Review in a Hurry: Neither as bad as early naysayers have bemoaned, nor remotely as interesting as its predecessors, this new Pirates is simply an adequate sequel. Notable only as the least terrible movie Rob Marshall (Nine, Chicago) has ever directed, this four-quel sees Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) jumping through familiar action hoops as he travels a well-worn path. If you don't ask for more than that, you'll be fine.
The Bigger Picture: Bumping a comic-relief character up to the protagonist role in a sequel can be a perilous path: just ask Jeff Goldblum about The Lost World: Jurassic Park. So making Captain Jack the main protagonist is a big risk, despite both his popularity and the fact that nobody gave a toss about Orlando Bloom in parts 1-3. The result is not disastrous; the film may not live up to its franchise legacy, but that isn't because Depp's in command.
On Stranger Tides sees Jack in search of a ship and a crew, a quest that brings him to England and the rescue of his old pal Gibbs (Kevin McNally), the only member of Jack's prior crew making a return appearance. Finding that someone has been impersonating him, Jack follows a trail that ultimately leads to old flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz) and her father, the infamous Blackbeard (Ian McShane).
They seek the fountain of youth, as does Jack's old enemy, the newly peg-legged Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is now in the royal navy and has been dispatched by the fabulously fey King George II (a hilariously mugging Richard Griffiths) to beat Spain to the punch.
What made the previous Pirates pictures pop was that they showed you something you'd never seen before each time: an octo-pussed Bill Nighy, scary skele-toned cursed crews, and an afterlife full of multiple Johnny Depps making jokes about sex with goats.
The new one gives us a mildly interesting twist on mermaids, but otherwise, it's mostly been here, pillaged that (the most crowd-pleasing moment comes from a Disneyland in-joke). It also lacks for an imposing antagonist.
We're shown, early on, that Blackbeard has a supernatural ability to make his ship do amazingly deadly things...then the entire third act takes place on land, where none of those powers can be accessed. And sorry, but McShane's too lovable—here, anyway—to be truly fearsome. He was more intimidating even as a fuzzy polar bear in The Golden Compass.
If it's romance you seek, that too is less than lively. In Bloom's place, a dorky missionary falls for one of the mermaids, but fortunately doesn't get too much screen time. As for Depp, his chemistry is less with Cruz and more with Rush; the bromance-gone-bad between Sparrow and Barbossa is truly the tastiest element of this tale.
There's enough of Jack doing his wild hand gestures and lucking his way into the story that Depp fans will dig it. These Stranger Tides lead to a shallow pool, but sometimes a nice wading session might be all you require.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Like too many a 3-D movie, Pirates 4 is cursed by an overabundance of underlit scenes.