Aye, mateys, come aboard for another rousing pirate adventure with Jack Sparrow. That’s Capt. Jack Sparrow to you, as he reminds us frequently during this fourth installment of one of Disney’s most successful franchises. Already there is rumor of a fifth film underway, and with record-breaking box office earnings in its first weekend, it’s a sure bet you haven’t seen the last of Cap’n Jack.
After “At World’s End,” I had about given up on Depp’s ability to take this pirate and his crew any further. The stories were as bloated and incomprehensible as Depp’s grungy character, but a new director and a new co-star have given new life to the scurrilous Sparrow and his exploits, even though the story is still too long.
Rob Marshall takes over for Gore Verbinski, who directed the first three “Pirates” films. Working with his production team — Dariusz Wolski handling photography and John Myhre as set designer — the effect is immediately evident with crisply framed venues in and around London and the tropical locations, which pop with eye-catching color. Myrhe’s sets have rich detail, whether it’s a dessert-laden buffet in the king’s palace or musty jail cell. And consider that most of the action takes place under cover of the night sky.
Something else evident almost immediately is the darker element to the story as scripted by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. As always there are plenty of double entendres and humor on the high seas, but the pirates seem, well … more mature. Part of that involves a steamy love story between Jack and new character Angelica, played with gusto by Penelope Cruz.
The story’s central plot surrounds the quest for the Fountain of Youth. A race is on between the Spaniards, English and the dreaded Blackbeard (Ian MacShane). Leading England’s crew is Jack’s nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush looking particularly crusty). The special effects for his peg leg are especially impressive.Angelica, who believes she is Blackbeard’s daughter, kidnaps Jack, who claims to know where the fountain is, except if we know anything about this weasel, it’s that he never — well, hardly ever — tells the truth. The set up to actually get the race going is too drawn out and includes relentless action sequences with a carriage chase across London’s crowded city streets and more than one swashbuckling duel.
The most interesting, and one of the darkest elements to this story are the mermaids. As legend goes, a mermaid’s tear must be obtained to claim eternal youth, and in this tale it could cost you your life. These mermaids are deadly sirens with fangs and bad tempers, save for Serena (Astrid Berges-Frisby) who is captured by Blackbeard.Overall the special effects are superior, giving the tall sailing ships depth and dimension as well as enhancing most of the 3D work. The familiar Hans Zimmer theme, always integral to the story, vividly underscores the action, while cameos from Keith Richard as Sparrow’s father and Judi Dench add a little oomph to the pirate party.How good is it? Better than the last one and good enough to get me back into the theater for the inevitable fifth installment. I give it two-and-a-half arrghs.