No sooner can you say 'shiver me timbers' than Depp is swinging from chandeliers and swashing his buckle in ye olde London on the trail of an impostor claiming to be him and talking up a new expedition. Another round of swordplay reveals the blabbermouth to be the pouty-lipped Cruz as Angelica, an old flame and daughter of the notorious Blackbeard. Much heaving of bosom ensues, but Angelica also has a bone to pick with Jack for ditching her. That's the cue for Flamenco-style stamping and hair-swishing, but Cruz doesn't have the quick-fire wit to match Depp. She seems his inferior even after bullying him into a quest to find the fountain of youth.
So, it's all aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge captained by the legendary Blackbeard who makes a grand entrance on deck just as Jack is doubting his very existence. An inspired bit of casting sees Ian McShane in the role, leaving Lovejoy far behind him and bringing the salty dark humour he evinced in US series Deadwood to keep the film from descending into live-action Looney Tunes. He's filling the vacancy left by Geoffrey Rush as rival pirate Barbossa who still has a role to play but in a different capacity, as the bumbling bad guy. He lusts for Blackbeard's blood, but Blackbeard is determined that he'll live forever, using Jack to guide him to the fountain.
Of course there are many diversions on the way to harvest ingredients for the rejuvenation ritual, including the tear of a mermaid. One of the eerier scenes reinvents the myth, co-opting the popularity of vampire films and turning the fishtailed beauties into hissing, spitting fang-toothed demons. This fourth film is a shade darker than the last two - which instead went overboard with cartoonish stunts - still it doesn't have the spine-chilling feel of the original. Chicago helmer Rob Marshall is all about the razzle dazzle. The addition of a zombie quartermaster (Ian Mercer) is an exercise in cosmetics and as a Jesuit doomsayer Sam Claflin is too pretty to be taken seriously.
A romantic subplot finds Claflin having unholy thoughts about a captured mermaid (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) which only slows the pace. Again, the film feels too long especially because there isn't much logic connecting each scene and the dialogue is, as a consequence, weighed down by explanation. Even Jack is forced to note the level of "hear-tell" in a comic aside ("a lot of it going about lately"). As usual, when the filmmakers get in over their heads it's Depp who must wade in and get them out of trouble. In a way, the increasing levels of silliness plays into his hands because his knack is to share in our disbelief and show us the funny side. That comedy gold is too tempting for producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Five and six are already in the works.
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