Later this summer, Johnny Depp will once again adopt his effects and some annoyingly camp posturing in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, playing increasingly infuriating rogue swashbuckler Captain Jack Sparrow. He will lead a ragtag band of miscreats on a quest to discover the Fountain of Youth and its water that grants eternal life. In the meantime, Depp may be treating idiosyncratic animation, Rango, as a dress rehearsal. With its story concerning a wannabe ‘thesp’ chameleon (Depp) stumbling into the Wild West town of Dirt, inadvertently being named sheriff and riding out to find water for its parched inhabitants – not to mention that it’s directed by previous Pirates helmer, Gore Verbinski (Pirates 4 will be directed by Rob ‘Chicago’ Marshall) – it makes for both a preview and deja vu of the blockbusting franchise, whilst being equally indebted to Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns. It really is quite a strange concoction.
So, we get some halluconegenic sequences pulled from Pirates 3, like a giant wind-up toy fish floating across the Mojave desert and Timothy Olyphant voicing the spirit of Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Man with No Name’ (I’m not making this up). Then Bill Nighy turns up as an antagonsitic gunslinging serpent, Rattlesnake Jake, clearly channeling tentacled gatekeeper of the Underworld, Davy Jones, whom he played in Pirates 2 and 3 (as well as spaghetti Western regular, Lee Van Cleef). And it’s all accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s Ennio Morricone-inspired and Pirates re-churned score.
Having said all that, I rather enjoyed it. It’s a trippy, mildly fun ride with impressive animation from Industrial Light and Magic (the special effects wizzes who brought us everything from the rampaging T-Rex in Jurassic Park and Liam Neeson’s face digitally scanned onto a CGI lion in The Chronicles of Narnia – not to mention the next Pirates), some decent gags and tongue-in-cheek nods to the Western genre. It even recomposes the Apocalypse Now helicopter sequence with rodents riding bats to Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ played on a banjo.