So imagine you’re a mermaid, right? The top half of you is insanely hot. Your hair’s got that sexy, just-came-out-of-the-shower thing going on, maybe the smallest strand of it is stuck to your face. The buoyancy of the water means that your breasts are always bouncing, and somehow your skin never gets pruny. The bottom half of you is kind of fishy, but you’re still fully capable of holding intelligent conversation, of making rational choices, and, most importantly, of feeling human emotion. Look, I understand that you and I are different, but do you seriously have to devour us regular folk? I mean honestly. I don’t eat other people, and do you know why? Because I like talking to them! Because I empathize with them. Because they’re my friends. For god’s sake, there’s a crapload of reasons I don’t eat people. And I don’t see why mermaids should be any different.
Plus, when mermaids are out of the water, their somewhat-less-than-attractive fish tails magically go away and turn into alluring lady parts. On land, they’re completely human! All I’m saying is instead of cannibalistically devouring us homo sapiens, they should just eat fish or something—I’m sure there’s a way. I mean, one of the mermaids is even the center of the main love story. You can’t have it both ways, Pirates of the Caribbean. Either they’re horrible sea monsters who just use their charm to feed, or they’re sexy, briny, love trout. The only way I can even begin to make sense of this, and the movie doesn’t give us much to go on, mind you, is that the mermaids were the guardians of the fountain of youth, and the only reason they were killing people was because they knew these were bad men who would use the fountain for their own, evil ends.
Phew. So as you may or may not have gathered, this new installment of Pirates is about the quest for the fountain of youth, which so happens to be located on an island surrounded by lovely, fangy mermaids. Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), and the Spaniards (various) are all racing to be the first to unlock the power of the fountain, and these mermaids are hell bent on stopping them. The only person they don’t attempt to kill is a missionary (Sam Claflin). The reason I spent so long ranting about this is not because I disliked the mermaids. Quite the contrary. The mermaid love story was, in my opinion, the most touching and interesting part of the film. The major players were acted expertly, mind you, but they just didn’t have good story arcs. Ian McShane made a menacing Blackbeard, but his character was one note and weak. Geoffrey Rush is one of the best actors of our day, and he lent a great deal of formidability to Captain Barbossa, but his story is nothing compared to his quest to free himself from the Curse of the Black Pearl. And we’ve already seen so much of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Sure, he’s great and all, but it’s the random missionary and his mermaid lover (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) who manage to capture our imaginations.
Other than the love story, which feels almost tacked on, this movie is very simple, which is actually a good thing! After a great start to this series, the sequel and threequel were huge letdowns. Each became more mired in its sense of the grandiose. The plots became a tangled jumble of unrelated elements, each more confusing than the last. Impossibly hard to follow, these sequels left audiences with nothing but Johnny Depp’s charm and a good deal of sword fighting. Here, though, the plot is straightforward. Three different groups are racing toward the same goal, and everything comes together nicely. Yet, for all their effort, the film lacks a certain something. The story structure is there, but there’s just no magic to it. Because things are so clearly foreshadowed, there’s no mystery, no surprise, and this makes it nigh impossible to become emotionally invested. I almost nodded off at the beginning, but by the end all I could say was, “Well done, I guess. Things did sort of come together there, didn’t they?”
At least most of the basic plot made sense, because if you start digging a little deeper, this movie is riddled with details that do not add up to two licks of a wench’s tongue on Tuesday. In fantasy, you’re allowed to invent some things, but On Stranger Tides goes too far. In the first film, for example, there’s a curse that causes men to live forever, but their bodies wither away, turning to skeletons. That’s the one example of magic that drives the whole story. Here, however, the writers throw in an endless barrage of unexplained mysteries. Why does Blackbeard’s ship have giant flamethrowers? I don’t think they had that kind of technology back then. And I’ll grant Blackbeard a sword that lets him magically control his rigging, but how does that translate to his being able to capture real life ships in tiny bottles? For that matter, how is Blackbeard able to create zombie deckhands that can’t be killed? And why doesn’t he have more of them? And why is it never important to the story?
Things may not hold together completely, but there’s still a lot to love. This is definitely the 2nd best Pirates movies and will provide a bit of fun for those who decide to go. Thanks to the expert acting, a reasonably well-plotted story, and some compelling missionary mermaid action, I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:
Alignment: Standard Fluff
Mermaids are just too hot for me to believe they’re killing those poor guys. Hot girls can’t possible have bad intentions, right? Maybe they’re just dragging them underwater to the love kelp?Follow @russnickel