I still remember watching the Pirates of the Caribbean films as a kid and being absolutely enthralled. I went through stages of loving things as my younger brother and our friends all got into different genres/movies/books or whatever at the same time.
I can’t remember exactly when my pirate obsession started, but it was probably somewhere around when Curse of the Black Pearl came out. My older siblings loved the movie, so much so that my brother dressed up as Jack Sparrow for Halloween one year and went absolutely all out for it (he looked amazing!). I honestly don’t know how much of the movie I saw at first – while my mom tried to keep me away from “big kid movies” for the most part, some things slipped through the cracks, probably because of my older siblings, who of course didn’t see the harm in me watching people get stabbed to death. It was a good thing my brother and sister had good taste, though, so the movies I ended up watching were the Lord of the Rings films, Star Wars, and yes, Pirates of the Caribbean. It could have been a lot worse, and anyway, growing up with those movies certainly shaped who I am today.
But, however it came about, there was a time in elementary school when I was thoroughly obsessed with pirates. My brother and I played make-believe as pirates with our two friends down the road. We had special piratey clothes and our own characters that had entire backstories. I even started writing a series of books with the four of us as pirates!
The thing I took for granted at the time was the way I perceived the “pirate” genre. In my mind, it wasn’t something gruesome or scary, but something just purely fun, an idea that was certainly fueled by the Disney movies.
When On Stranger Tides came out, the fourth Pirates movie, I was thrilled because I was finally old enough to see one of the movies in theaters! My pirate obsession came back in full force and I dragged one of my high school friends into it. We marathoned the first three movies in preparation and when the day came, we were beyond excited.
I instantly loved the movie and it became one of my favourites. When it came out on DVD, I watched it multiple times. But then, for whatever reason, I didn’t watch it for a few years. Fast forward to 2016 and my family pulled it out again over the summer.
“Great!” I said. “I haven’t seen this movie in ages!”
Not great. Soon enough, I was sitting there watching the movie and thinking, “Huh, am I in a weird mood, or is this not as good as it used to be?”
I sort of brushed it off that time, but once again, it was years before I got another chance to evaluate the movie – it was just a couple months ago, actually. Even though I fell asleep for a bit towards the end (this is why my friends call me “Grandma”), I woke up just in time for the finale with the same thought I had in 2016.
“This movie is not as good as I thought it was.”
The Pirates movies certainly have their issues, but the first three just have such a magical quality about them that you don’t really care. The characters are so good, their interactions so fun, the music and settings so fitting…
But that magic faded with the fourth movie. It’s the age-old question of “Why didn’t they stop when they were ahead?!” They had a perfectly good trilogy that so many loved, and they didn’t need to make more. But of course, they did. Because money.
On Stranger Tides is just a bit dull, to be honest. There’s not much swashbuckling action, they lean way too much into the romance aspect, and the whole Blackbeard thing with his ship is literally just Barbossa with his crew but less cool. If they had to make another pirate villain, they couldn’t have been just a bit more original?
Probably the biggest problem, though, is the absence of Will and Elizabeth. Sorry, Penélope Cruz, but you’re just not nearly as interesting. I think Disney far underestimated how important the couple was to the original series, thinking that Jack was all they needed to continue. And while Jack Sparrow certainly does carry the series, he needs Will and Elizabeth beside him for his character to truly shine.
Overall, the fourth movie just has a different feel and tone than the original trilogy. It lacks the charm that makes the first three movies so special. And, it even seems to magnify the grittiness of the pirate genre when one of the things that was so special about the original movies was that they made pirate movies without harping on the more dark and gruesome aspects of piracy.
It just goes to show you that sometimes, nostalgia can cloud your judgment and your memories. It’s not always a bad thing, but in this case, I knew I had to take an honest look at On Stranger Tides from a storytelling perspective and admit it’s not up to par. I have a similar nostalgic feeling for The Force Awakens, which was the first Star Wars movie (besides the animated Clone Wars film) that I saw in theaters.
Hopefully, that one will hold up for a little while longer!
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