Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Johnny Depp puts on eyeliner again for the third sequel of the Pirates franchise, based on a mild Disney theme park ride. It’s also jettisoned Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, two of the weakest links from the original trilogy, and traded up for Ian McShane and Penelope Cruz, which is certainly an improvement by any measure.
There’s also a new man at the mast: Rob Marshall (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha) takes over Gore Verbinski. The result is a shorter trip, without too much new. Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp, still runs around, whinges, jumps, bluffs his way about and gets into all sort of trouble.
This time, Depp is lured by Spanish hottie Angelica (Cruz) to sail with her father Blackbeard (McShane) and seek out the mythical Fountain of Youth. They’re not the only ones looking for it; also out to discover the legendary fountain is Sparrow’s old rival Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and a group of Spaniards.
You can’t just drink from the fountain though; there’s some ritual involving chalices and mermaids, and in this Disney film, they aren’t the sweet little sirens of The Little Mermaid, but vicious creatures with sharp fangs that like to drown sailors.
The proceedings this time are much helped by Cruz and McShane, who bring a breath of fresh air to the stale franchise. Cruz as the enigmatic pirate and Sparrow’s love interest is a joy to watch, and brings great panache to her role. McShane as Blackbeard could have just been another bad pirate, but the actor brings a human yet cynical quality to the role, and unlike Depp, knows how to stop chewing up scenes.
Even Rush, who has been remade into an agent of the English King, has at least reinvented himself. There’s also a pair of cameos from Judi Dench and Keith Richards that almost make the film worth checking out. Unfortunately, Depp plays Sparrow the same ole way as the previous movies, and the shtick is starting to give out a foul odour. Depp and Cruz have little chemistry, which is hardly surprising, given that Sparrow has more makeup on than Angelica and the character has always possessed an ambiguous sexuality.
At least new director Marshall has steered away from an over reliance on special effects, and the overblown plot turns. Sheer coincidence also plays a big part in the film, and everybody seems to have the odd talent of arriving at the same place at almost the same time.
Marshall isn’t the most fluid of directors, and can’t make the most out of the scenes which often have a cartoonish feel, such as a scene where Sparrow ties up a bunch of Spanish soldiers around a coconut tree. There’s almost a workmanlike feel to the action directing, and toy soldiers could put out more convincing sword fighting scenes.
At 138 minutes, this is a shorter trip than its predecessors are, which also makes this a more coherent journey, and the story gathers along at a good pace without stalling. The relationship between the various characters is what anchors the script, and the payoff comes to the forefront in the last half-hour.
It still seems incredible that a theme park ride could inspire yet another sequel, and this film will haul up more loot at the box office than a pirate’s hoard. Depp should be thankful that he’s saved by a good supporting crew and a captain that knows the waters. But more often than not, it feels like we’re taken this boat trip before.