So here we are at Movie #5 in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It may be the end of the series, or it may be the start of a whole new chapter. That fate seems to be up in the air right now, but it’s probably safe to say it all depends on how much money is made by Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or alternate subtitle Dead Men Tell No Tales).
The big problem is that the franchise seems to have become its own worst enemy. There is loads that could be done with a big budget pirate-themed film series. Yet, every single time a new Pirates of the Caribbean is released, the audience is subjected to the same thing – and it feels like being served the same Tortuga tavern stew that’s been sitting over the fire for a fortnight.
Here’s your standard Pirates of the Caribbean recipe: One scary supernatural villain with a vendetta against bumbling, yet wily pirate Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Combine with one insufferably earnest, good-looking young couple who will overcome their differences and end the movie in love. Sift in a heaped cup of curses. Follow this with one to two servings of completely over-the-top land escapes, involving maximum destruction. Stir in a dollop of dour British authority figures, plus a spoonful of idiot pirate crew for comic relief. Sift in a handful of sea battles and sunken ships. Don’t forget the secret, magical MacGuffin that everyone wants, and will spend the movie running back and forth to find. Add a pinch of sea monsters and witches. Finally, round everything off with a sprinkling of 60s rock icons who play Jack’s pirate relatives.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge follows this recipe as meticulously as a Masterchef contestant during a pressure test. For the record, Javier Bardem is Jack’s heavily CGI-ed foe, a Spanish pirate hunter-turned-ghost. The MacGuffin is curse-breaking Poseidon’s Trident. And in terms of the fresh-faced lovers, there’s Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who needs the Trident to free his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), from eternity on the Flying Dutchman; and there’s feisty orphaned astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) who believes finding the treasure will reveal more about her ancestry. (Yay, the novelty of a story arc about children connecting with long-lost parents!)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is constrained by the formula it insists on adopting from its predecessors. Meaning, like its predecessors, the latest movie is overstuffed with thinly sketched characters, skims over intriguing new cast additions, and advances its plot through obvious contrivances and conveniences.
The thing is though, if you can tread the film’s sludgy narrative waters for 130 minutes, there is good stuff floating about. Bardem is the darkest and scariest of Jack Sparrow’s foes by far – introduced in an opening sequence that is probably too frightening for sensitive children. Visually, Pirates is also as impressive as ever, with Salazar and his burned, literally flaky crew realised through some mind-boggling green screen effects. Oh, and for a change, the movie’s 3D is actually effective and memorable.
The best thing about Salazar’s Revenge, though, is the film’s sense of humour. It comes through in both action and dialogue. There’s a fun slapstick sequence involving a guillotine, and the pirate banter tends to be witty and innuendo-laced when characters are allowed to pause and interact for longer than 10 seconds.
This levity is appreciated, as is the fact that Johnny Depp’s quirkiness seems to have been reined in slightly by Kon-Tiki directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. Jack Sparrow is less of a weirdo and more of a self-absorbed anti-hero this time around, making it easier for audiences to rally behind the character. Although the film insists on giving us an unnecessary portion of Jack’s backstory – the script suffers from a compulsion to explain everything! – this slight change in character approach makes these scenes far more engaging at an emotional level. You triumph with Jack, and develop a better understanding of how he could actually rise to the rank of captain despite his drunken buffoonery.
It’s just a pity that in order to reach these bright moments, you have to wade through a movie that is otherwise so tired and tedious. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge may be the final chapter of the saga, committed as it is to tying up the last loose ends of the original Pirates trilogy. However, it’s also a missed opportunity to do so in a truly memorable way.
Last Updated: May 24, 2017
It’s not without its bright spots but Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge suffers for sticking to the same tired formula utilised by its four movie predecessors. There’s no ignoring how this approach straitjackets all potential fun and freshness this time around.