Back in 2003, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was taking the seven seas by storm with its rip-roaring tales of pirates, ghosts and treasure, and it marked the start of the swashbuckling franchise for Disney. Based on the popular ride at Disney World, Pirates was never supposed to be the big success that it ended up being, and was in fact originally intended as a standalone film, with the sequels only being green-lit once the success of the first film was confirmed.
Arguably, the films steadily declined in quality, and after the general critical panning of the fourth instalment On Stranger Tides (2011), and many of the original cast members no longer appearing, the franchise seemed all but dead. In 2017, it is hardly uncommon to find ourselves with sequels to film series’ which had previously been left on the cinematic scrap-heap, and with the promise of returning cast members including Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, Pirates of the Caribbean is back once again.
Until fairly recently, it’s subtitle had been Dead Men Tell No Tales, and indeed it is still named this in much of the marketing materials, but officially it is now called Salazar’s Revenge. Conveniently perhaps this name mix-up is perhaps a sign of the very mixed bag that this film ended up being.
It is worth noting, that this definitely isn’t the worst Pirates film in the series, and is a vast improvement on both the dreadful fourth, and disappointing third instalments. However it still smacks of “too little too late”, and it is generally difficult to care about these characters or this world anymore, despite how hard it tries.
Once the golden boy of character acting, Johnny Depp’s off-screen controversies and on-screen flops of the last few years have undoubtedly brought him out of public favour a little, but nevertheless he is back as Captain Jack Sparrow. Pretty much the only thing which has remained a constant in this up and down film series, it very much feels like he could play this role in his sleep (or perhaps a drunken stupor) now, and those who are still thrilled by the Captain’s antics, probably won’t be disappointed. However, there is nothing new here, there’s no new character arc for him, and no new development. Where perhaps there was once some charisma and charm, there is now just emptiness to this character, so frustratingly one-dimensional that it has gone from entertaining to embarrassing. His tipsy tomfoolery and sozzled slapstick shtick is grating rather than side-splitting, and if the character helming this movie is making you roll your eyes more than you laugh, something has gone wrong.
The new characters of Carina and Henry have evidently been taking lessons from the Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom schools of wooden acting, and are both bland, unlikeable and incredibly one-dimensional. Kaya Scodelario shows some promise as the spirited Carina, however as is so frustratingly the case more than not, the film simply won’t let her be a strong independent woman, and burdens her with an unnecessary romantic subplot and some laughable “Daddy issues” which completely takes away from the elements of the character that had the potential to be good. If Brenton Thwaites as Will Turner’s son Henry, is doing his best to channel to the monotone and lack of expression of Orlando Bloom, then it is something of a masterstroke, but in reality he probably just isn’t that good!
The stories for these Pirates movies could pretty much be written with your eyes closed and it results in another series of uninspired action scenes, attempts at witty back-and-forths, over-the-top CGI and bland, generic villains. Javier Bardem has played some incredible villains in his time, but this performance will not find its way into that pantheon. Whilst he makes for a visually striking bad guy, sadly a lot of his performance is lost in distracting CGI and an unintelligible accent. His motives are flimsy and the “show-down” ends up being incredibly disappointing as a result of this.
At just over the 2 hour mark, this film is mercifully shorter than the incredibly overcooked At World’s End, and despite its bland and forgettable plot, it does remain mostly entertaining throughout. The story leads you easily from A to B and if you just want pure entertainment, then perhaps you won’t be disappointed. There’s some fun set-pieces, including a bank heist which is more than a little reminiscent of the “highway/safe” chase scene from Fast Five, surprisingly! Geoffrey Rush is, as always, the MVP of this film and whilst on screen you can’t help but be entertained. Once again, the rousing score from Hans Zimmer never disappoints, and this is one element it is nice to have back again. Unlike some of the returning cast members, which I won’t spoil, but I will just say, don’t get your hopes up!
Overall, the story feels clumsy and muddled, devoid of charm and with an over-reliance (as always) on Sparrow gurning and stumbling his way through increasingly more ridiculous situations. If you’re here for that, then perhaps you could have a good time, but for me, it is time for Sparrow – and this franchise – to walk the plank.