If anyone were to take the latest installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise seriously, the search for Ponce de Leon’s legendary spring that restores the youth of anyone who drinks of its waters would lead them to the shores of Florida and what is now the city of St. Augustine. Or the islands of Bimini in the Bahamas. Or to some fabled stream or lost river somewhere north of Hispaniola, Cuba and Puerto Rico. However, it seems that Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has taken the definitive map from a rival pirate by the name of Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Then again, what this map was based on (when you consider all the tales floating around about the Fountain of Youth) would not lead any self-respecting ship’s captain rushing hell-bent on a narrow trajectory. Let alone King George, a bound and determined Spanish vessel, Angelica (Penelope Cruz) as a would be double-dealing first mate, former lover of Sparrow; plus an incorrigibly-evil Blackbeard the pirate (Ian McShane) some two-hundred years later.
But no matter. No matter whether or not there ever was the shipwrecked remains of de Leon’s ship containing two silver goblets. No matter anything about the additional need for a fresh drop of a mermaid’s tears to make the spell work. A prize which necessitates traversing the deadly waters where mermaids lie in wait to lure susceptible seamen to watery graves. No matter any of this. As usual, it certainly doesn’t matter much to Jack Sparrow as long as he has countless opportunities for wild escapes, swashbuckling daring-do and the space and time to utter many a quip.
Along these same lines, the viewer has to keep in mind this is another Jerry Bruckheimer production. Going all the way back to The Rock (1996), whose only point seemed to be how much noise, car crashes and chases he could muster on the streets of San Francisco, what’s interesting in this current venture is the progression of action sequences limited only by what was conceivably possible during the heyday of privateers and explorers. After each one of these animated set pieces there is sure to follow a quiet scene. The only question is, What quiet scene shall it be? A little tongue in cheek lover’s banter between Angelica and Sparrow? Some reminiscing on the part of one-legged Barbossa as he and Sparrow are tied up against adjacent palm trees? There is something to be said for the certainty that rambunctiousness will always alternate with quietude and visa versa in case the viewer wants to stay one step ahead of the game and keep guessing what they’ll come up with next.
But there is another option those working off the springboard of a novel by Tim Powers have granted us. Something or somone to possibly care about: a preachy young missionary and a mermaid from the netherworld. Like the forever timeless Romeo and Juliet—two star-crossed creatures from rival factions—what if they ever truly got together? But how can they possibly get together as she is caged and trundled about, her only use a drop of her tears? And he constantly sloughed off for his useless judgments when there’s work to do, danger at every turn, a three-way-race to the finish?
Of course there is also a great deal to be said for Johnny Depp’s characterization of Jack Sparrow, whether it was created by Mr. Depp, the director, Rob Marshall, or those busy screenwriters, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio et al. There are the wonderful qualities of tipsiness, trying to walk a straight line – and failing, the tossed-off quips that land just where they’re supposed to, getting his tongue caught in his cheek rather often, and the whimsical facial responses to the world around him. No matter who created the character, the actor plays him to a T.
There are other fine actors here as well especially Geoffrey Rush and Ian McShane and even Judi Dench for a total of ten seconds. And at the same time, the opening scenes in London must be mentioned. There is good energy here as pirate Sparrow tries to escape from the British soldiers who are chasing him because of that darn map. King George is hoping for eternal youth. A scene takes place in a palace dining room, an endless table filled with delights but especially crème puffs, which Sparrow has his eye on. For one reason or another one ends up on the overhanging chandelier; eventually, through many machinations, Sparrow wins the day (and the crème puff)! There are also great scenes out in the London streets where our pirate hero must battle against horse-drawn carriages. The flying carriages are one delight, but the racing horses are a beautiful sight, and Mr. Depp plays it all with great fun.
There is a questionable element in the script, though, that is worth mentioning. There is a tone of religiosity here, which sometimes brings a serious note to this story. The opening shot is of monks discovering a body carrying the magic map to the Fountain of Youth ; one of the final scenes is of the Captain of the Spanish fleet saying about the fountain, “Only God can give eternal life.” Moreover, the young captured missionary who falls in love with the mermaid from the nether sea world feels guilty. There is talk of the loss of one’s soul and redemption, all of which are dealt with quickly and simply.
According to the dictionary, a sparrow is a small-to-medium sized perching songbird with a strong grasp of branches, which may explain Jack’s “stories” and swings from perch to perch as well as flights as free as a (excuse the metaphor) bird.