Throughout his stellar career as an actor, no one has created a more memorable, fascinating, diverse, and, in some cases, bizarre array of characters for the big screen than the incredibly talented and amazingly versatile Johnny Depp.
Anyone who has missed the bulk of Depp’s films has been deprived of watching the talent of one of the most brilliant and talented actors ever to work in Tinseltown. Name another actor with the range to portray such people as The Mad Hatter, Ichabod Crane, Gilbert Grape, Sweeney Todd, Willie Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sir James Matthew Barrie, and John Dillinger, to name just a few. Although I’ve loved, respected, and admired all of Depp’s creations, my favorite still is Capt. Jack Sparrow, the ultimate antithesis of the stereotypical pirate.
Jack is back on the silver screen in “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” the fourth installment of the Sparrow legend that began with “Curse of the Black Pearl” in 2003, and was followed by “Dead Man’s Chest” in 2005 and “At World’s End” in 2007. The first three films h earned a whopping $2.6 billion so far worldwide, and there is no reason to believe that “On Savetranger Tides” will fail to add a significant amount to that impressive total.
“On Stranger Tides” gets under way with an amusingly entertaining segment in which Jack escapes from King George’s castle and then proceeds to lead a frantic carriage chase through the streets of London. But the gist of the film involves a race to find the Fountain of Youth between the legendary Blackbeard (Ian Mc Shane) and Capt. Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), Jack’s old nemesis, whose quest is being financed by King George. Through a set of circumstances too involved to delineate here, Jack meets up with Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former lover and the daughter of Blackbeard. She ultimately captures Jack and takes him on board the Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s ship manned by a crew of zombies.
Fans of the Jack Sparrow adventure should not be disappointed in this episode because it contains plenty of action, lots of swashbuckling adventure, and some stellar special effects. And as it is in all the Jack Sparrow movies, the subtle humor resulting from a combination of the foppish pirate’s body language and his one-liners is consistently delightful throughout the film.
A new wrinkle in this movie, however, is the addition of a group (Or should I say school?) of mysterious mermaids led by the lovely Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who steals the hearts of one of the sailors (Sam Claflin). This subplot offers an interesting diversion from the main quest, and the sequence will certainly provide an intriguing twist to the mermaid mystique.
As they were in the former films in the series, the sets and costumes are magnificent, and this is particularly true of Blackbeard’s ship. It’s a glorious creation and the prototype of what every pirate ship should look like.
And while we’re on the subject of Blackbeard, we must give credit to Mc Shane for his superb portrayal of this famous pirate. He not only looks and sounds the part, but he also manages to convey a perfect demeanor for his character so that he is someone we love to hate.
I confess that I am no big fan of Cruz, but I must admit her portrayal of Angelica is at once entertaining and humorous, but I did think her chemistry with Depp could have been a bit stronger than it was.
The driving force in these films, however, is the ongoing rivalry between Jack and Barbossa, and this movie is no exception. In the production notes, Rush offered an interesting analysis of the relationship between the two enemies.
“Let’s just say that Jack and Barbossa think of themselves as an old married couple. If these two could actually collaborate and not lock horns all the time, they would be the most fantastic unstoppable team. But they’re worlds apart because Barbossa is purely a strategic thinker, and not the brightest person, I should think. Jack bobs along the river of life improvising, taking huge daring risks which always pay off for him even if he’s being blown from one ship to another. He always lands and ends up looking like Bugs Bunny leaning against the mast. And it will ever be thus so, so that’s a really fantastic actorial dynamic to engage with.”
And Depp’s take on the characters’ relationship also is interesting.
“Even when Captain Jack and Barbossa are on the same side, they’re always on opposite sides somehow. I always felt like these two characters bicker like a couple of old housewives at a bridge club, just picking each other apart by the tiniest little morsel and detail. That’s how Geoffrey and I have approached it from day one, and he’s most definitely a worthy opponent. Geoffrey is a fantastic actor, who’s consistently investigating the possibilities of a scene. It’s always fresh, always new, always interesting with Geoffrey.”
Both Rush and Depp seem to revel in their respective roles, but it still is Depp who carries the movie with his outrageous portrayal of Jack as the consummate fop. If you have never seen one of these films, you will be amazed at the way Depp comports himself throughout the movie, and, whether he’s walking, running, or standing still, he never loses that edge of effeminacy that is Jack’s trademark.
At one point Jack says to Angelica, “You walk like a girl.” And Angelica fires back, “You would know.”
The dialogue throughout movie is consistently humorous, and Jack always is ready to come up with memorable lines like the following: “I support the missionary’s position”; “Did everyone see that because I will not be doing that again”; and “You seem somewhat familiar. Have I threatened you before?” In this film, Barbossa is sporting a wooden leg, and at one point Jack asks him, “Do you have termites?” And when someone addresses him as Jack Sparrow, he responds, “There should be a ‘Captain’ in there somewhere?”
Depp has admitted that it takes him a bit of time to get out of character after playing Jack, and he explained why in the production notes.
“When you’re done playing Captain Jack, there’s a real decompression getting out of that skin because I like being in that skin. There’s great comfort in playing Capt. Jack because you have license to be completely irreverent, completely subversive, absolutely abstract in all situations. I know him so well that it just comes naturally.”
I rank “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (Give it a score of seven.) second in the series with the original still in first place. But Depp’s presence makes all of them watchable. I just wish the so many of the action scenes in this movie had not taken place in subdued lighting because I really like to see what’s going on. Nevertheless, I still love Jack, and even if Depp doesn’t reprise the role for a fifth time, a pirate’s life has been very good to him.