Should I Watch..? 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge'
What's the big deal?
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge (also known as Dead Men Tell No Tales) is an action fantasy film released in 2017 and is the fifth instalment of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise. The film sees Johnny Depp reprise the role of Captain Jack Sparrow, an eccentric and frequently drunk pirate who assembles a ramshackle crew in order to retrieve a powerful and mythic artefact, Poseidon's Trident. The film also stars Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally and David Wenham. Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the film is an attempt to recreate the success of the first film in the series The Curse Of The Black Pearl with a narrative emphasis on characters other than Jack Sparrow - in a sense, the film almost feels like a reboot. After being stuck in development hell for six years, the film was released to a mixed reaction from critics due to its predictability, bloated narrative and plot inconsistencies. However, the film still found an audience with global takings in excess of $794 million which made it one of the biggest films of that year. But compared to other films in the series, it is the second lowest amount earned so far.
What's it about?
During a rare visit on land by his father Will Turner, young Henry Turner insists that he has a plan to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman. The Trident of Poseidon has the rumoured power to break any curse of the sea and Henry intends to find it with the help of Jack Sparrow. Will, believing the retrieval of the Trident to be impossible, instead warns Henry to stay away from Jack before he ventures back out to sea for another decade. Undeterred, Henry grows up to join the British Navy and begins his seemingly impossible quest.
Meanwhile, in Saint Martin, a young astronomer called Carina has studied her long-lost father's diary to determine the location of the Trident - a mystery involving the stars that is apparently so complex, she finds herself being convicted of a witch. As she is being led to the gallows, she spots renowned pirate and drunkard Jack Sparrow (himself sentenced to death after an audacious bank heist) being led to the guillotine. But both are soon rescued by Jack's long-suffering crew and Henry Turner who has a message for Jack - former Spanish pirate-hunter Salazar has returned and he is determined to catch and kill Sparrow at all costs...
Captain Jack Sparrow
Captain Armando Salazar
Captain Hector Barbossa
Lieutenant John Scarfield
Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg
Release Date (UK)
26th May, 2017
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Actor (Depp), Worst Supporting Actor (Bardem), Worst On-Screen Combo (Depp & his worn out drunk routine)
What's to like?
An unfortunate side effect of watching a film that isn't very good is that I often wonder how much money the film cost to produce and whether this was money well spent. Thankfully, you haven't far to look in Salazar's Revenge which once again presents a fabulously rich and detailed canvas onto which it paints a wonderfully hokey tale of swashbuckling. Amid the endless beauty of the Caribbean (although the film was shot exclusively in Australia), the characters and sets all look authentic and perfectly match the standards set in previous movies. I particularly enjoyed the little touches of Salazar himself, his hair silently floating about his head as though he were underwater. It gives him an air of mystery and menace, despite being yet another undead seafarer after everyone's favourite rum drinker.
The film works really hard to get back to the series' signature big-action scenes such as the literal bank heist and close combat battle between ships and their respective boarding crews. There are other flashes of imagination such as the zombie sharks that illustrate there is still some mileage to be squeezed from the franchise just yet. But in truth, it doesn't really work. As entertaining as Depp's pickled pirate once was, he now feels like he is role-playing himself by hideously overacting and blurting out humorous lines with all the enthusiasm of a man trapped in his most famous role. Far more entertaining are Bardem and Rush, once again returning as the increasingly decrepit Barbossa.
- Depp was in the process of divorcing Amber Heard at the time which resulted in him often being late to the set, delaying the filming schedule. Eventually, a production assistant was hired just to sit outside Depp's house and inform the crew when he was awake whenever the lights came on.
- Paul McCartney has a brief cameo as Jack's uncle, Uncle Jack, in prison. He also sings an old drinking song "Maggie Mae" which featured on the Beatles' album Let It Be. On that occasion, the song was sung by John Lennon.
- As Jack stares into the basket at the guillotine, two heads are already inside. These belong to directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning.
What's not to like?
Pretty visuals aside, Salazar's Revenge shows plenty of signs that this particular franchise is going down fast. Depp's drunken performance is getting increasingly stale while Bardem's vengeful Spanish pirate-hunter is yet another CG-enhanced undead antagonist hunting Jack Sparrow for some reason. The film's narrative is needlessly complicated and harks back to the various plot-lines free-flowing throughout Dead Man's Chest and At World's End, hopelessly trying to tie everything together. But it makes a real mess of things - why is Carina hunted by the British for being a witch and yet the villainous Scarfield openly courts the powers of an actual witch? It feels as though there were so many ideas brought to the table that they threw everything into the film and weren't bothered to see what actually works.
There are other things as well. The film has a darker tone compared to what has gone before but much of the action seems to take place at night, blinding us from some undoubtedly impressive CG and set pieces (or some cost-cutting in the effects department, as a cynic might suggest). The opening sequence is so poorly lit that I had no earthly idea what was happening while the climatic battle also felt confusing and crippled by frequent edits, much like the conclusion to At World's End. Bardem and Rush don't get enough screen time while newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario are obvious replacements with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly - indicating that there aren't done with this series just yet. That, however, is a dangerous assumption to make - the previous entry On Stranger Tides felt like a straight-forward money-spinner for Disney and this does nothing to dispel that notion. And with Depp's career seemingly in the doldrums and falling critical opinion, a sixth film might not be the wisest decision.
Should I watch it?
Well, frankly that depends. Anybody still in love with the roguish Jack Sparrow will lap up this fifth (and possible final) entry into the much-loved Pirates Of The Caribbean series as well as wonder what direction the future will take. But for cynics, this feels like a laboured cash-grab from Disney - surprising, I know! - still printing money from Depp's stagnant performance as one of their most marketable characters. There are moments to amuse but little of the spark, magic or originality that made the first film unmissable.
Great For: Depp's alimony payments, Disney's accountants, forgiving fans of the franchise
Not So Great For: the Pirates Of The Caribbean series as a whole, anyone who loved the first film, future prospects
What else should I watch?
The Pirates Of The Caribbean series has been the ideal demonstrator of the so-called Law Of Diminishing Returns. The first film The Curse Of The Black Pearl came out of nowhere and blew audiences away by being a genuinely entertaining and quality pirate film, the likes of which we hadn't seen in cinemas for decades. Easily the best film ever based on a theme park ride, it was followed up by the much darker Dead Man's Chest which introduced the gruesome Davy Jones and his grisly crew on board The Flying Dutchman but otherwise did a decent job of replicating the original's formula.
However, the sails started to fall apart when the third film At World's End arrived. A bewildering mismatch of subplots, incoherent action and far too much Jack Sparrow, the film felt a disappointing ending to a trilogy that had so much initial promise. But worse was to come in the belated fourth film On Stranger Tides, despite Ian McShane's wonderful baddie Blackbeard. It felt further and further away from what made the first film so enjoyable. Considering that the last pirate movie before this franchise came along was the studio-wrecking Cutthroat Island in 1995, it's amazing that Disney thought they could survive making these incredibly expensive films. But as long as they continue to make money, they'll keep making them.
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© 2019 Benjamin Cox