The makers of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie have insisted that they've trimmed all the ludicrous, overcomplicated fat of the second and, mostly, third movies, put the focus back on humor and the fun of swashbuckling and sought out to make an easily digestible family film. And while it's true that this movie is extremely straightforward and definitely easy to digest, it's also one of the most lifeless and least memorable "action" movies I've ever seen.
The movie begins with Jack Sparrow in London, searching for a rumored Jack Sparrow imposter who turns out to be Penelope Cruz, an old flame of his, in a remarkably effective fake moustache. They have a sword fight. They talk about their relationship. Then, they get on Penelope Cruz's ship, which also happens to be the feared pirate Blackbeard's (Ian McShane) ship. On board, they talk about their relationship some more, and when Sparrow incites a mutiny, they have another sword fight. Mutiny in this instance doesn't have many consequences of note for Jack, and after Blackbeard kills a random character to make an example of him, everyone sails on together like nothing happened. And where are they going? Why, they are seeking the Fountain of Youth (hey, so's the franchise! Ba-dum-bum). On the way, Sparrow and Cruz talk about their relationship yet some more. This goes on for quite some time -- the whole movie, in fact, just stopping the action at every turn for further discussions of a relationship that is impossible to care about.
The problem with the film isn't just the screwed-up pacing, or how predictable it is, or how exhausting the middling humor is. It's that, without being dressed up with all the crazy CGI and hallucinogenic world-upside-down dream sequences and plot insanities, Jack Sparrow doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Johnny Depp plays him as deftly as he always has, but it turns out that unless he's fighting giant squids or undead skeleton armies, Jack Sparrow's not so much a character as he is a Halloween costume that makes funny faces. I honestly have never yearned for plot contrivances so much in my entire life, that's how boring this movie is.
There is one bright spot in an epic battle between pirates and vampire mermaids (yes, vampire mermaids), but by the time we got to that point I was already so frustratingly bored it didn't pay off as much as it should have. Also, then one of the awesome vampire mermaids turns out to just be a sweet, misunderstood girl who just loves good Christian boys, as if that's a story anyone came to this movie to see. And that Christian boy she loves? His entire purpose is to scold and shame pirates out of doing bad things. You know, because of how entertaining saintly pirates are. What is even happening here?
So, upside: The movie makes a great deal of sense! You can tell what is happening all of the time almost. But, downside: It's soulless and literally less enjoyable than the impenetrable third movie. Somehow. It would be impressive if this thing hadn't stolen nearly two-and-a-half hours of my life.
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