Jack Sparrow is a truly great character that was first brought to life by Johnny Depp in 2003s Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl which was directed by Gore Verbinski (The Ring). Depp really demonstrated how talented he was by taking what wasn't all that hyped about in the script and creating one of the most loved and talked about original characters. Something that was very memorable. He showed promise of doing something so awe-inspiring with his earlier performances in Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. A year after Pirates, he gave what I consider to be his career defining performance in Finding Neverland as J.M. Barrie. The film is one of my all-time top favorites and along with Black Pearl, I finally came to appreciate Johnny Depp as more than just the guy who all the girls wanted on the cover of their magazines (see Sweeney Todd for another great post-Pirates performance).
As many know, Pirates was plagued by two subpar sequels in 2006 and 2007 and now in 2011, the fourth installment has arrived. Now directed by Rob Marshall (Chicago), this film was promised to be a Jack Sparrow-focused adventure. It wasn't going to include Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters as they were no longer needed. They worked as characters to introduce us to the charming Captain Jack, but in the sequels they just led to unnecessary side-plots. The sad news is that anyone who was hoping this "just-Jack-Sparrow" adventure would be a decent movie, should be ready for disappointment in my opinion.
With the pirates now searching for the Fountain of Youth, series screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio really haven't done anything all that different with this film when compared to the others. Yes, this is better than the second and third films where their fault was over-playing everything that made the first work, but this fourth film just feels very forced. It's quite typical. The action sequences are repetitive where everything is edited nicely together and all we see are swords clinking without the swordplay. The supporting performances are quite laughable whether it is the King, the priest, the mermaid, or even Penelope Cruz (who I really normally like a lot, see her in Volver for a phenomenal performance). Sparrow himself feels like he is conflicting with the story. The characters and the plot don't move together hand-in-hand. Jack worked better when he was driving the story and not commenting on it from the sidelines.
Just like the second and third films, a lot goes on, but not much happens with the characters. The new ones feel like a replacement for Bloom and Knightley and the only thing that feels remotely fresh about this is that some time has passed since the last film. Johnny Depp is still fun to watch in the role and returning players Geoffrey Rush and Kevin McNally as well as the new villain played by Ian McShane all give watchable performances. I still wish Hollywood would have left this franchise stay dead. Instead we have dead zombie pirates. Not even kidding about that one.