The Pirates of the Caribbean movies are all lots of fun, kind of creepy and very funny (mostly due to Captain Johnny/Jack Depp/Sparrow), but of late they've become convoluted and serpentine. I watched the second and third films with a kind of glaze, not really following the storylines at all, but just drifting from set piece to set piece, enjoying the ride but not really keeping track of what was going on.

Remedying this was among the marching orders of new-to-Pirates director Rob Marshall, a virtuoso musical film director in an era in which such craftsmen are few and far between. He's perhaps the only director capable in recent years of making good, solid musicals that even the non-fan can enjoy - among them the acclaimed TV version of Annie and the Oscar winning Chicago.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is, in effect, a musical without songs. And it works perfectly (unlike 1972's Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which was supposed to be a musical, and 1961's Fanny, which should have been but had its song torn out). Like a classic Hollywood or British musical film, it's lavishly mounted with magnificent sets and grand costumes. Even the dirty, filthy settings are meticulously detailed (and all look amazing in Blu-ray). The characters are larger than life, the action scenes are inventively choreographed and the story stays simple to allow for all the elements to take the forefront.

On Stranger Tides has a refreshingly linear plot -- the search for the Fountain of Youth, and it has a staple element of musicals: the dual couples. Oklahoma! had Laurie, Curly, Ado Annie and Will, The Sound of Music had Maria, the Captain, Liesl and Rolf -- and this film has Jack, Angelica, Philip and Syrena. All the elements fall beautifully into place.

On the Blu-ray audio commentary (thank you, bonus feature people!), director Rob Marshall and executive producer John DeLuca express their (and Johnny Depp's) fondness for movies, expressing their excitement of using the very same beach made famous by Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity, the remains of a hotel where Elvis appeared in Blue Hawaii and more. It's nice when the movie makers are fond of the genre and the project to which they are assigned. It shows.

Penelope Cruz makes her Pirates debut with panache, power, beauty and even some warmth (deep, expressive eyes), though I would have liked to see her given more humor. She proved to be capable of sparring with Sparrow -- and gets in quite a few good lines -- but for some reason, there is a tendency for modern films to confuse feminine strength with dourness. Behold the perfect combination Diana Rigg in the 60's series The Avengers and you'll see what I mean.

Love to have the commentary included, but otherwise not a ton of extras, which is a bit of a surprise. Overall though, one of the series' best.

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