If the first two sequels to 2003's highly entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl were fairly agreeable examples of popcorn fare — tasty, a bit salty, not at all nutritious, and forgotten before long — then Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides represents the grimace-inducing alternative: the unpopped kernel that just sits there, bereft of almost all value.
Directed by Rob Marshall in a spectacular free fall that saw him go from the Oscar-winning Chicago to the indifferently received Memoirs of a Geisha to the thudding Nine to this round of sloppy seconds — Gore Verbinski, helmer of Pirates 1-3, wisely elected to continue his Johnny Depp partnership over at Rango — POTC: On Stranger Tides is too long (even though it's the shortest of the four!), too cluttered and too forgetful of the reason why we're here in the first place. That would be to watch Depp cut loose in the role that turned his career supernova: Jack Sparrow, the fey pirate whose greatest skill remains looking out for himself. Depp still seems interested in the part, but scripters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio let him down by frequently ignoring his character's ability to surprise us with his go-for-broke insanity in order to mire him in an ofttimes dull quest to locate the Fountain of Youth. The teaming of Depp and Penelope Cruz (as a sexy swashbuckler) doesn't quite produce the fireworks one expects (though it certainly beats The Tourist's Depp-Jolie mismatch), while Ian McShane seems unable to muster much menace as the murderous Blackbeard. That leaves it up to Geoffrey Rush, once again playing the unsavory Barbossa, to elicit any of that old-time Pirates magic — his saucy scenes with Depp are arguably the movie's high points.
In reviewing 2007's POTC: At World's End, I wrote that "it's a fine summertime distraction, but woe to the viewer who elects to revisit it somewhere down the line." This new film can't even earn such guarded praise, meaning it's best to send On Stranger Tides to its watery grave and hope for stronger tidings from the rest of the seasonal blockbusters.