Just the type of contemporary summer blockbuster needed.
Now that graphics and interest has caught up, comic book adaptations have become normalized, and cross-franchising doesn't seem as unexpected as it once was, feature length movies have officially reached the ability to become serialized--and this is a good thing. Not to say that there are not movies in the past with a nearly endless line of sequels--horror and porn are sort of infamous for it--and furthermore, film serials were quite common before movies expanded to multiple reels, but nowadays we practically have franchise movies sold in narrative blocks of three. The problem is when each episode depends on each other--which is why Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3 are not that great, why Matrix 2 and 3 are not that great, and why On Stranger Tides is the sequel Curse of the Black Pearl deserved. Maybe other franchises will also embrace general serialization as a stand-alone interest, maybe not. Nevertheless, On Stranger Tides should make an example of things.
It probably won't, because... people don't think about things like this... but nevertheless, what really DO you expect from Pirates of the Caribbean? You expect Jack Sparrow, and you don't expect him to be particularly bothered to make a point of doing specific things in a way that garners a logical plot. For that, you need other characters with other interests to drive the story. The problem with 2 and 3 is that it was bogged down in characters that outlived their welcome (Elizabeth and Will, aka Keira Knightley and Legolas) whilst introducing a broad array of other characters, none of which the filmmakers writers, director, or producers alike wanted to kill, dragging the story on an endless array of double-crossings until it finally just got tired and fell down like a kid spinning round and round yelling. Pirates 4 does the necessary and gets rid of all that crap. Now characters are in danger. Now they could possibly die. Now, when a handsome loverboy finds his missus magical (this time a clergyman and a mermaid, heck yeah!), the movie lets them do their lover-ly thing and sinks them into the water to be forgotten for good.
This movie is the continued adventures, but in the way that anybody could come in or out as they please. Jack gets a bit more backstory, the worldbuilding gets broader, and there are flesh eating mermaids (not necessarily far from traditional merlore, but let's keep in mind this is the same studio that is responsible for Ariel the princess on first grader girls' backpacks). The only reason to see 2 and 3 would be to understand why Barbossa appears in 4--a throwback again to the fact that nobody wanted to kill anybody in the second two sequels, and in fact just had to bring back basically the only dude who died in film 1! More importantly, this movie has Blackbeard. After about seven or eight long hours combined of pirates scowling and buckles a-swashing (swashes a-buckling?) and a rather tepid Cthulhu wannabe Davey Jones following up the at this point fully all-too-lovable Barbossa, Blackbeard fills the presence of the screen with some real sense of unease. This is one maniacal pirate, whilst being cold and calculating--FINALLY! Spritey Jack has a foil! Blackbeard is everything Jack Sparrow is not--solid, burning, serious, destructive, fearful, and evil. The best part is, however, he has a relationship you can actually connect to--and its his treatment of that relationship that really shows how dangerous this guy is.
Now let's get to the use of 3D. 3D technically doesn't do anything aesthetically good depth of field couldn't do in 2D, but for what it's worth, Rob Marshall and Dariusz Wolski don't clutter up the foreground of vision with out-of-focus layers (in other words, the exact thing your eyes were they on their own would focus on first, but instead stay out of focus because the camera decides) and lets the characters' faces loom in foreground, the world of fantasy and adventure in the background. It's a good choice, this movie is much more pleasant on the eyes in terms of stress than even Avatar, which reveals the limits of 3D in almost the very first frame with that friggin' droplet hanging in the air. And if you are the type of person to pay attention to such things, this movie is cut a bit slower than previous fares, probably to make room for the 3D and the delayed reaction times to spacial cuts audience's eyes have. It looks like Hollywood is finally learning to use its little spectacle beast correctly, finally. However, just as Avatar looks better in 2D, I wonder if Pirates 4 wouldn't seem a bit slow and laggardly in 2D. I suppose I'll find out later since I wouldn't mind watching this one again.
At any rate, this movie is pretty much just as it should be, as far as the franchise and the technical aspects are concerned. Hopefully discontinuous serialization of franchises will continue to occur whilst 3D filmmakers keep their frames clutter free, and maybe someday Disney won't own a near monopoly on swashbuckling. Amen.