! = recommended
* = all-ages
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Well thank god Disney for a swashbuckling return to form after the last two abysmally long and confusing PotC movies. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has cast off the dead weight of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly's complicated romance in favor of focusing solely on the star of the show: the scruffy, drunken, and hilariously awesome Captain Jack Sparrow (obvs. played by Johnny Depp).
After seriously botching an attempt to break first mate Gibbs out of jail, Sparrow discovers the nefarious Barbossa (Geoffery Rush - now one-legged) has joined sides with the royal guard, and is now seeking legendary Fountain of Youth--which only Sparrow knows the way to.
What follows is a kick-ass adventure involving a very sultry Penélope Cruz as Angelica, the former scorned lover of Sparrow, and the recently reunited daughter of the evil and ruthless Blackbeard--played by Deadwood's Ian McShane with heaps of Al Swearengen swagger, if Swearengen had a foofier outfit, a magic sword, voodoo dolls, and the power to raise the dead that is.
As Blackbeard's crew races to beat both the Spaniards and the King's army to find their prize, they have to battle each other on and off ship too as they gather all the needed pieces for an ancient ritual, and trickisly try to one-up each other for selfish motives.
As for the rituals, one of them involves a mermaid tear, which sparks two of my favorite scenes in the whole movie - because, omg, you guys. THE MERMAIDS ARE AWESOME. Heart-poundingly awesome, actually. Beautiful and vicious, these girls sling whip-like seaweed at potential victims, wreck docks, drown men, and then eat them with their pretty fangs. The special F/X throughout the movie were spectacular, but they really killed it on the mermaids. The only weak link is the budding romance betwixt a captive missionary and one of the mermaids - but hey, they had to throw in some melodrama somewhere, right?
And of course, like in previous versions, there are plenty of slapsticky moments interspersed with the action (dude. is that DAME Judi Dench in a ridiculously contrived cameo?), but not so many that they distracted from the intense sword battles, chase scenes, and spicy banter. It all adds up to another fun way to spend your cinema dollars this weekend, for sure.