Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jack's back

In 2008, I drew up a list of my 25 greatest movie characters, and Captain Jack Sparrow made it to number 14. As seeming validation of Johnny Depp's colorful character being bigger than the entire movie franchise, four years after the third (and what was presumably the last) Pirates of the Caribbean movie, Jack's back, this time sans ship and crew, but still swashbuckling and swaggering through hi-jinks on the high seas.

Plot-wise, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides stands independent of the first three films, with the only leftover premise being that Jack wants to take back his beloved ship The Black Pearl from Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, reprising the role of rapscallion with relish), who commandeered the vessel at the end of the previous Pirates installment. Barbossa is one of the few original characters who reappear in this fourth film-- joining Jack this time is former flame Angelica (played by my girl crush
Penelope Cruz), daughter of the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who enlists Jack's help in looking for the legendary Fountain of Youth. Aboard Blackbeard's ship the Queen Anne's Revenge, they race against both Barbossa, who is now serving the King's Navy and looking to exact revenge against Blackbeard, and the Spanish armada, who want to get to the Fountain before the British.

The plot is surprisingly straightforward (perhaps too straightforward, bordering on simplistic) considering the convoluted, sometimes otherworldly twists taken by the preceding movies. While Jack still gets into the usual sticky situations, he never seems to be in any real danger throughout the story. Nothing poses much of a threat to him-- no Kraken or pirate zombies this time, just... mermaids. And though the mermaids resemble the Odyssey's more menacing Sirens rather than Disney's kid-friendly Ariel, they're not exactly terrifying, even if the script tries to convince the audience they are. That the mermaids are key to exploiting the Fountain of Youth even seems a stretch, and throwing in a love angle between one of the mermaids and an implausibly good-looking Christian missionary (why hello there, Sam Claflin) is almost silly, really.

In spite of the shortcomings of the plot, the acting is faultless, and that's what keeps the movie afloat. It's impossible to go wrong with a cast headlined by the likes of Depp, Rush, Cruz and McShane, and luckily for new Pirates director Rob Marshall (who took over from Gore Verbinski) his stars delivered. Above all of course, Depp is perfection as Jack Sparrow, and the charisma of the character definitely does not get old even after four movies. Part of the credit goes to Depp for creating that charisma-- there is just something compelling about Jack (is it the guyliner?). And here I go back to the reasons he's one of the greatest movie characters of all time: both clueless and crafty, selfish and compassionate, dishonorable and noble, Jack is as amusing, sympathetic and entertaining as
the most memorable Disney cartoon characters who have been given forgettable TV series spinoffs (I'm talking to you, Timon and Pumbaa).

So even if On Stranger Tides is not the best Jack Sparrow movie of the lot, it is still very much Jack Sparrow's movie, and that by itself makes it worth watching.
And as a bonus, there is a priceless cameo by Dame Judi Dench, and an appearance by Keith Richards as Jack's dad, which tickled me to no end. Go see this fourth Pirates film if you love Jack Sparrow as much as I do, and stay after the credits for assurance that this won't be the last adventure for our favorite pirate of the Caribbean.


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