Venturing to London on a mission to save old shipmate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from being executed, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) once again finds himself in hot water. Captured and dragged before King George II (Richard Griffiths), Sparrow is press-ganged into joining an expedition to find the fabled Fountain of Youth.
Headed by Jack's old enemy Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who has now lost both his ship, the Black Pearl, and his leg, the crew must find the fountain before the fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) and his zombie acolytes.
It's not long before Sparrow is once again captured and taken aboard Blackbeard's ship, where he reacquaints himself with old flame Angelica (Penélope Cruz), a feisty buccaneer who claims to be the daughter of the notorious pirate. As Jack learns that activating the Fountain of Youth involves a complex procedure involving two silver chalices and the tear of a mermaid, he must race to beat his rivals to the mystical prize.
The fourth instalment in Disney's hugely lucrative series manages to trim the fat that made the last two Pirates movies seem patchy and overlong. Putting Depp's wonky-eyed wonder at the centre of the action and limiting the sub-plots goes a long way to make this outing more on a par with the first adventure.
Loosely based on the plot of children's novel On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers and helmed by a director best known for musicals Chicago and Nine, this fourth adventure doesn't skimp on the action, with some superbly choreographed sequences.
Not the total revitalisation that the series needed, but enough of an improvement to warrant the inevitable fifth film, On Stranger Tides is mostly ship-shape and occasionally rather rum.