Right at the beginning of POTC4, there is a moment where you see Capt. Jack Sparrow in a wig. A little later, Capt. Hector Barbossa also makes his appearance in attire entirely unsuited to his demeanor. These moments, although not entirely unexpected, produce a sigh of satisfaction. The three POTC movies that have come before were bloated, meandering adventure yarns held together by the sheer relish with which Messrs. Depp and Rush chewed up the scenery. Even though you don’t walk in expecting Casablanca this time around, at least there is the satisfaction of being back in the company of these fine actors.
Sadly, this proves to be far less than enough. If you count the commute to a multiplex playing the 3D version, POTC4 represents four hours of my life I could’ve spent doing something far more valuable, like watching a slab of cheese develop a layer of mold.
There is more of a plot in this film than there was in the third instalment, although that isn’t really saying much. Sparrow finds himself on a ship commandeered by Capt. Blackbeard, one of the few pirate legends who hadn’t made his way into the franchise until now. The first mate is his daughter, a woman Sparrow once seduced and abandoned and still has feelings for. Destination: the Fountain of Youth. Two other parties are on the same quest: a British ship commandeered by Barbossa and a Spanish ship commandeered by a man whose name I cannot recall. Not that it matters, really. The story is about how they get there after much ado, and what happens when they get there.
This is as much plot as is found in most movies involving a search for mythical objects/places. Plus, it involves Depp and Rush. And, Penelope Cruz plays the girl. On paper, this shouldn’t have been the steaming pile of plankton poop it turns out to be. The blame, I think, rests on three things:
- The script, which is gloomier than something Ingmar Effing Bergman would come up with when he’s having a really bad day. Blackbeard is such a bastard, and Ian McShane plays him so straight that you don’t sense anyone even wanting to have fun around him. Not even Sparrow, which is saying something. Penelope Cruz, whose talent for kookiness ought to have made this franchise a fantastic fit for her, looks like she is going through the motions.
- The 3D experience, which I found to be darker than I would’ve liked. Half the time, I couldn’t even follow the action and felt sort of disoriented. I don’t know if the fault lay with my glasses, but the experience on the whose was a pain in the posterior.
- The action sequences, which simply don’t have the sort of momentum or wild invention required to grab us by the short hairs and keep us engaged for most of the running time.
Despite all that, I guess the film will make enough money for the suits to bankroll another instalment. Maybe someday they’ll get it right and make a POTC movie that deserves its cast. And maybe there really is a fountain of youth where I can get a drink while I wait for that to happen.