With a slimmed down cast and a (slightly) more modest budget, the crew of the massively lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise set sail last weekend with the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow firmly, and finally, at the center of the story.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides sits dead center among the original trilogy as far as I’m concerned. I have always been of the opinion that the first was the best of the bunch, a modern classic, if I may be so bold, and the other two were fun, and very enjoyable, popcorn-worthy movies. With that as our model moving forward, On Stranger Tides fits perfectly amongst the other films. It’s Captain Jack doing his thing while other dirty, smelly pirates do their thing. Isn’t that why we go see these movies? Official reviews have been pretty terrible, and, in my opinion, misguided in their conclusions. Look, you can’t criticize a Pirates of the Caribbean movie for doing the “same old thing”. If there wasn’t a heavy amount of double crossing, exaggerated pirate lore, and witty, nearly unintelligible banter, it wouldn’t be a Pirates movie.
*I’m going to do my best to avoid spoilers… but you never know*
The plot for this movie takes us exactly where At World’s End suggested a fourth movie may go, the Fountain of Youth. And this time, Captain Jack and Captain Barbosa are joined by the most infamous pirate of all, Black Beard (played by Ian Mcshane), and the only woman Jack ever may have possibly had the tiniest bit of real feelings toward, Angelica, played by Penelope Cruz (who is a welcomed replacement for Keira Knightly). We also discover that mermaids are real in the Pirates universe, and that they are kind of like watery vampires (who, by the way, are a bit sensual in nature, but they are not “oogled” by the camera. They are also strategically more fish than woman, so, in reality, they do not reveal much.)
The story goes exactly like you would expect it to, “Complications arose, ensued, were overcome.” I don’t want to address the story so much as I want to talk a bit about how the movie could have easily been much better than the second and third installments, and then, what we can redeem from the film.
First, I enjoyed the movie and thought it was at least as good as the second and third films, maybe better as it stands. But there were a few things that hurt it from sitting closer to the level of the first film. I would have loved a few minutes of back story on Blackbeard. The most infamous pirate in history deserves a bit more than a passing remark about how he can raise people from the dead, which, if true, would have made the quest for the fountain of youth a little less important anyway.
The area that really caused On Stranger Tides to suffer was the budget, and never is this more evident than the lack of a proper sea battle. you would expect a Pirates movie, especially one called On Stranger Tides, to spend a bit more time on the water. This is even more apparent when you consider that the entire epic ending of the third film took place on the water, in all of it’s over-the-top, salt-watery glory. The reality is that they just didn’t have the money this time, and all things considered, they did a fine job. I assume that if this one does well, they’ll up the budget and we’ll get all the things they couldn’t fit into this movie.
Second, what can be redeemed about this film?
First off, the “pirate’s life” is the result of the evil desires in our hearts. There is little remorse for killing a man (which we see regularly) or sleeping with multiple women (which we are thankfully spared, hence my willingness to actually see the move), and any moral actions are teeming with selfish motives, even from the “good guys”, who by the way, are also pirates. This life is obviously glorified throughout the series, but when we view the movie with a Gospel perspective, (meaning that we understand man’s sinful, God’s holiness, and our need for a mediating Savior) we are reminded that there is nothing glorious about it, and God is graciously sparing us from it.
Self-sacrifice is always an underlying theme in the Pirates films, and Stranger Tides continues that tradition. A new theme to the film is one of caring for your enemies. The mermaids are seen only as a strange, dangerous aliens (and rightly so) until one is shown kindness by a missionary aboard Queen Anne’s Revenge (Blackbeard’s ship). We soon learn that the mermaids are capable of great kindness as well, and one particular mermaid is essential to the success of our heroes. This is a surprising place to find an example of loving your enemies, but there is something about being made in God’s image that makes it impossible to avoid admiring self-sacrifice and unusual kindness.