The first 25 minutes of this fourth edition is a high-voltage rollercoaster ride, and after that we are on a back-up battery for the rest of this two-and-a-quarter hour movie. The film begins in swashbuckling style with Captain Jack Sparrow hauled over in chains for an audience with King George. Apparently, Sparrow possesses a map to ‘the fountain of eternal youth’ and the monarch is concerned that it should remain in good English hands, away from the wicked Spanish.
The king is pretty emphatic about this. He thumps the table and says that he’ll be damned if a Catholic gets to look eternally young first. But Sparrow (Johnny Depp) does not oblige the Head of the Church of England with the map, and for such treason, he is set upon by the guards. This leads to a wild and entertaining chase through London, ending in a pub and a sword fight with a gorgeous pirate called Angelica (Penelope Cruz).
Clearly, King George’s fears were not unfounded. With her Spanish accent playing havoc with the English language, Cruz gives the Spaniards a headstart. She is supposed to be the first mate on a British ship looking for the said fountain, but the way she goes about it, she seems keener to be Jack Sparrow’s first mate... well, maybe fourth or fifth mate.
Depp’s Sparrow is permanently tipsy and eternally coy about commitment to God, Country and Lady. He is genuinely funny, but the problem with the movie is that almost no one else is.
English metaphysical poet John Donne wrote acerbically, ‘Teach me to hear mermaids singing,/Or to keep off envy’s stinging’. In Pirates... this figure of speech turns to life, and a battle with singing mermaids is the only excitement in a dull second half. A rudderless ship is what we end up sailing on.