About 260 years ago, Catholic Spain and Protestant England fought one another for domination of the world, sending their immense ships back and forth across the Atlantic to plunder the riches of the New World. English pirates had a merry olde time attacking the Spanish ships and stealing their loot. English monarchs thought that was such a capital idea that they commissioned pirates to work for the royal navy, calling them “buccaneers.” All throughout the cays of the Caribbean, pirates buried treasure, drank themselves silly and formed societies where captains were chosen by the crew and held accountable to them. Long before American discontents up north starting organizing boisterous tea parties, the Caribbean pirates lived in melting pot democracies.
In an exquisitely furnished castle in Cadiz, Spain, a renegade sailor is rolled out onto the floor and tells a wild tale claiming Ponce De Leon discovered the legendary Fountain of Youth in the Caribbean. The Spaniard (Oscar Jaenada), a gorgeously attired nobleman of haughty demeanor, squints his greedy eyes and the adventure begins.
Meanwhile in the dirty, noisy metropolis of London—where horses fight with strumpets for space on the cobble-stoned streets—Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) drops in. After doffing his ridiculous disguise as a white-wigged judge, he reveals his true self—accessorized to the max, his dreadlocks longer and sun-kissed—and with a new, never-explained red “X” scar on his cheek. He escapes an “interview” with King George II by hurling himself out the window, hanging from the king’s banners, jumping across carriage tops, (stopping inside one long enough to kiss an earring away from society woman Judi Dench) and finally being rescued by none other than Daddy—Keith Richards as Captain Teague.
Jack is back! We know what to expect—nefarious bad guys, endless swashbuckling, and flying through the air on ropes and vines, and crystal chandeliers. There’s the familiar incredible array of costumes and sets, the stunning photography and music. The marvelous sailing ships. The witty dialogue. The explosions. The improbable love stories. Most importantly, there is a quest that’s inspiring, impossible, and deadly. And everybody is on it.
In On Stranger Tides, the fourth Pirates outing, there’s a new director, Rob Marshall (Chicago). He’s brought on board a complex but understandable story (albeit a tad long), with plenty of lovely magic, not to mention cream puffs, voodoo dolls, zombies, ships in bottles, poisoned swords, and ancient pagan ruins—all choreographed together exquisitely as Marshall’s background in the theatre would assure.
There’s also a marvelous new co-star, Angelina (Penelope Cruz), who Jack found in Seville when he was looking for a brothel but landed in a convent. Jack had “stirrings” for Angelina, yet abandoned her. She is still mad at him, but in the intervening years she’s learned how to sword fight like a man, “tell lies by telling the truth,” and embrace the ambiguous pirate morality.
Captain Sparrow, desperate to get back The Black Pearl, his beloved ship, finds himself shanghaied onto another ship captained by the sadistic pirate/magician Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who boasts, “If I don’t kill a man every now and then they forget who I am.” To complicate matters, Jack’s old nemesis, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), has been given a ship by King George. Not only does everyone have to figure out where the fountain is, climb through the jungle, jump off cliffs and fight mutinies—but they have to find two magic chalices, and pour into one of them the tear of a mermaid.
That’s the hard part. Mermaids are hard to catch, especially in White Cap Bay, where they are more like vampires than water sprites. One young mermaid, Syrena (Spanish newcomer Astrid Berges-Frisbey) is captured and a preacher named Philip (English newcomer Sam Claflin) is determined to save her, if not love her, too.
After all his near-death experiences, his wounds, betrayals, and disappointments. Jack still admits, “It’s a pirate’s life for me, savvy?” And then he’s faced with the most weighty decision of his life. Will he allow himself to quench his “stirrings” for Angelina or will he again take the coward’s way out? Be sure to see the scene after the closing credits.