombies and mermaids. Were the radical changes enough to freshen the franchise and pave the way for future sequels?

Unfortunately, even though it does successfully purge the series of a number of overly convoluted plot threads from the trilogy, On Stranger Tides fails to match the epic scope and entertaining set-pieces that many fans are going to expect – especially in the latter half of the film. Fan-favorites Captain Jack Sparrow and Barbossa both return but much like the action, the pair are watered-down versions of their prior selves. The film isn’t terrible – but at almost every turn, the returning actors and the updated plot come across as lazy or uninspired.

The story is especially tepid and makes no mention of the events that transpired in the original trilogy – none, whatsoever. Despite dumping most of the cast and significantly changing-up the formula, On Stranger Tides isn’t a spin-off or reboot – it’s a true sequel.

If you haven’t been following our previous coverage, the story picks up when Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) attempts to rescue his former first mate Mr. Gibbs from the British and is subsequently arrested. King George II forces Jack to help guide the British soldiers to the fountain of youth – and reunites the loony pirate with his other former first mate-turned-enemy-turned-friend, Captain (now Privateer) Barbossa (played once again by Geoffrey Rush).

The once treacherous pirate gets Jack up to speed, revealing that his beloved Black Pearl was destroyed in a clash with the notorious Blackbeard (Ian McShane) – who also seeks the fountain of youth. News of the Pearl’s demise sends Jack on a fearsome and over-the-top journey of revenge, treachery (of course), and adventure – not to mention new shipmates in the form of missionary Philip Swift (essentially the new Will Turner) and pirate Angelica (played by Penélope Cruz).

Ian McShane in Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review

Ian McShane as Blackbeard in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides'

As mentioned, nearly every performance in Pirates 4 is a muted version of that from prior installments – both in terms of new and returning characters. Depp is still charming as Sparrow but, as a result of the streamlined plot, he isn’t given a lot of room to do much but react to the supporting cast. Jack was always two steps ahead of everyone in the prior films but this round, he’s mostly just a gofer. Similarly, like in prior installments, the writers once again attempt to set up Barbossa with conflicting motivations – to keep audiences guessing about where his allegiances may lie. Despite the rich history between the two characters, the film fails to remind audiences of certain preceding events – such as how Barbossa once again ended up captaining Sparrow’s beloved Black Pearl. While the details themselves aren’t especially important (since they were covered in the prior film), the lack of connective tissue is noticeable and serves as an example of how one-dimensional the characters and plot are this time.

Any supporting character plotlines and connections, such as Blackbeard, Angelica, or Philip, are equally flat – be it family or love interests, the film does very little to make the audience believe the characters have any kind of genuine emotion or history, instead of merely serving a specific function in the story. It’s a let down, since (hate them or love them) many of the characters in the original trilogy still managed to surprise us from time to time – unfortunately, there are very few surprises in On Stranger Tides, characters or otherwise.

The most surprising aspect of the film is the unforgivable lack of action – especially in the final act, which is one of the most unsatisfying climaxes moviegoers will see this summer. On Stranger Tides opens with an almost “cartoony” chase sequence that successfully captures the spunk of Curse of the Black Pearl (even though it’s unapologetically over-the-top) and an early sword fight is reminiscent of the entertaining back and forth between Will Turner and Sparrow in the original. However, the subsequent sequences are not only smaller in scope than prior franchise highlights – they’re mostly just uninspired adventure movie clichés (i.e. large-scale sword/gun-fights).

Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges Frisbey in Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Review

Sam Claflin and Astrid Berges-Frisbey in 'On Stranger Tides'

The only action sequence in the film that feels fresh is the introduction of the mermaids – where Marshall actually takes the time to establish a genuine sense of anticipation and dread before delivering a unique and energetic twist on the mythological creatures. That said, the film ultimately fails to capture on the intriguing premise – as the overarching mermaid story is especially nonsensical by the end.

While there is fun to be had in On Stranger Tides and it’s exciting (for a moment) to see Captain Jack Sparrow on the big screen again, the entire production seems to suffer from exhaustion. The actors don’t carry the same enthusiasm for their roles, the once creative fight scenes have faded into ordinary action clichés, and the story focuses entirely on moving the plot forward without developing any of the characters or the larger fantastical “pirate’s life” world.

On a side note: do not waste the extra money on seeing On Stranger Tides in 3D. No set-pieces are enhanced by the 3D and the format significantly darkens the movie (which mostly takes place inside the hull of ships, dimly lit bars, and caves) inevitably hindering the immersion rather than adding to it.

If you’ve already seen the film and want to talk about various plot details without ruining it for others, head over to our Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides spoilers discussion to chat about anything that could spoil the experience for those who haven’t seen it yet.

However, if you’re still on the fence about Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, check out the trailer below:

[poll id=”156″]

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick — and let us know what you thought of the film below.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is now playing in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5

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  1. First. I’m still gonna see it.

  2. Seen it, it was good, Im sure there will be a POTC 5.
    The new Transformers Dark of the Moon trailer looked good as well.

  3. Did not see what all the hype was from the first movie,I guess I was not much of a fan.

  4. Just saw it. It was extremely lame. Very boring action sequences and the story itself was just blah. This review is right on, the mermaid attack was pretty cool, the rest was recycled footage from the first three movies. Save your money and go see Thor again…

    • I kinda knew this would happen. Jack Sparrow became irritating for me in the 3rd movie (I liked the movie itself though, much better than the 2nd one), so I’m kinda scared of how I’ll bear Sparrow in this one. From the trailers, I think it IS gonna be a problem watching the guy again.
      And lack of action? Aaargh! Why do all these superhero movies and all have so less action now? Hate it. Too much character development in focus these days (probably cos of all those reviews complaining about no character development, hehe). Iron Man 2 still angers me with it’s long running length and excessive comedy and almost no action.
      Oh well, might as well watch the cheap show now..

  5. Hmmm… I was afraid this would happen. Oh well. Still gonna see it tonight. I really liked the first three (yes all three) so I’ll most likey find at least some entertainment in this.

  6. It was ok, I think the entire audience maybe laughed 4 times. It was hardly fun and I was really wanting to see more of a banter/onscreen dynamic between Depp and Cruz (that’s why I went). I HATE the fact that you can’t go see these big movies in an IMAX without having to see it in 3D too. It’s a shame.

  7. If anyone is wondering, I concur 100% with this review and would have given it the same score.


    • I was kinda curious as to what your thoughts were 😉

    • Good to know as your suspicions are correct, Vic.
      Maybe there is a place for other reviewers to
      reveal their opinion in a way that does not
      detract from the main review showcase.

      Maybe like a week or two after the main review has
      has been posted where something like “second opinions on …”
      could be revealed consisting of only the ratings the other reviewers.

  8. I literary just saw the movie 3 hours ago. It was OK… very entertaining. I would give it a generous 3 out of 5.

    P.S. People please turn of your phones in theaters. And don’t talk during the movie, it’s irritating… saying things like “He’s alive!” and “Tum-Tum-Tuuummm!” ruins the movie for people. Have some respect, don’t put your feet up on the chair in front of you (yes they do stink) and don’t eat like a monkey (we were given opposable thumb for a reason). Parents: please teach your children some manners and get them to learn some respect for other people. (The above mentioned things were done mainly by children in the theater – and not just one group, noo! it was ALMOST EVERY DAMN KID in the place. After I came out of the theater I even saw a spoiled, little brat pour half his box of popcorn on the floor and told the cleaner to pick it up! It’s appalling! He even had the nerve to say “you missed some”. Parents, I hope you know that this is how your kids behave when they go to the movies with friends.

    • I give irritating people 15 through the trailers to settle down and shut up. If they are still talking, texting, whatever after the movie starts then I politely ask them to be quiet. If that fails … I throat punch them.

      • Too bad most people walked in as the movie was starting (that’s another thing that bugs me… people take your seat and sit still… but I digress). Anyway, most people walked in as the movie started and just immediately took out there phone and started chatting.

        Also: Girls, we love you but PLEASE don’t giggle every time Johnny Depp gets a close up!… Actually now that I think about it… they giggled throughout the entire film (2 hours and 20 minutes).

        Another thing that some people do is clap as the movie ends. I ask you, WHY? The creators of the movie can’t hear you! If you want to show your appreciation why don’t you honor the people who worked so hard on the movie by sitting through the credits.

        If a person wants to watch a film and talk to his friend, or put his feet up, or take out his cell, or any of the above things, just RENT a movie and do it at home. Consider other people and other people will consider you to.

        @ Screenrant readers: It is not my intension to complain and nag, but this is a serious issue. Please note that I hardly ever complain and I think most regular readers would vouch for that.

        But be warned kids: I’m taking INK’s advise. My right fist is commin for ya! (After the “3 warnings” of course).

        • I’m with you all guys on this. All the talking and texting on cell phones, and people unnecessarily talking with each other, is extremely annoying. But it’s this selfish, extremely narcissistic world we live in.

          People think that not only are they more important than everyone else but that every tidbit of their existence needs to be broadcast on a web page, or texted to someone: “Hey, I’m watching Pirates right now!!!”

          And, just like that woman who spoke for 16 hours on a train in a “quiet car” felt disrespected by her arrest, these incessant talkers and texters often get very defensive when they’re called out on their rude behavior. “HOW DARE YOU tell me to not bother other people with my frequent chatting, texting and overall rude behavior??” They have the nerve to call other people rude. It’s an annoyingly bizarre world we live in.

          Despite there being signs at theaters, and announcements on the screen that people should neither text nor talk on their phone, people still do.

          I don’t mind people reacting to what happens on screen: laughing, giggling, etc., so long as they’re not excessive about it.

          What’s really bad is when someone’s giving a play-by-play to the person they came with. Some numbnuts did that during Watchmen, and he was giving away crap, I was about ready to punch the guy, as — unlike him — I hadn’t read the graphic novel 100 times. I had NEVER read it up until that point, so that idiot ruined at least one big part of the movie for me. And this was even after I had moved far away from the idiot, and gestured to him earlier to keep it down.

          • Yeah, but what disappoints me is that it’s kids and teens who mostly does these things (mind you, not all teens – I switch off my phone as soon as I take my seat – which is about 15 minutes before the movie starts – and I never talk or do anything annoying during a movie).

            I also don’t mind people reacting to the movie (of course people should laugh when something funny happens or scream when something suspenseful happens), but there are some limits… for instance: In pirates 4 when the pirates stabbed/slit that guys throat and later on he started to move and it turned out he was still alive: a girl yelled “He’s Aliiiveee” (in that Frankenstein way). I.o.w. when something suspenseful happened they ruined it.

            But hey, what can you do…

  9. I’m not surprised with this review. When this film was announced and that Rob Marshall would be directing I had my doubts. 3D action films didn’t seem to fit his style. Still have to see it with my daughter though but I will save the money & go 2D.

  10. @ Screenrant. I also mostly agree with your review of Pirates 4. But, I do tend to disagree on the fact about the 3D. I actually found it quite good. I would like to make it clear that I am not a fan of 3D and only saw Pirates 4 in 3D because I had no other choice (all theaters within driving distance only show it in 3D – after the first few weeks it gets downgraded to 2D to make room for new 3D films.) I didn’t think the color and brightness was that dark (compared to Thor) and there were actually some (granted not a lot) “Wow!” moments.

  11. I saw the movie a day ago and i think it was good. Although the action seems a bit bad but it was good. 3/5 . If you think the film was bad , you cant do a better one .

  12. This is disappointing news. I was really looking forward to this film and the previews made it feel like they recaptured the spirit of the first film. I will probably still see it, but a weekday matinee in 2D.

  13. It was pretty good. I liked the chemistry between jack and angelica. 3d wasnt that good tho.

  14. I just saw it and i have to say it wasnt as good as any of the last movies, however i found it to be quite entertaining and so i didnt waste my money!

  15. Saw the midnight premiere with friends, I thought it was great. Way better than 2 and 3, up to par with the first, but obviously the first is still the best. I would deffinately recommend it. A very fun, and exhilerating Pirates entry

    • I agree 100%

  16. I agree with everything you say in this review. You are spot on. I am going to give the film a 1 though, because I did not enjoy it at all. Supposedly a fresh addition to the series, it was little more than a lesser rehash of the first film. I went in with pretty low expectations, but I was still disappointed!

  17. Mel Brooks should’ve named this film: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Search for More Money.

  18. I just want to point out that you mention that it doesn’t explain how Barbossa got a hold of the Black Pearl. However, at the end of Pirates 3, it shows Barbossa leaving Jack with just a dingy on Tortuga while he goes off to find the fountain of youth. Then he realizes that Jack took that part of the map. Why he abandons Jack is. never explained, but, it does show that he stole the Black Pearl and became its captain and if anything, this should be a gripe with the third film, not this one. And,

    • @ Silvergoat –

      You are correct. I had entirely forgotten how that got wrapped-up. I’ve updated the review accordingly.

  19. I could not agree more with this review, every word of it. And I love the first three, such a let down…

  20. Just want to add, dont leave when the movie ends, there is a post credits scene,

  21. When I went and saw the early screening the show ended and there were no credits shown. As to the 3D question I agree. Dont waste the money on it. There are maybe two sceens that try to use the 3D and they come across as over done. (Sword through a door) Not a spoiler since it was in a trailer. But it did work when they first hit the jungle. Then it faded again.

  22. It was ok. Jack was without much of his charisma, though. It kind of seems like he softened between 3 and 4. Rather than being witty and morally ambiguous, he was really conscientious and I don’t think that worked very well. And, the subplot between the missionary and the mermaid was pretty weak. All and all, it was still better than the last two installments, in my opinion.

    • Yes maybe jack wasn’t as morally ambiguous, but i think that reflects the decision the character made at the end of AWE by making will the captain of Davey Jones ship.

  23. wich one should I see pirates or thor.

    • I say Thor, verily!

      • Thor by a mile!

        • THOR by a lightyear!

          • Thor by a parsec!

    • See Pirates! It’s a lot of fun and the mermaids are awesome!

      • Yes

  24. I guess the first movie will always remain the best PoTC movie, a true classic.

    At least we have that though. Everybody thought the first movie was going to be a dud, at first. Instead it’ll spawn four sequels – not too shabby.

  25. I wonder if those budget cuts they made are the reason for the lack of action scenes and overall crapiness of the movie?

  26. Ok. I just got back from seeing this and I loved it!!! 4.5 out of 5 easy! The only thing I have to say is to NOT see it in 3D. The color is fine, and the 3D “moments” are good. But there aren’t enough “moments” to make it worth the extra buck.

    If you liked the first 3 you will like this one.

  27. Also… Lack of action? What?!? There was oodles of action

  28. 2 out of 5? what. a. surprise. NOT! Pirates appears to be continuing its trend of pillaging money from viewers pockets while being lackluster instead of blockbuster. Save your money for something new, or go see a qualtity movie like THOR again. save these pirates for the poop deck where they belong (meaning its a crappy movie).

  29. Yo ho ho ho, I’m not going to see this film.