Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides  (Rated PG-13 )  Three Stars06-08-11-pirates-of-the-caribbean.jpg

Gore Verbinski passes the director’s chair to Rob Marshall in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (a bloated 137 min-utes, but still the shortest of the four Pirates films). Not that it does anything to make the franchise interesting or watchable. Really, the whole series is completely beside the point and always has been. While I have been forced to watch the films, I have never managed to get through one of them in a single sitting, mostly because there is nothing there to hold my attention besides seemingly endless sword-fights. In any case, after 600 cumulative minutes of watching Johnny Depp stagger around wearing eyeliner the only really memorable bits are the sharp pointy things and Kiera Knightly and Penelope Cruz being way too skinny. It’s not so much that the writers and directors are doing anything wrong, more that they don’t really manage to do anything right.

After some preliminaries to introduce random Spaniards, Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) intervenes in the trial of his former first mate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally). Gibbs tells him that a Jack impersonator is recruit-ing a crew to search for the Fountain of Youth, but before they can figure out how to handle that Sparrow is kidnapped and bought to King George II (Richard Griffiths).

Why the King needs Jack when he could just follow the random Spaniards or steal the map to the Fountain of Youth is puzzling. After all, Sparrow is a pirate, and isn’t piracy illegal? Apparently not illegal enough, because in walks yet another pirate, albeit a reformed one … Captain Hector Barbarossa (Geoffrey Rush). Barbarossa fills in the audience on why he has a peg leg, which involves the story of how he lost Jack’s precious ship, The Black Pearl. Expository mission accomplished, Sparrow escapes, which makes one wonder why this scene exists at all. During the painfully repetitious escape scene, Jack is rescued by his father Captain Teague (Keith Richards), who issues a fairly vague warning before disappearing.

Turns out that his father has brought him into the same pub as the imposter, a woman from his past named Angelica (Cruz). Her character is poorly written, poorly acted, and serves no real narrative purpose. She is pretending to be him for some reason never fully ex-plained, in order to hire a crew for Blackbeard (Ian McShane).

Jack manages to join Blackbeard’s crew and plans to sail The Queen Anne’s Revenge to the Fountain of Youth. He decides the ship would get there much faster with him in charge, and he doesn’t even believe that Blackbeard is on the ship anyway, so he foments some insurrection. That blows up in his face because it turns out that not only is Blackbeard hiding in his state room, he also has voodoo powers. (Sure, why not?) and can control the ship riggings with his magic sword. Hmm. It seems that could have used some backstory, but, you know, whatever. Blackbeard decides not to kill Sparrow, but he needs someone to kill so he picks out a red shirt from the crew and kills him instead. Released during the attempted mutiny is a captured priest (Sam Claflin) who objects to pirates ... being pirates, basically.

Even though the Spaniards have a huge lead, the English sight them at sea but somehow The Queen Anne’s Revenge beats them to the mermaids. Oh yeah. There are mermaids. But wait! Not just pretty Peter Pan Disney style mermaids! These mermaids are vampires! Ok, that’s pretty cool. The pirates need a mermaid for the ritual at the Fountain of Youth, and they also need two chalices from the ship of Ponce de Leon. Blackbeard sends Sparrow off alone to retrieve the chalices, since pirates are generally so trustworthy. The film limps to an unsatisfy-ingly obvious conclusion, but if you’re willing to sit through the credits, there is a bonus scene.

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