It was a sad spectacle to see Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp go from such impressive and elegant blockbuster storytelling with the first “Pirates” to such incomprehensible nonsense as the last three “Pirates.” Unless you’re a hyperattentive twelve year old boy, you can’t figure out what’s going on. The fix isn’t hiring Rob Marshall to helm the fourth in the series. Let’s say you liked “Chicago.” I didn’t, mostly because it embodies the worst of the Modern Musical. But, what in “Memoirs of a Geisha” or “Nine” made someone say: Put this guy in charge of a Big, Stupid Pirate Movie!
Well, the stunts are nicely choreographed. This time, Johnny Depp’s outrageously fey Jack Sparrow is on some sort of quest for the Fountain of Youth. Which is a plot never employed by desperate filmmakers. Since Kiera Knightly and Orlando Bloom are…busy(?) or “focusing on projects with more artistic merit,” we get a pretty feisty looking Penelope Cruz as an alternate. That might be to the audience’s gain, and we also have Ian McShane and Geoffrey Rush and Keith Richards trying to chew the scenery right out of Depp’s hungry mouth. That’s the reason this franchise is still around, right?
Cruz has never quite become a star in America, partly because she’s typecast as the eye candy. Pedro Almodovar understands how to turn Cruz’ woman-on-the-verge screen presence into comedy, and Woody Allen turned her into a threat. Hollywood, and that includes Rob Marshall, would rather put dopey lines in her mouth and show some cleavage. Ian McShane is promising, but he mostly spouts catchphrases and unleashes special effects against Jack Sparrow’s whimsy. In the end, “Pirates” has way too much plot and too little character. Nobody cares about this pseudo-myth—nobody cares why Captain Jack is trying to rescue this chick, just that they get together and say funny things. Just do that again.