Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is one of my favorite television shows, even though its gone a bit downhill lately. Is it the cast? No, because they are mostly intact. What is actually happening is that each of the main characters, known for their superb chemistry amongst each other, are suddenly spending less screen time with each other and more time to themselves. This story actually has a point. On Stranger Tides suffers the same fate: fantastic cast that don't spend as much time with each other as we hope. Add some pointless plot lines, a calmer first-third of the flick, and you have yourself the fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean.
That being said, its still quite entertaining. On Stranger Tides follows a variety of people searching for the fabled Fountain of Youth. Unfortunately for us, its not just Jack Sparrow. We have Blackbeard, the Spanish, the British (led by Barbossa), Angelica, and more doing the same thing. Subplots pertaining to this quest include Jack's past with Angelica, Barbossa's questionable change in character, some random guy falling for some random girl (I am serious, this part was totally pointless), and the pointless Spanish people that flock in and out of the movie.
This is by far the weakest part of the movie, the script. For some odd reason, they borrowed far too much from the novel (whose pacing and themes far differ that of the Pirates brand) and forgot that sometimes simplicity is best---which is what made Curse of the Black Pearl such a great film. It was the easiest to follow, and On Stranger Tides didn't learn from the previous two installments. To add to that, the script utterly separated everyone, even those with the best on-screen chemistry. Barbossa was barely with Jack Sparrow, Sparrow was rarely with his ex-lover, and worst of all reliable Gibbs spent minimal time with Sparrow. When they are together, the humor, the banter, tension, and the charm works well. When they aren't, well, the movie drags a bit.
Thank goodness the cast is still on their game. Johnny Depp once again breathes life into the pirate movie with his smart, unpredictable, and hilarious portrayal of Jack Sparrow. Despite what the reviews say, Jack Sparrow's shtick isn't getting old as he is still a delight to watch. Geoffrey Rush once again shines as Jack's best rival Barbossa, as his quiet intentions resemble that of Sparrow in earlier films. Penelope Cruz adds a layer of sexuality that we definitely did not have with the other Pirates of the Caribbeans--it's just a shame she didn't have much time with Sparrow. Director Rob Marshall was able to shell out good performances from everyone in the cast, but he definitely wasn't the man for this job.
Almost all the chase scenes or action sequences were done with very low-lighting and poor camera angles. With the exception of the mesmerizing and chilling mermaid sequence and the opening chase, all the action moments were missing that special touch. While the bizarreness of Gore Verbinski will not be totally missed (although his style worked perfectly in Rango), his ability to crank out excellent stuntwork and fights was sorely missing here. At least we got to see plenty of it, from the opening chase to the final dramatic (and short) showdown. Say whatever you want, but there has yet to be anything that can top the infamous three-way sword fight/old mill showdown from Dead Man's Chest.
Bottom Line: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a mix of frustration and fun. There was plenty of potential that wasn't met because of questionable plot lines, pointless moments, lack of chemistry (once again: writer's fault. Good going Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio), and uneven direction. All that banter aside, Pirates is also plenty fun with several delightful moments, funny lines, and much more action than the last Pirates flick. Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz and company keep the movie afloat, and prevent it from being a pure bore. But I think the franchise works better when Verbinski is behind the camera. On Stranger Tides is decent summer entertainment, but doesn't have the inescapable magic and charm of the first two.