Finally, a summer movie I liked. I was getting really worried that I was turning into an indie snob. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is good, simple fun. Screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio fixed all their own sequel problems by simplifying the story.

The Fountain of Youth offers an easily digestible myth with a clear set of rules. They have to get a mermaid’s tears, two chalices and find the cave. Blackbeard (Ian McShane) needs to get there before the prophecy of his death is fulfilled. See, that makes so much more sense than the last film.

It’s definitely better to have a new adventure with new characters. Dead Man’s Chest and At Worlds End tried so hard to give everyone something to do, they just made a mess of it. Now there’s some new discovery. Angelica’s (Penelope Cruz) history with Jack (Johnny Depp) implies greater stories that went on before. Every character, new or returning, gets the best dramatic introductions. [post-video postid="202700"]

Blackbeard is way better than Davy Jones. The subtle look of burning embers in the black beard is more impressive than the squid face, and he’s a real hardcore pirate. The young stud priest Phillip (Sam Claflin) and the hottie mermaid Syrena (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) are minimal, as Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) should have been.

There’s not enough Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush). He’s following behind Blackbeard’s crew, so we only get to check in with him now and then. But Keith Richards has the best line and a way better cameo this time.

The action is smaller in Tides and that’s better. It’s more about using the environment creatively, not having a giant spectacle. Tides gives each thrill its own space. You get a lot more out of a palm tree catapult, a complex palace escape, or Ponce de Leon’s cabin.

The film retains the Pirates magic, on a more intimate scale. Blackbeard’s powers string his crew up in the masts. See, you don’t need barnacle faces and hammerheads to make movie magic. Mermaids are creatures we already understand so they spark our imaginations on a gut level, both beautiful and monstrous. Dew drops defy physics, so they’re obviously visual effects but it’s subtle.

The 3D even looks better than any other forced 3D blockbuster. They emphasize the open space in scenes like the palace escape. You can definitely see the layers in the ships’ ropes and masts, or jungle paths. Fire looks fantastic in 3D and they even stick some swords in the audience’s faces.

This is how they should keep making Pirates movies. The first one was magical. We’ll never get to see Johnny Depp create a character like that for the first time again, but you don’t need to come up with bigger and more convoluted ideas. Just think of more creative situations to throw at Jack Sparrow, and let Depp work it out.