The fabled Fountain of Youth is at the heart of the film with three separate groups trying to find it before the others, each with their own agenda. The Spanish are trying to get it for reasons that will be fully explained towards the end of the film. The British want to get there first just so the Spanish don't. The Brits however are lead by none other than Captain Barbossa who has forsaken piracy to be on the side of the righteous. The years haven't been kind to Barbossa who lost a leg in a fight against the third person looking for the Fountain - the most ruthless pirate on the planet, Blackbeard. And where does good old Captain Jack Sparrow fit into this? He's the one person who knows how to get to the Fountain so both the British and Blackbeard need him. The Spanish however, have their own ways. So it's a race to find the fountain and sip from the cup of life, but along the way the three groups must not only fight each other, but some of the most dangerous creatures known to man - mermaids. Who will win the race? And will it be worth it in the end?
I will say this for On Stranger Tides - the story is much more streamlined than the past three films. But that's probably the only way in which this film is better. In all other ways it simply does not live up to its predecessors. I think the biggest problem I had was that the story was very dark. Some of that may be due to the fact that I saw it in 3D and 3D glasses literally make the screen darker. And once again the 3D adds absolutely nothing to the film. But the overall story was much angrier than the other three, with few of the famed lighthearted moments we've become used to. Another issue I had was with the new characters. I can understand maybe some of the other actors didn't want to come back, or the producers felt it was time to move on with a new cast, but there were only three major people who returned from the original trilogy - Sparrow, Barbossa and Gibbs. The two biggest new characters were both pirates - Blackbeard and Angelica. The two biggest secondary characters were arguably the most annoying - the Priest and the Mermaid. Which sounds like a bad Hans Christian Andersen story waiting to happen. So what it comes down to is, I really missed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. I like them both as actors, but I also really liked their characters. Obviously the star of the entire series is Johnny Depp's insane Captain Jack, but in the first three movies I felt like he had a much better supporting group of characters to play off of. In this film he was playing against the same type of characters, namely pirates. Having two non-pirates play crucial roles helped each of the characters expand more than playing against similar ones. Hell they even all looked alike (which was literally true for the introduction of Angelica). And for the most part there wasn't a lot of conflict between Jack and the others - they felt more like frenemies than enemies. The Blackbeard character was cool, and Ian McShane was a great choice, but in the end he didn't add much to the film, which felt like a little bit of a waste to me.
I also felt the film as a whole didn't have the same spark as the first three. The screenwriters were the same, so I attribute most of it to the change in directors. Rob Marshall simply doesn't have the artistic chops Gore Verbinski does, at least for this kind of film. The action sequences felt forced rather than flowing through the story. And now, a week after I've seen the movie, there are no scenes that really stand out in my mind. Yet from the first movie in the original trilogy I can immediately think about the first fight between Depp and Bloom in the barn. And the second movie offered up one of my two all-time favorite scenes - where Depp, Bloom and Jack Davenport (Norrington) were having their 3-way fight for the key to Davy Jones' heart, while simultaneously Keira Knightley was fighting mutant pirates with her two sidekicks. That's one of those scenes I will just put into my DVD (now Blu-ray) player just to watch once in a while because it was absolutely brilliant on so many levels. (The other all-time favorite scene is from The Matrix where Neo and Trinity walk into the building armed to the teeth and get into a shootout with the guards.) The third movie in the series was a bit weird but even there I remember the ship battle where they're floating around a whirlpool. This film though... there's not much that really stands out.
That being said, On Stranger Tides does have one big thing going for it... Captain Jack Sparrow. Johnny Depp's iconic character is forced to carry this entire movie by himself and he delivers once again. The character seems to have grown up a little since we last saw him. His mind is sharper and his playfulness has been toned down some. His character may or may not have feelings for Angelica, but they have a history together that controls how he acts. And Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa is still ticking along, even with the loss of his leg. It adds an interesting element to his character and I must say, I laughed out loud watching him eat an apple with a knife and fork. The movie wasn't what I had hoped for but it was still a decent movie, even with all my complaining above. I would highly suggest seeing it in 2D and not getting your hopes up. But if you're a fan of Captain Jack this is still a must-see film. I'm hoping that if they continue with films 5 and 6, they add better secondary characters and maybe, just maybe, bring back Bloom and Knightley.
The Blu-ray/DVD Combo has a few extras but not really a whole lot surprisingly. Once again it has Disney Second Screen which allows you to watch the movie on your TV and use a laptop/tablet to see extras at the same time. Unfortunately this still doesn't work for Android devices so I wasn't able to make use of it. There is a blooper reel, which was pretty funny. Then there were these five one-minute animated Lego stories... yes, it was Captain Jack as a Lego character. I have to imagine this is promotion for a Lego Pirates of the Caribbean game, which I'm too lazy to look up right now. Then there was an audio commentary track, some info on 3D Blu-ray and that's about it. So you're basically going to be buying this for the movie, not the extras. Of course the movie pops a lot more on Blu-ray than it did in the theaters, especially if you saw it in 3D since that tends to make everything a lot darker. It's much more enjoyable at home.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall, I was a little disappointed with Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. Johnny Depp is wonderful once again as Captain Jack, and Geoffrey Rush is a delight as Captain Barbossa, but the rest of the cast couldn't keep up. The story was straightforward but not very exciting, and the film itself just didn't have the magic of the previous ones. Maybe Disney went to the well once too many, but I still believe Captain Jack can sail again and this time, have some fun doing it.