Last weekend I went to see the fourth Pirates of the Carribbean movie (On Stranger Tides) expecting the usual pretty faces, swashbuckling, and Johnny Depp’s swagger. I was sadly disappointed.
Firstly, the movie recycles some of the scenes from previous movies and just uses different characters or slightly different settings. However, this is likely to happen in a fourth movie, so I can let that slide.
What I can’t let slide, is the way this movies uses women. There is a subplot involving mermaids (spoiler alert!) — Jack Sparrow and crew need the tear of a mermaid to complete the ritual for the Fountain of Youth. However, these are not Disney’s usual mermaids. Instead, these mermaids are beautiful women, who entrance sailors and then pull them down into the ocean to die. When provoked they hiss and growl at the men, barring sharp vampire like teeth. Could this be a more thinly veiled reference to women as evil temptresses??
In much of ancient literature such as the Greeks, women are portrayed as being either beautiful innocent virgins, or evil temptresses who entice men to evil or outright kill them. Think of Greek mythology, or the story of Sedna from the Inuits. Women have been fighting that dichotomy for centuries.
Previous Pirates movies have been thin on plot and have relied on assumptions to make their movies work. But they also had the character of Keira Knightly who shuns the feminine in favor of the life of a pirate. In this latest installment, the balance is Penelope Cruz’s character — a character that doesn’t move beyond the stereotype of a Latina woman filled with hot blood. She is sexualized in ways that Kiera Knightly was not — her costumes are much more revealing, and most of the conversation about her revolves around sex. Yes, she is independent and strong, but she is also cast as manipulative and conniving, little different from the mermaid subplot (who are the only other women characters in the film).
I could not seem to get past these issues when watching the movie to enjoy the other really great parts — Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow is once again hilarious (although the character is beginning to grow stale), the chase after a ship, the adventures to unknown lands, some really good witty banter from Sparrow. All of it seemed overshadowed to me by the awful reliance on stereotypes (Did I mention that the Spanish are cast as the ultimate evil characters who destroy what the rest are looking for? Because, you know, anyone of Spanish blood is clearly worse than being a pirate!) that hit just a little too close to home.
Perhaps this is true of the first three movies as well, and I just never noticed it. I’m itching to get my hands on copies of the first trilogy and test this out. My recommendation? Either don’t see this movie at all, or go into expecting to be disappointed.