The entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a marked improvement over the last two installments in the seemingly never-endng Disney money-making franchise. Johnny Depp returns—this time under Rob Marshall’s direction-as Captain Jack Sparrow (quite frankly, there’s no series without him) but Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are no longer with the firm; shed no tears though, for the lovely and lively Penelope Cruz is on board as Angelica, a seductive fellow pirate (who has a history with the Captain) who coerces Jack into helping her and her father (the one and only Blackbeard) locate the Fountain of Youth.
Geoffrey Rush is also back as Barbossa, who continues the unlikely (though entertaining) evolution from Jack’s gleefully evil antagonist to a servant of the king (did England forget he vaporized entire populations in the first movie—what is their statute of limitations?) and a witty, slightly corrupt friendly rival of the (basically) good captain. Whereas the last Pirates seemed both jumbled and interminable, this one moves at a fast clip and opens with some sprightly action sequences (Jack’s escape from the foolish forces of her majesty; a fencing bout between Jack and Angelica) and continues to an exciting sequence with some enticing mermaids (of DEATH!) whose tears are needed for the Fountain of Youth to have some impact. The film is let down by Ian McShane’s muted (one might say lackluster) portrayal of Blackbeard, but Rush, Cruz and Depp are in fine fettle (I’m probably in the minority here but I thought Depp a little too manic and forced in the first three films; here he seems to have settled into the role–and the relaxed quality is mighty appealing). For the first time in a while, I am not dreading another Pirates film.