By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin May 20, 2011 at 4:30AM
Remember how fresh and novel Pirates of the Caribbean seemed in 2003? Remember the fun of seeing Johnny Depp’s off-the-wall portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow for the first time? It may be hard to think back that far, because the lumbering, pointless sequels have buried every trace of spontaneity and given us “more of the same” in heavy doses.
That hasn’t stopped audiences around the world from turning the series into a money machine, but for me, that’s what it remains: a machine, or rather, a piece of product. The original film, while distended, at least had a story to tell. The highest compliment I can pay the new, fourth installment is that it isn’t—
—as long or as dreary as the third.
Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have again contrived a convoluted screenplay that attempts to string a handful of big-scale action sequences together. There is no point trying to make sense of it, from the opening scene onward, but there is a lot of tumult. Depp plays his role as an old-fashioned comedy drunk—a once-common archetype we haven’t seen in decades. Penélope Cruz has a thankless part as a woman who supposedly has some past history with Jack Sparrow, which is mighty hard to swallow. Another newbie, Ian McShane, snarls and growls as the pirate Blackbeard, but I can’t tell you anything else about his character.
It pains me to see talented actors like these wasting their time on such drivel. Director Rob Marshall does his best to keep things lively, and, to his credit, has fun staging some in-your-face 3-D shots. But that’s a small reward for an investment of two hours and 17 minutes.
For me, the new Pirates is a film to be endured, not enjoyed. If that puts me in the minority of moviegoers, so be it. I’d rather walk the plank than have to sit through another of these waterlogged concoctions…but I suppose it’s inevitable, since the Jerry Bruckheimer juggernaut makes so much money. In Hollywood these days, that seems to be all that matters.