‘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. I got dragged to go see this. Please save your time and money. The rapture is tomorrow, and you don’t want to waste your last day on Earth with this trash. But feel free to let me know what you think…
    Poll: Is ‘Pirates 4′ really as bad as all the reviews say?
    Link: http://www.wepolls.com/r/502074

  2. WTF!!!I was wanting to see this movie in 3D!!It got 2 stars no need to see this crap then…I did`nt expected this from Johnny Depp!Really Disappointed!

  3. i think you have all got the wrong idea about 3D its not about the moments its about giving the film depth which POTC:OST does time and time again however i do agree there was a lack of action

  4. Oh my god, the reviewer is waaaay too negative!!! Nothing positive to say about the film? THE MOVIE WAS AMAZING! All I saw in this review was “fail, failed, failure”… C’mon!!! Get a grip! Go outside, stretch a little! Get some sun! May be you’ll become a bit more positive! There was a lot of action in the movie, great acting and beautiful scenery! Sorry you missed all that!

    • He was comparing it to the first 3. Compared to those 3 there was damn near no action or scenery and the characters were flat and one dimensional.

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  6. Where is Panda 2 review????Plz post it fast i am not going see Strangers Tides i wud rather go see Panda 2 but i need see the review!!plz post it fast!

    • Are you serious? So if panda gets 2 stars will you still see it?

      • If panda 2 gets 2 stars then i wud rather watch Hangover 2!

    • Alex,

      Panda 2 hasn’t opened yet, bud. As it happens, I’m leaving to go see it in about 5 minutes. :)


      • Oh It will open on 26th May..I almost forget and Thank You Vic For your reply.

    • Alex, why do you “need” a review of a movie before you go see it? Can’t make up your own mind? I see movies that interest me, good review, bad review, no review. :)

      • I have my own mind but seeing the review we get a idea how the movie will be thats y i see reviews of movies or else mind-blowing trailers sometimes deceives u!

  7. No stars? How many stars? Don’t see it.

    • it’s at the bottom Jess..

  8. I loved it as I loved all the POTC movies. Nothing is ever perfect! For me it is a semi realistic escape from reality as Pirates did in fact exsist, they were ruthless, they had an idealistic rule of law on their ships, and they were much like cheap toilet paper not taking stuff off anybody! For me it’s like being 10 years old again. You need to lighten up sit back and emerce yourself in a ride on the high seas. For the nay sayers, tie em to the yard arm, or keel haul them. I LOVED IT! Savy!

  9. I stepped into the movie after taking my 12 year old to see Fast Five (my daughter-in-law and her kids were in Pirates). What I saw was a total rip of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I was glad I didn’t go see the rest.

  10. The choreography of this film is what bothered me more than ANYTHING. It looked like when Sparrow was escaping the first time Depp was like 1 step ahead of the other actors. reaching and having them slowly move into his hands or what was with the stepping from the one carriage to the other with a somewhat split and then stepping back to the original made NO sense. It was like they filmed it and then said “ok that was the best cut so far so we will muddle it together”. I was sadly disappointed with most of this film. Depp was the best actor and even made me feel like sparrow was bored with this adventure.
    Zombies? im sorry 2 or 3 crewmen that were “zombie-fied” does not count. Brain washed maybe but not zombies. that shouldnt have even been mentioned as a selling point. Thats like saying “there is also poison frogs” but there was probably atleast 4 of those!
    Jack’s dad’s cameo felt like they just wanted another face shoved in there to try to bring more movie goers. No point or anything.
    The only thing i can give this film is that it was better than the 3rd since it was less confusing.
    All i have to say is you can tell when actors dont enjoy the film as much as the prior one because something changed.

  11. Don’t let this review discourage you from seeing this. I absolutely LOVED this movie as did every person I’ve talked to. I absolutely respect this review and the opinion of the reviewer, but it is opinion.

    If you liked the first 3, or even the just the first one, you will probably like this one.

    • foopher,

      I’m a fan of the first movie, didn’t like 2 & 3 nor this one. At all. I was completely bored.


      • I said “probably”. Haha

        • Ha, OK. :-D


    • Don’t worry foopher I love all 3 movies and ain’t missing this for nothing.

      I’m completely disregarding this negative, unbalanced and unfair, bs review. I will watch it and most likely love it.

      The people who haven’t seen it and are jumping on the hate train just show how much of a tool they are letting reviews sway them. The whole point of a BALANCED and FAIR review is to give you things to consider when going to the cinema or imax. Not ultimately decide for you. Of which this review was neither BALANCED nor FAIR.

      • ORI

        This “BS” review is just someones opinion so theres no need to say it is BS.

        Although Im not really into Pirates i saw the last 45 min of the movie and I loved it. It was pretty action packed and all….

        • I have no problem with opinions. The problem is that this isn’t an opinion but is SUPPOSED to be a fair and balanced review of a movie. Many people are starting to take trust in this site when it comes to reviews. All I ask is a fair review instead of a article of negative bs. I don’t detract anything from my original comment.

          • Well Im one of those people that doesnt listen to reviews if its bad then ok, but I see it for myself to judge.

          • ORI,

            Please. Because YOU don’t agree with it, it’s not “balanced.” I guess there must be a “reviewer conspiracy” since 131 out of 199 reviewers thought this wasn’t any good:



            • @Vic.

              It’s not about me agreeing or disagreeing. That’s not my point here. Would you agree a movie must be fairly reviewed mentioning both the negative AND positive aspects of a film? Only reason I don’t like this review is that it’s entirely negative. Every movie, I don’t care what it is, has at least a few good things to mention about it. This review only talks how it successfully removes itself from the previous 3. After that it’s just nothing but negative comments about it.

              Regarding RT. I’m sorry but I take reviews on your site more seriously than the drones on RT.

              • @Ori –

                While I respect your ability to disagree with the review. It’s unfair to say it’s unbalanced. Yes, it’s more negative than positive but, personally, I thought the film fell short more than it succeeded and I discuss why in-depth because, in my opinion, it’s interesting to look at where the film went wrong – mostly because it’s less ambitious and less exciting than the earlier installments.

                However, I did mention the mermaid scene as a highlight as well as mentioned that the first two action scenes harken back to great moments in the first film. In addition, I concede in my closing that the there is fun to be had – it just won’t be enough for some moviegoers who are undecided about the film.

                I share your opinion that it’s important to be balanced in reviews – however, that doesn’t mean I have to lavish praise on a film that, based on my personal experience at the theater, fell short more often than it succeeded.

                Dismissing the review as BS, simply because you thought it was too hard on a movie you enjoyed is, at the very least, the pot calling the kettle black.

                I entirely support offering a counter-opinion to a review (we all know they’re subjective) but there’s no reason to dismiss my ideas entirely – even I managed to carve out some praise for a film I found disagreeable.

      • I never said this review was “bs”. I was just stating that people have different opinions. I read this review before seeing it and I loved the movie. I’m just saying to all Pirates fans don’t let a negative review decide whether or not to see it

    • Thought it was a very fun and enjoyable movie and Agree with you assessment

      • Easily entertained, I guess.


        • maybe but better then being bored

          • Well put.

  12. Okay, saw the movie. 1st half a big mess, very boring. 2nd half was barely okay.
    I agree with this review, this movie is a big fail. 1st one was the best, 2nd one dragged on too much in the 2nd half, 3rd one was nice cos of the action, 4th one, well, doesn’t compare to any and even on its own is a bore fest (except a few interesting scenes).

    5/10 is the best I can give.

  13. I may be the only person on the planet who liked the 3rd one best, by far.
    The first one I found rather boring. This 4th one, well, I liked it fine, but I hope they will make another trilogy out of it, where, as in the previous trilogy, the sequels get more epic.
    As for the people who say there was no action…thats exaggerated, but it sure is no Transformers (and thank the lord for that :-))

  14. I honestly believe you are nitpicking, 2 stars feels a little low…I throughly enjoyed the film even with muddled action and story arch. The film made me laugh quite a bit and my friends and I were talking with british/pirate accents for days after seeing it.I especially enjoyed Ian Mcshane as Blackbeard a completely ruthless killer. I woulda gave it 3 and 1/2 stars.

  15. I am really tired of hearing how the sequels don’t stack up to the originals. That is the case in just about every series. The original Pirates was new and original. It had a great cast, a good story, and lots of Pirates doing Pirate stuff. The sequels may not have the exact same magic but they have been good. This one is no exception. No matter what the critics think, if you liked the others, you will like this one. I almost never listen to critics. Their opinions are almost always sullied by the fact that they watch so many movies. When something like Pirates comes along and sets the bar for Swashbuckling action, they love it. Then the sequel comes along and we have to listen to critics tell us that it was awful because it is not new and fresh. It is by far not the best of the series but it is a great continuation. It will grace my DVD collection right along with the others. Captain Jack Sparrow is officially part of pirate lore now. In 20 years they will reboot this series and we will be howling about how no one can be Captain Jack like Johnny Depp. My main opinion and comment is that first, don’t take everybody elses word for it, go see and form your own opinion. Second, not every one will like a movie. Don’t shoot the messenger just because their opinion doesn’t match up.

    A note to Ben and Vic along with the rest of the crew. You guys do a great job and I am on here every day. The above comments are not directly shooting at you guys because I usually agree with a lot of your opinions. In this case, not so much, but opinions are like butt holes… You guys do a fantastic job so keep up the good work

  16. Pirates of the Carribbean Part 4 was brillianty awesome and Capt. Jack Sparrow cracks me up in this one. He is hilariously goofy. I did enjoy the magic and excitement through out this movie.

  17. While better than 2 or 3, it was still no comparison to the first one. Maybe it’s because I saw all of the negative reviews beforehand, but it was better than I expected.

    Even though he was a bit one dimensional, I liked Black Beard (much better than Davey Jones) and the mermaid bit was pretty entertaining for me. Complete fluff movie, but that’s ok now and again.

    • Meh, I thought the first one sucked and loved 2 and 3. 4 is back to sucky.

  18. Alright, I’m going to check this out for myself. I really enjoyed the first one but thought the other 2 were just OK. I’m going in with low expectations though; Ben’s review pretty much goes along with regular Joe’s and critics. I won’t need to stay for the after-credit scene since I saw the last 20 minutes.

  19. I thought this one was more the typical “priate” story. And I think that’s why I liked it so much. It felt more like an adventure than the previous two. Although something I still want to see is Jack (or Barbossa) actually attacking a ship and taking their booty!

    • I agree. Is it just me or were Black Beard’s powers and zombie henchmen completely unnecessary to the story? Why not have Black Beard be a pirate with a normal pirate crew?

      Then again, it didn’t detract from the story either.

      • I think they’ll play with the powers a little more in the next one, now that… well you know.

  20. Went & saw this latest Pirates movie last night & I have to concur with the overall assessment of this review. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed all 3 of the previous movies despite any short comings of the 2nd & 3rd installments. However, with the latest installment of On Stranger Tides, Captain Jack & Barbossa are indeed echoes of their former selves. The natural spontaneity of their performance by 2 outstanding actors seems this time around as coming across feeling almost rehearsed. I could go on highlighting specific details, but to summarize my feeling about this movie in one word & that word would be, disappointed. I was hoping for maybe a cameo by Captain Will & Elizabeth towards the end, but no deal. I have a feeling their return to this franchise may be as crucial to the future success of any further potential installments as Captain Jack, Barbossa, & the Black Pearl.

  21. i just watch the fourth and miss the 1, 2, 3 and i fall in love with this movie. Gonna watch the previous movie…..

  22. unlike with Davy Jones, Blackbeards powers are never explained at all. period. in the entire movie

    also, they never say what happened to the priest after being dragged underwater. deleted scene, maybe?

    • I think they were from the sword.

      (Barbossa uses it at the end)

  23. Ok as i do enjoy this site , I do have to agree , that this review again like a few in the past has been completely off, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and felt it was a welcome addition to the franchise. Im not saying its a perfect movie far from it but i did find that the review was completely different from the movie I saw. As I cant explain how someone was bored with this movie, I would have no trouble recommending them to see it. great fun 3.5 out of 5

  24. I dont listen to critics on what movie to watch instead I see for myself if the movie is fail or epic. These movie critics, they judge movies like game critics or art critics, and doesnt define the movie as a movie instead they define them as stories or plays in stage, stuck in their heads therefore always finding something missing or different (less on improvement especially on sequel movies).Movies is all about experience, therefore everyone of us has its own experience about a particular movie. Pirates of the Carribean is my favorite movie of all time even tho this latter series, I find that the acting is a bit uninspired nevertheless it was refreshing to see Cap’n Jack Sparrow in the the big screen again!

  25. I enjoyed the mermaid part of the plot and the scenes involving the clergyman and the captured mermaid were the only convincing scenes in the film.

    Its almost as if I could see where the original source material (a book which I have not read) ended and the shoe-horned Jack Sparrow began. That being said, I might like to read the book without all the silly antics.

    Ian McShane I thought did a good job of portraying an old man not wanting to die. Whenever he had his hat off and wasn’t Captain Blackbeard… when he showed he was vulnerable… those were good parts but you literally had to be on the look-out for them because of how subtle McShane’s work was at those points.

    Plus can anybody explain Dame Judi Dench to me?

  26. Oh, Dear, I loved the first movie and would see the second over and over again, but the third and this one, I’d turn them off if they were the movies offered on a 12-hour flight and go to sleep rather than watch them a second time…

    Convulated story, couldn’t care less about the characters, Ms Cruz appeared uncomfortable and dull with no sparkle (pregnancy discomforts?). What ‘love interest’??? Jack stumbled on to Angelica by mistake when he thought he was in a brothel! I don’t call that ‘love!’ He didn’t even seem interested in her when they met! Convent to pirate gal? Far-fetched! I really like Ian McShane, but he was wasted with no excitement… No ‘fun’ characters like the two crew members (one has the false eye), and the commander who hoped to marry Elizabeth Swan in the first movies…. Half of the film is filler material that could be cut easily…

    This is the second time I have been conned by the franchise… 1/3 into the screening, I was yawning and trying to read my watch, but it was filmed so dark, I could not see it! Dark, Dark, Dark….. All the actors promoting this movie raved how beautiful Hawaii was where it was filmed, but we see very little of it… Just a helicopter-view over the greenery…

    I am not a ‘downer’ critic…. I LOVE Johnny Depp, and I’m such a fan of pirate movies, I once rented a projector and old film of ‘Captain Blood’ with Errol Flynn before VCRs even existed and screened it on a wall in the house! I am pretty ‘easy to please’, but this one is a loser… Heard Depp had something to do with the script, so that disappoints me, if true… Still, I heard he’s earned $55,000,000, so that’s some success for his efforts…

    I still laugh outloud at the incident in the first ‘Black Pearl’ movie where Capt Jack walks off onto the wharf as the boat he’s on sinks beneath the brine-y depths, even if I’ve seen it a dozen times… Nothing in ‘Stranger Tides’ compares…. Hire some decent writers!!! I couldn’t wait to leave the theater, so I didn’t see the end-of-credits addition and don’t know what happened there, but I heard it only solidifies another continuing movie for the future…. I thought it was disingenuous to put the third movie ending after the credits…. In the theater, I was one of only three people left as the staff cleaned up for the next showing, so the many movie-goers that already exited missed it! So here they go and do it again!

    I was so hoping for a great flick but only felt disappointed…I wasted my money… I’d feel better if I’d bought lottery tickets!

    Advice for the next installment? Return to a good story, and you’ll have a winner!

  27. Ok, I saw it yesterday. The reviewer is spot on! The only 2 parts that were good were when Jack escapes the British and the fight with the mermaids. And I think it was Vic who said he was bored? So was I.

    • Right there with ya, Kahless. Naming a mermaid “Serena” is a lot like naming a rare ore “Unobtanium”. How do the writers expect the audience to come along for the ride if they don’t even TRY for believability? Also, zombies make lousy sailors, I have yet to see one tie a decent bowline, let alone show me a sheepshank. They usually just moan and wheeze then fall over the side.

      I wrote a longer response to your post on the spoilers thread, but I think that without giving anything away I can sum it up with the following equation;

      POC 4 = The Amazing Race + The Last Crusade + Splash.

      If it were a Mermaid I would dice an onion in front of it for the tears, then throw it back.

  28. The word unobtanium is well known in the scientific and engineering community, just as the word Sirena is well known in Latin America, that’s why you shouldn’t wage war against overgrown cat-eyed smurfs over the former, or name a mermaid the latter.

    In the Disneyverse mermaids often have the ability to grow legs (and other parts http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4b7o4CJDdw LOL) Tides takes place shortly after Ariel’s peeps have ransacked Ursula the Sea Witches’ lair and back-engineered the transformation process from the spell books contained therein.

    By Madison the mermaid’s 20th century, the technique is well understood and controllable, but in “Serena’s” time it is still very experimental. The legs look good, but can’t seem to do their job.

    In many ways that is a metaphor for the whole movie.

  29. I personally loved this movie. Though I do agree that the characters seemed to be slightly muted, and I was hoping for at least one really epic naval battle, I still thoroughly enjoy this movie! I just can’t get enough of Captain Jack. And though I wasn’t a huge fan of Pirates 2 & 3 I did enjoy the treacherous nature, and undiscussed motives, of the characters (as I would imagine pirates would be fond of). And this movie really made that clear. You start off thinking you know who the villain is, then you’re introduced to another more sinister character, and your opinion is flipped. I loved that aspect of the movie. I hope they continue to make stand-alone stories in the Pirates universe.

    And my opinion is incredibly biased… Because I’m a sucker for anything Pirate. Haha