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Jack Sparrow soars in latest ‘Pirates’ flick

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

Trilogies were made to be broken. “Star Wars” introduced a “pre-three-quel,” “Indiana Jones” probed fans’ sensibilities with a fourth film two years ago, and even “The Lord of The Rings” is looking at a pseudo-sequel with “The Hobbit.” The difference is that those three series ended on a happy note in fans’ minds. “Pirates of The Caribbean?” Not so much.

Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer saw a way to stem the bleeding from the “At World’s End” and relaunch the series, minus the unneeded love triangle offered by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, by focusing on the series’ most popular character, Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow in “On Stranger Tides.” Plus, director Gore Verbinski was removed and Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) was installed at the helm (pun intended) for some fresh air.

Plenty remains the same, however. Near the beginning of the film, Sparrow is on a mission to free friend and first-mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from imprisonment in London. As should be expected, shenanigans ensue, featuring humorous guest spots from Judi Dench and Keith Richards.

By the time the colonial car chase is over, we know three things: 1) The Spanish are on their way to find the mythical fountain of youth. 2) Barbossa (Geofrey Rush) is now a servant of his royal highness and 3) Someone passing as Sparrow has been gathering a crew in London. The real Sparrow finds out that his former flame, Angelica (Penélope Cruz), is the imposter. Here’s where the plot kicks in.

Jack awakes in the morning, finding out he is now among the crew of the Queen Anne’s Revenge. For those not familiar with pirate lore, the QAR was the ship of William “Blackbeard” Teach, the baddest of pirates. As such a claim would merit, the film’s QAR features a crew run by “zombies” (another common theme in the “Pirates” franchise) and flamethrowers. I’m not kidding about that last part.

Playing the man is Ian McShane. As anyone familiar with his role as Al on “Deadwood” will tell you, he is a perfect candidate to play an evil, swarthy dude. His only point of weakness is his love for (surprise!) his daughter Angelica. He’s a voodoo-loving man-of-mystique, and fate has told him that a one-legged man would end his life (Revelation! Barbossa lost a leg when the Black Pearl, the famed ship of the previous films, was “sunk” by Blackbeard). Thus, Blackbeard and his men are searching for the fountain of youth to spite fate. Blackbeard, Barbossa and the pesky Spanish are racing for the prize.

As with the previous films, backs are stabbed, paths are crossed and mermaids made-out with (actually, the last one is new to this film). This is a classic popcorn film, to be sure. Action, adventure and the occasional explosion regale the audience. Where this film succeeds and “At World’s End” failed is that they don’t overdo it. The third film in the series was almost “Michael Bay-esque” in its scope. Huge sea battles, clichéd slow motion clips and overwhelming destruction ruined the then-finale to the series. The action, although less organic than in the first chapter of the series, is fun again in “On Stranger Tides.”

With a word, Marshall has righted the ship.

I’m not going to go as far as to say that “On Stranger Tides” trumps “The Curse of The Black Pearl,” but this was my second-favorite installment, to be sure.

The standard features, like Hans Zimmer’s propelling score and Depp’s quirky portrayal of Sparrow are satisfying reminders of the fun original. Plus, the door is left wide-open for a sequel.

“Did everyone see that? Because I will not be doing it again,” Sparrow says during “Stranger Tides.”

I wouldn’t count on it, Jack.

Verdict: 3.5 stars (out of 5).

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