Those under 25 may not know what I’m talking about, but the older you get, the more thankful you become for things that work and stick around and that you’ve loved for a long, long time. No, this isn’t about Woody in “Toy Story”: The man I’m referring to here is Johnny Depp.
You may not know that Depp started his career way back in the 1980s and was in the very first Freddy Krueger franchise entry, “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (directed, in fact, by Wes Craven). Depp was several shades the wrong side of being Hollywood gorgeous, which only added cachet to his dark, authentic charm. He went on to do interesting, quirky projects with directors such as Lasse Hallstrom (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”) and Jim Jarmusch (“Dead Man”), pairing with formidable big-name actresses like Charlize Theron (“The Astronaut’s Wife”) and Helena Bonham Carter (“Sweeney Todd”). And us old fogies can recall a time when he tattooed “Winona Forever” on his forearm and declared the now-fading Winona Ryder the most beautiful girl on the planet. Sigh.
The fact is that Depp has banked on a compelling, alluring strangeness of which Hollywood has always been rather wary, but also deployed to full advantage. A case in point is the enormously successful franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean,” which has ensconced Depp as its centerpiece and raison d’etre. Now in its fourth installment, “Pirates” is fast becoming the adult equivalent of the “Harry Potter” series, though Depp as the hungover, rum-swigging, dreadlocked pirate Capt. Jack Sparrow is a far cry from the clean, bespectacled Harry, who really needs to kick back and relax.
But I digress. Jack Sparrow is a beloved multiplex institution and, like “Harry Potter” (and despite the Stateside PG-13 warnings about profanities and innuendo), “Pirates of the Caribbean” is a vehicle parents can take their kids to without feeling like they’re making a sacrifice. The presence of Depp, who exudes ennui even when he’s wide awake, injects the series with a jolt of antiadrenaline discernible only to tired grownups.
The beauty of the “Pirates” series lies mainly in the creased, greasy unwashed filthiness of Capt. Sparrow. We love him for the grime under his fingernails and total disregard for oral hygiene, his faulty morals and bland selfishness. Alongside children’s movies where everyone is always trying to do the right thing, Jack wallows in the sultry villainy of not giving a damn, ever.
The latest “Pirates” is subtitled “On Stranger Tides,” and though it’s probably not the best of the fleet, it has a distinct philosophical bent. This time, Jack’s not after treasure or babes, but a legendary fountain of youth that would enable him to stay energetic (in a manner of speaking) and pretty (ditto) for eternity.
Somehow, the idea of Jack Sparrow chasing after youth seems slightly skewed and, well, wrong. But Jack is a guy with no ideals and no principles. He’s promised a bonny boat of his very own if he can get his dirty hands on the fountain, which for Jack is a “count-me-in!” situation. Like most seafarers, Jack can only really feel comfortable when in command of a ship, however small or dingy or manned by pescetarian zombies (see the previous entry, “At World’s End”). The first 15 minutes show Jack landlubbing on London streets, looking dazed and lost and adding new meaning to the phrase “fish out of water.”
“On Stranger Tides” is a departure from previous journeys — the Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) and Will (Orlando Bloom) couple are conspicuous by their absence, replaced by Penelope Cruz as Jack’s old flame, Angelica, and her dad, Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who was once Jack’s rival of the seas.
Elizabeth and Will were more fun to be around — their main interest was each other, but Elizabeth could also dangle Jack like a yo-yo. Angelica, on the other hand, is older and trickier. Whether she’s feeling sparks of love for her former beau or is just a total ingrate/mercenary remains shrouded in mystery, and Jack has little choice but to go along with her suggestion (or strict order, depending on how you want to interpret the piercing looks aimed at Jack’s wilting facial hair) to locate the fountain, kill a couple of mermaids who guard it, and sell the water to the king of England.
To his fans, however, Johnny Depp doesn’t need a fountain, and he sure as hell doesn’t need to keep young. If there’s one thing he (and Jack) have taught us, it’s that antiaging and wrinkles aren’t mutually exclusive.