**Spoiler alert**

Penelope Cruz, Johnny Depp and Ian McShane in a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesThere are basically two reasons we flock to theatres by the thousands each time a new Pirates of the Caribbean is released: Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow and the entertaining action sequences (choreographed to that now unmistakable theme music). The first Pirates film set up these expectations and spawned a successful franchise; however, if the fourth film — a reboot — was the first, I don’t think they would have made another. The fact that we can expect at least two more pictures from this cash cow ($90 million at the opening weekend box office for film #4) only leaves me to hope they learn from the many errors committed in the most recent instalment and deliver an improved chapter next round.

In one word, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearlwas fun. Released eight years ago, it breathed life into a genre that had seen its heyday 75 years earlier with Errol Flynn. Still family-friendly fare, the pirates engage in thrilling swordfights and out-manoeuvre the law while battling unearthly creatures. Our introduction to Cap’n Jack could not have been better. He is charming, humorous and cunning. Though Depp’s signature good looks are obscured by unkempt facial hair and a ratty wig, his awareness of the character’s many entertaining dimensions is obvious. Moreover, the CGI employed to display the Pearl’s crew underwater as they change under the moonlight is still captivating. This first chapter looked like a promising start to hearty tale.

The second picture, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, took a few years to reach theatres, but audiences were ready to fill seats for the sequel. However, it took what was a fairly simple narrative of pirates and monsters, and added an element of complexity that was not wholly welcome. The additional players and back-and-forth gets quite tiresome, which is a problem for a film franchise that never runs under two hours. “Where’s the rum?” indeed. Nonetheless, Bill Nighy is engaging as the cursed cephalopod Davey Jones. In addition, the action sequences remain exhilarating and Captain Jack is as ever amusing. The fight in the large, rolling wheel is unique and incredibly entertaining.

The complexity reached new heights in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End as the swashbucklers travel to the ends of the Earth (literally) to rescue Captain Jack. The introduction of even more characters only convolutes the story, causing confusion and disinterest. The return of all the main characters (and the quality actors that portray them) helps the film, but not that much. In addition, it’s the last Piratesfilm for Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Jack Davenport – it’s actually quite surprising how much they are missed in the next chapter even though the lovers’ tale was becoming tiresome. In any case, the various fights remain exciting and the fate of Will to take Davey Jones’ place is both unforeseen but expected.

Having lost so many of the series regulars in the third film, a re-imagining of the franchise was required. But the necessary risk does not payoff. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is more than a step into the unknown; it’s a leap in the wrong direction. Replacing director Gore Verbinski with musical success Rob Marshall eliminates the style of enticing swordfight that was so attractive until now. The addition of Penelope Cruz to the cast is inconsequential, contributing little to the film. Worst of all, Depp appears bored with the eccentric Captain Jack, delivering a performance that doesn’t measure up to previous outings. The mermaids could inspire their own spinoff, but little else deserves another chance at the big screen.

Watching the fourth film only made me yearn for the enjoyment I experienced watching the first picture. (Re-watching The Curse of the Black Pearl is a recommended cure to relieve the bad taste left by the dissatisfaction of the pirates’ quest for the Fountain of Youth). Apparently two more Pirates movies are already in the pipeline, but after the major disappointment of On Stranger Tides and already trying preceding instalments, the question becomes whether they should continue recounting the adventures of Captain Jack at all. At this point, I don’t think many would be too saddened if Depp hung up his pirate hat – except for the studios of course.

In any case, I’ll see you at the theatres in a couple of summers where we’ll discover together whether a studio can learn from its mistakes – or if it really only considers the bottom line and has no problem taking audiences’ hard-earned cash in exchange for another mind-numbing movie experience.

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