Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Directed by: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario
It’s easy to forget that Johnny Depp was once nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. Back then, before the franchise had become something of an overblown monstrosity, lost at sea, unable to stand firm beneath its own wobbly incoherence, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was an invigorating blast of summer blockbuster entertainment. Fresh and exciting, it gave us engaging characters, good old fashioned swashbuckling thrills, cursed Aztec gold, and pirates who turn into skeletons by moonlight.
Three sequels and fourteen years later, the rollicking delights of that Pirates adventure seemed to have floundered, with thrills being replaced by overelaborate and overly complicated plots, a deluge of CGI monsters and a franchise becoming ever more bloated and unappealing with each subsequent entry. But with the fourth, and arguably weakest, entry in the franchise plundering a worldwide gross of over a billion dollars, it was inevitable that Disney were not about to let this ship sink to the depths.
So here we are with the fifth, and if early marketing is to be believed, “final” adventure in the Pirates franchise. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales for readers from across the pond) features everything we’ve come to expect from the franchise: supernatural Macguffins, fresh faced young lovers amidst a scourge of ruffians, cursed pirates, and Johnny Depp’s ever increasingly drunken and stumbling antics as Captain Jack. The end result is mediocre at best. At its worst, it’s a cavalcade of bland disjointedness, with a plot that barely holds together, dull characters and a tired staleness that makes you wish they’d stopped at number three.The story opens with young Henry Turner, son of former heroes Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, who sets out to find a way to break the curse that has enslaved his father to the Flying Dutchman. To do this, he needs to find the Trident of Poseidon, a mythical object that is said to hold sway over the seas and the curses that inflict it, and to find it, he must team up with Captain Jack Sparrow. However, Jack has his own problems after he trades his magical compass for a bottle of rum, which, for various plot reasons, unleashes the ghostly pirate hunter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem doing his absolute best) from his supernatural prison at the Devil’s Triangle. Along for the ride is Kaya Scodelario’s whip smart amateur scholar, Carina, who has her own reasons for seeking the Trident.
Cue ghost pirates, ships that literally eat other ships, zombie sharks, and some other things involving the British navy, and low and behold we have ourselves another mediocre Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The most annoying thing about this film is that it isn’t even that badly made; there’s some good stuff in here. The opening heist in which a bank is dragged through the streets is a hoot and the aforementioned zombie sharks are kind of fun. Yet the rest of the film is all so boring, and several times I found myself drifting off. Salazar’s Revenge lacks the freshness and invigoration that the first movie had in spades. The franchise, much like its lead character, has very much failed to develop in any way, shape or form.Speaking of its central lead character, it seems that all the quirky antics and stumbling semi-drunkenness that made Johnny Depp’s rogue Jack Sparrow so endearing in the first movie has seemingly dissipated, replaced instead by a shambling, slurring, drunken wreck that only seems to care about the paycheck. Admittedly, all the recent developments in Depp’s personal life may have played a factor in how I viewed the performance on screen, but there’s no denying that Depp himself seems to be going through the motions, failing, like the rest of the movie, to inject life into an otherwise stalled franchise.
Out of all the performances, Kaya Scodelario is really the only one who manages to come out on top. Her character, Carina, drives the narrative, quickly establishing herself as the most capable and committed member of this (mis)adventure. She gives it her all, and deserves full credit for managing to inject much needed life in amidst the mediocrity of it all. Javier Bardem, meanwhile, whilst doing his best, is perhaps the weakest villain of the franchise to date. But that’s not his fault. Salazar is no different to any of the other villains that have come and gone; he’s yet another antagonist who plays things way too over the top, another ghostly sea captain cursed to live forever, condemned to never set foot on land for… reasons.
Will Salazar’s Revenge make a ton of money? Most likely. Will it please die-hard fans? Most definitely. But that doesn’t mean that this franchise has returned to form. In fact, it’s pretty much stayed exactly where it was, marooned on an island of its own incoherence, quickly sinking to the depths below.