Jack is back.
And he is doing what he does best — stealing the movie from everyone else. Johnny Depp continues Captain Jack Sparrow’s conquest of center stage with this fourth in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, which abandons any pretense of having anyone else as the hero, and just lets him take over.
The series inspired by a theme park ride has for the first time relied on a book as its source. According to the credits, it is “inspired by” On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, an award-winning fantasy novel about Blackbeard and the fountain of youth. The Disney series characters are grafted onto the story, which takes us from the courts (in both senses of the term) of London to Spain and then back to the Caribbean, with some historical figures like King George II and Blackbeard. And we also get to enjoy zombie crewmen, a gallant missionary, sword fights, Keith Richards, chases, explosions, a pirate with a peg leg, shifting loyalties, daring rescues, revenge, voodoo dolls, a carefully balanced struggle on a shifting surface, and mermaids summoned by song who are as deadly as they are gloriously beautiful. Hurray for summer movies!
Director Rob Marshall (“Nine,” “Chicago”) takes over seamlessly from Gore Verbinski, adeptly managing the tumult of the various characters (three pirate captains plus Penelope Cruz!), locations, and perils. And everyone is looking for the fountain of youth, where you can steal someone else’s years if you have the chalices — and a mermaid’s tear.
In the previous films, Captain Jack Sparrow’s rapscallion impishness set off nicely the brave, honorable, but not exactly colorful romance of Will and Elizabeth. Here, Ian McShane, with his gimlet eye and gravely rumble of a voice, joins the cast as Blackbeard, “the pirate all pirates fear,” to remind us that pirates can be ruthless. “If I don’t kill a man every now and then they forget who I am,” he explains, leaving Jack to be as close as we get to a hero. Cruz plays Angelica, a woman Jack once wronged who may be more of a pirate than he is. “You haven’t changed,” she says to him. “I haven’t found the need,” he replies. And that pretty much sums up the enterprise.
Parents should know that this film includes non-stop peril and action violence (guns, swords, explosions, monsters, zombies, skeletons) with many minor characters injured and killed, death of a parent, some scary and graphic images, mild crude references to seduction, brothel, a claim of pregnancy, and issues of paternity. A pub sign features some prominent cleavage.
Family discussion: There are three pirate captains in this movie – how are Sparrow, Barbossa, and Blackbeard different and how are they alike? Do you agree with the decisions made at the end of the movie by Captain Jack Sparrow and Philip? Would you drink from the fountain of youth if you had the chance?
If you like this, try: the first and second “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and family-friendly pirate films like “Muppet Treasure Island” and “Pirates of Penzance”