To truly understand the global success of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise — because who, honestly, can wrap his head around a figure as large as $2.7 billion, the series' worldwide box-office haul? — one might do well to pay attention to the slightly smaller figure of Johnny Depp's paycheck for playing Captain Jack Sparrow.

"It must be kind of nice for him to know that he can revisit this every two or three years and be paid more than the national debt of most countries," new co-star Ian McShane joked to the Los Angeles Times during an interview in Cannes last week.

OK, so McShane is exaggerating just a tad, but the point is that over the course of three films (even though the last two had decidedly mixed reviews), the "Pirates" films have managed to stay remarkably popular — especially considering they're based on a hokey, '60s-era amusement-park attraction. The newest installment, "On Stranger Tides," shows little sign of a dent in that "Pirates" popularity, despite once again facing a mixed critical assessment. Its two-day international gross stands at almost $44 million, and domestically, it's expected to reel in around $100 million over opening weekend.

The movie-going public, it appears, doesn't always heed the critics. Not that the pros seem to care, as many of them have taken issue with a bursting-at-the-seams plot, disappointing 3-D, and a long running time. But other reviewers have called "Stranger Tides" the finest film in the series since the original, celebrating the new characters and the carefree energy to which every summer blockbuster should aspire. Read on for a deep dive into the flick's reviews.

The Story
"[T]he goal here is the Fountain of Youth, though it takes about an hour for things to get there; first we have to start off in London, watch Jack make another one of his daring escapes, hook him up with his old pirate flame Angelica (Penelope Cruz) who tosses him on board the Queen Anne's Revenge ship piloted by her father Blackbeard (Ian McShane), who — a ha! — is in search of the Fountain of Youth. So is King George (Richard Griffiths), as revealed just before that daring escape, and he's sent the pirate-turned-privateer Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) on the quest as well. The Spanish Armada is actually out there too, but the plot is so overstuffed the film doesn't really worry about them until the third act, so forget about them for now." — Katey Rich, Cinema Blend

The Franchise Comparison
"[T]he fourth installment dispels many fans' trepidation regarding sequels and the diminishing returns they so often represent. The legions of filmgoers who have made the 'Pirates' movies such a box office behemoth needn't worry. 'On Stranger Tides' feels as fresh and bracingly exhilarating as the day Jack Sparrow first swashed his buckle, infusing new reckless energy into a franchise that shows no signs of furling its sails." — Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

The Performances
"Depp remains the face of the film, and has lost little enthusiasm for his mincing derring-do. But a majority of his thunder is co-opted by an on-point Rush, who not only gets the funniest lines and reaction shots, but also starts to siphon away much of the roguish charm that used to be Depp's stock and trade. McShane, on the other hand, is underwhelming. Never appearing comfortable in his heavy pirate get-up, his tired Blackbeard is only menacing via other characters' testimonials to his evil, and his one onscreen atrocity seems tossed in merely to stress that he is, in fact, the bad guy. Cruz is a reliably welcome, gorgeous presence, though she too often falls back on the 'feisty Latina' signifiers that have been the crutch of so much of her English-language work." — Andrew Barker, Variety

The Visuals
"Now if all that sounds like a promising place to work a lot of 3-D magic, then boy are you in for a major letdown. The Ds in this instance stand for dark and dismal and disastrously claustrophobic. The production design is strangely ancient, as if the actors stumbled onto a sound stage filled with old props. Even the Fountain of Youth, the object of everyone's desire, looks as if it were carved out of gray Styrofoam. And that, mateys, is no way to steer a ship. Aargh." — Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times

The Final Word
"['On Stranger Tides'] is really quite long at just over two and a quarter hours, and some fans might feel that they are getting an awful lot of a good thing. But director Rob Marshall keeps the hellzapoppin' atmosphere bubbling and gives you plenty of cannon-bang and cutlass-slash for your buck. ... Some might find their enthusiasm for the 'Pirates' films sinking. I have to say that mine is still there, just about. Depp's Sparrow is a genuinely funny character and Depp still puts the ho-ho into yo-ho-ho." — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Check out everything we've got on "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."

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