A Pirate's Life for Me—- On Stronger Tides

While it is hard to believe,  at two hours and 17 minutes this is the shortest of the Depp Pirate movies, it may be even harder to believe that this has gotten worse reviews than the previous movies in the series!   Ah, but if a pirate’s life is for you— ahoy matey, shiver me timbers and blow me down, this is a summer movie just for you.

Actually, in my humble opinion this is not the weakest in the series— that would be Pirates— At Wit’s End……err.. at the World’s End.    This one has better action and look ma, it’s in 3D.   It also has an all star cast—- besides Depp we have the smoldering Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa (remember him as the teacher of the King in the King’s Speech?),  Ian McShane,  one of my old TV favorites from the Lovejoy show  (he also played Judas long long ago in Jesus of Nazareth).   The new characters in this one is Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard) and his lovely daughter (Penelope Cruz), and oh yes vampire killer mermaids.

For those of you not raised in North Carolina and not made to learn the story of Blackbeard because of course he landed in N.C.  here is a nice little summary from Wiki on Mr. Edward Teach

Edward Teach (c. 1680 – 22 November 1718), better known as Blackbeard, was a notorious English pirate who operated around the West Indies and the eastern coast of the American colonies.

Teach was most likely born in Bristol, although little is known about his early life. In 1716 he joined the crew of Benjamin Hornigold, a pirate who operated from the Caribbean island of New Providence. He quickly acquired his own ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, and from 1717 to 1718 became a renowned pirate. His cognomen, Blackbeard, was derived from his thick black beard and fearsome appearance; he was reported to have tied lit fuses under his hat to frighten his enemies.

After parting company with Hornigold, Teach formed an alliance of pirates and with his cohort blockaded the port of Charleston, South Carolina. He successfully ransomed its inhabitants and then soon after, ran his ship aground on a sandbar near Beaufort, North Carolina. Teach accepted a royal pardon but was soon back at sea, where he attracted the attention of the Governor of Virginia, Alexander Spotswood. Spotswood arranged for a party of soldiers and sailors to find and capture the pirate, which they did on 22 November 1718. During a ferocious battle, Teach was killed by a small force of sailors led by Lieutenant Robert Maynard.

A shrewd and calculating leader, Teach avoided the use of force, relying instead on his fearsome image to elicit the response he desired from those he robbed. Contrary to the modern-day picture of the traditional tyrannical pirate, he commanded his vessels with the permission of their crews and there are no known accounts of his ever having harmed or murdered those he held captive. He was romanticised after his death, and became the inspiration for a number of pirate-themed works of fiction across a range of genres.

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And here is one of the earliest drawings of said pirate—–

This drawing was made in 1736 and is surely the basis for the appearance of Ian McShane who does a fine job of being Blackbeard in this film.

Perhaps the most surprising element in the film is the introduction of Christianity into the film.  There is a missionary, pure of heart,  named Phillip who falls in love with one of the mermaids (subplot with happy ending).  I was unprepared for the contrast towards the end of the film between pagan means of seeking immortality (in this film it involves retracing the journey of Ponce  d’Leon looking for the fountain of youth—- strange how it looks like Hawaii instead of Florida when we get there :) vs. Christian ones.  We have the Spanish Catholics who sail for the fountain in fact to destroy it, not to use it as a means of gaining everlasting life and we have the Christian missionary with heart of gold as well vs. the English and the pirates (no comment on what that may say on Christianity in England in the 17th-18th centuries).    This theme is worth watching in the film, and there are various pronouncements made about faith and its value and valor in the film.   A pleasant surprise.

Johnny Depp is his usual swashbuckling self and has plenty of funny lines in this film especially when bantering with Cruz and Geoffrey Rush aka Barbosa.   Most viewers who know the history of modern adventure films will find the closing scenes rather much like the closing scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade— chalices, drinking from a chalice to produce everlasting life etc.  I was just waiting for Depp to say “He chose poorly”.

There are too many superfluous action scenes in the movie, and Hans Zimmer does not have his finest hour with the score (it’s mostly a re-run of previous themes and far too bombastic at times),  but watching Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow is worth the price of admission,  that is if you skip the 3D deal because apart from a few swords pointed right at my chest, the effects are not that special in 3D.     If there are more Pirates movies,  they need to keep Penelope Cruz in the mix as she does a far better job that Keira Knightly of being a potential love interest for someone.     Despite all the swashbuckling,  there really is little blood or guts in this movie, no real bad language, and no sex scenes, hence the PG 13.  Next time, get a script writer not only good at repartee, but at actual plotting.

So, if you’re feeling up for sailing over the bounding mane to the fountain of youth,  and suspending your disbelief at points too numerous to count,  this movie can be fun.  It’s a whale of a lot better than installment three, and it won’t leave you blubbering either.

  • Kwesi Adarkwa

    Ben, I’m going to see this on Sunday. Good review — looks like I won’t be too disappointed, at least.

    Have you read the book ‘The Human Faces of God’? Could you please do a review of that? I know myself and a lot of friends have been troubled by it’s examination of the inerrancy of Scripture

    blessings!

  • Howard

    “… sailing over the bounding what ?”

    Excellent pun !!

    surely not an error !

    go to:

    http://www.boundingmain.com/

  • Jeff

    Good review Ben. Generally agree. Actually, I think it is the second best installment of the four movies. I thought that II and III were pretty far down relative to Pirates I. But, I’d slot IV a notch above those but significantly below I.

    It may well be that no matter what is done with this franchise, if anything, that they will never match I simply because it was so original and had so many references to the P of C ride at Disney. Just don’t think they’ll really be able to come up with a story that could match the first.

    But, I still enjoyed the movie. A good time. Especially since I went with my son and daughter to the midnight showing on the night my daughter graduated from high school.