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Pirates 4

Pirates 4

Cannes Film Festival premiere

The Sunday Times Culture blog

May 2011

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Cannes 2011: Pirates 4

The fourth outing for Pirates of the Caribbean debuted in its Out of Competition slot early Saturday morning, writes Matt Mueller, and critics emerged two hours and 20 minutes feeling neither “Ahoy!” nor that they’d just been forced to walk the plank.

No question Disney’s theme-park franchise was feeling its age in previous go-round, At World’s End. Gleaning the positives then, new director Rob Marshall (seizing the reins from Gore Verbinski) has sorted out the convoluted muddle that plagued the franchise after its sprightly launch, hauling it back to its breezy, frivolous origins.

Early scenes in Georgian London feature a deliciously piggy cameo from Richard Griffiths as King George (a certain British dame also crops up) and create the sense that some rollicking fun is in store. New arrivals Penélope Cruz as Jack Sparrow’s feisty ex Angelica and Ian McShane as the fearsome Blackbeard aid Marshall’s cause, helping to wipe away memories of the tedious Keira Knightley/Orlando Bloom duopoly.

Equally, the film dishes up a relatively streamlined race-to-the-finish-line plot, with Blackbeard and Sparrow sailing against Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, now peg-legged and in the Crown’s employ, and the Spanish to locate the fabled Fountain of Youth.

Along the way, there’s some agreeable romp and circumstance and a surprisingly chilling set-piece involving nasty, man-eating mermaids (a splash of misogyny for those who can’t wait for Michael Bay’s new Transformers). None of it makes much sense, but then what mega-budget summer tentpole does these days, while a subplot sideshow involving Sam Claflin’s missionary hunk and Astrid Berges-Frisbey’s netted mermaid is romantic window dressing.

But Pirates 4’s criminal blunder is to contain so few laughs. With Depp’s mincing rogue now front and centre, he’s missing much of that louche, anarchic edge that once made him the franchise’s liveliest spark. He even seems to have lost his taste for the grog. A Pirates adventure without Depp supplying the demented excess isn’t, ultimately, one to savour.

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