The "Pirates of the Caribbean" trilogy was wildly successful, working better than the best expectations most likely had before the first film was released. The films have been a highly entertaining mixture of the weird and wonderful, with a terrific lead performance from Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, a performance that seems part Keith Richards (who shows up as Jack's father) and part Depp's performance as Raoul Duke from "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".
The trilogy wrapped up reasonably well in the third film, and if no other films would have been made in the series, it would have been a fine conclusion to one of the more successful film franchises in recent history (and probably history in general.)
Then came a fourth film in the series, which is really a potentially risky move - give audiences a little too much, and that may sour their opinion on the franchise. The fourth film sees the departure of director Gore Verbinski, as well as Kiera Knightley and Orlando Bloom, whose characters do not return this time around.
The film opens with Jack (Depp) once again trying to escape from another mess, leading to another meeting with Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), whose alliance has changed since he last met Jack. He's working for the British, who desire to gain access to the fountain of youth before the Spanish do. However, as Jack quickly finds out, there's a third party: former flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz), who is working with her father, Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
Re-worked from the novel by Tim Powers to fit the "Pirates" universe, "On Stranger Tides" goes for a more straightforward story thread, largely concentrating on the race for the fountain, vs the multiple threads of the prior films. Still, a more streamlined plot does not result in a streamlined movie, as the picture runs somewhat long at 137 minutes.
Still, the movie does have its positives, including Depp, whose delightful performance carries much of the movie pretty well. The movie isn't without issues, but Depp's portrayal of this character still hasn't gotten old. Penelope Cruz doesn't make as much of an impression, but it's not that she doesn't give an effort - her character is just a tad one-dimensional. Rush and McShane deliver very nice supporting efforts (especially Rush, who continues to look like he's having a great deal of fun.)
Additionally, a number of larger scenes work superbly, such as a swarm of mermaids attacking the pirate crew. Director Rob Marshall ("Chicago") isn't as skilled with action sequences as Verbinski, but there's some nicely choreographed action bits at times.
Overall, the fourth entry in the series isn't without some concerns, but it likely isn't going to sour anyone's opinion on the franchise. It doesn't have quite the same spark or sense of epic scope as the prior films, but it's still fun, has a great performance from Depp (whose character is even more the center of the film this time around, given that Knightley and Bloom's characters are gone) and provides an enjoyable way to pass an afternoon. Fifth (and possibly sixth) films in the franchise are already in the works.
VIDEO: "On Stranger Tides" is presented by Disney in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) and the result is delightful. Sharpness and detail are quite pleasing, as even very fine details are crisply and clearly visible. A few slight instances of edge enhancement were seen, but the majority of the film was crystal clear, with no other concerns. Colors looked rich and strong, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 7.1. Presentation quality is excellent, as the film's sound mix certainly remained aggressive throughout much of the movie. Surrounds kicked in on numerous occasions, providing a wealth of discrete effects and rich, immersive ambience.Audio quality was powerful, with bold, well-recorded effects and crisp, clean dialogue.
EXTRAS: Filmmaker commentary, shorts and bloopers.
Final Thoughts: "Pirates 4" does have some concerns, but it still remains an enjoyable way to pass an afternoon, and Depp's performance as Sparrow continues to entertain. The Blu-Ray edition does offer terrific audio/video quality, as well as a few extras. Recommended.
The Film B