We are in strange waters indeed with the fourth Pirates of the Carbbean movie from Disney. While some old faithfuls are still with us - Captain Jack Sparrow, Barbossa, Mr Gibbs - some are missing and leave glaring gaps. As a devoted fan of these movies, I could accept Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom's decision not to return. Their story arc had ended, and they wanted to to go on to other things. We'll miss them badly, especially the way Bloom and Johnny Depp struck witty sparks off each other, but so be it.
There is still Geoffrey Rush, and his well seasoned rapport with Depp, and the added eye candy of Penelope Cruz as a succulent lady pirate and Ian McShane as the dreaded Blackbeard (who appears to be able to practice black magic. Neat.) But I am still mourning the loss of Pintel and Ragetti, surely two of the funniest characters ever in any movie, whose scenes were guaranteed to have me in stitches. The loss of the prison dog is hard to get over, too.
Certainly the original cast had such perfect rapport and symmetry that something seems badly lacking here. The Caribbean, for example. Wherever they are, it looks a heck of a lot like New Zealand. The plot is happily negligible - Blackbeard has apparently shrunk the Black Pearl (Honey! I shrunk the ship!) and bottled it, deprived Barbossa of one of this legs (which Barbossa has replaced with a wooden rum bottle) and wants to purloin the map that shows the location of the Fountain of Youth (as PotC devotees will remember was indicated at the end of the third movie.)
We have some funny capers in London, with Jack Sparrow impersonating the law and riding on carriages, and an engaging fight between Jack and an impersonator - I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it, but it's fairly clear who it is and it's quite a delightful scene. There's some utterly pointless romance with a mermaid and a priest, which I assume is meant to appease the fans who miss Will and Elizabeth. Jack and Angelina (Penelope Cruz) have a much more enjoyable relationship, especially when she gets hold of his voodoo doll.
Being into voodoo and black magic and all that, there are zombies in Blackbeard's crew, and between them and the mermaids, we are not meant to miss Davy Jones and his gruesome crew much - but honestly, they are missed. With Barbossa somewhat less than menacing this time around, it's really up to Ian McShane to carry the bad guy load and he just can't fill the boots of Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander, Chow Yun Fat and Naomie Harris adding their deliciously evil weight to a far more satisfying Barbossa in At World's End - and even Jack Sparrow seems a bit off and strange in some scenes, although it is good to see Keith Richards as Sparrow's dad again.
The direction by Rob Marshall is a bit wonky too. His previous credits - including Nine, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Chigaco, are an odd resume for PotC, and may be the source of that uneasy feeling that everyone is going to burst into song and dance at any moment. There are rumors that this is the start of a new trilogy - hopefully it will shake down and create an ensemble as powerful and entertaining at the first. There are a few gaps that need filling though - please bring back Pintel and Ragetti. It's just not the same without them.