(CBS) This weekend Johnny Depp returns to the big screen for his fourth adventure at sea, as the devilish Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides."
Along with madness and mayhem on the waters, he brings a new director - Rob Marshall - and a couple of new co-stars, including a voluptuous Penelope Cruz and an infallible Ian McShane. More than anything else, however, he brings, for the first time in the franchise, an entirely new, "sensitive" side, complete with a bonafide love interest and incredible dose of sexual tension.
Of course, there is also a liberal dousing of all the things you've come to expect : the prerequisite grand sword fights and riotous chases, the salty humor and flamboyant adventure on the high seas as Sparrow goes on a quest for the elusive fountain of youth.
What sets this installment apart from its predecessors is its markedly darker tone and a real chemistry between Depp and Cruz, courtesy of Marshall. The rapport on screen between the sultry firecracker and Depp is scintillating.
Depp more than meets his match in an irrepressible Cruz, who is able to to go toe-to-toe with him both in physical antics and emotional play. The two seem destined to play opposite one another on screen. A far car from the icy vibes that were given off between Depp and co-star Angelina Jolie in "The Tourist." These two are a perfect pairing and Penelope Cruz clearly demonstrates why she is an Oscar winner.
The story picks up with Sparrow going all out to rescue his seafaring partner in crime Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from the gallows. In doing so, he must overcome, in one classic scene, a hilarious set of obstacles to escape the King of England's palace. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski adds brilliantly to the sense of pandemonium, bringing to life the streets and sights of long-ago London.
After a witty encounter with his father (Keith Richards) in a bawdy pub, Sparrow finds himself trying to unmask the identity of a cleverly disguised imposter, who eventually leads him on a chase for the fountain of youth aboard the most deadly pirate ship on the high seas, commanded by Blackbeard (McShane). McShane is formidable and plays the scourge of the oceans with verve and a definite swagger, but also captures perfectly his character's foibles.
On board, Sparrow has his eye on the prize, but finds himself in competition with both Captain Barbossa (played flawlessly by Geoffrey Rush) and the Spanish armada.
More excitingly, Marshall takes a complete detour from what we have come to expect about mermaids and sea lore, presenting a platoon of these mysterious, beguiling beauties in a light that makes things interesting.
The only distraction is the use of special effects anda splattering of 3-D, which comes and goes throughout the film, It makes s some scenes, including ones with the mermaids and Depp and Cruz, seem less realistic.
Where Marshall's directing prowess really comes to the fore, is in the emotional connectiion he brings to the piece, something that hasn't been tapped before.
For the first time, the audience is able to see Sparrow's inevitable, unescapable attraction to a woman. Angelica (Cruz) is a girl he loved and left at some earlier point in his seafaring life.
Also forming a focal point is the story between a father and a daughter and the sacrifices one will go through to protect the other, which makes "On Stranger Tides" the most relatable of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise.
With the magic spark Cruz provides, it's crystal clear that not only will this installment prove a tsunami at the box office; it will also pave the way for more romantic encounters on the high seas between Depp and his vivacious sailmate.