“No longer will their wretched flags stain the seas.”
Andrew Brooker grades Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge in the high C’s as one of the most unfairly written off adventure movies around. Read his full review below.
I’ve never understood the seemingly unbridled hate that flows in the direction of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Is it because it’s a franchise that’s made more than four billion dollars out of literally nothing? Is it because it’s Disney? Is it because it stars a man that’s fallen from grace over the last couple of years with stories of alleged wife beating? Honestly, I can’t fathom it. Even at the basest level, they are family adventure films about a hapless pirate and his mates chasing God knows what around the seas; I don’t get what’s to dislike? I put them on the same shelf as films like Indiana Jones and Sinbad. And there’s no aliens to be seen here.
If they were badly made, or badly written, I could see the argument. But I don’t believe they are. These solidly made, decently acted adventures just seem to attract negativity from all directions. Well, except mine. I have been a massive fan since the first and even if they haven’t kept the quality up to the standard of the Curse of the Black Pearl, I wouldn’t dream of going so far as to call them crap. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to this latest instalment for a while.
Set five years after the events of On Stranger Tides, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is still a drunken mess of a man, carrying his beloved miniaturised Black Pearl around in a bottle, as it was when he rescued it. As seems far too common in the piss-head pirate’s life, he soon finds himself running from a past that’s trying desperately to catch up with him. This time around, it comes in the form of Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a cursed undead Spanish Navy Captain whose dedication to eradicating the pirate scourge from the seas saw his demise at the hands of a very young Jack Sparrow. Salazar and his crew have spent the decades since trapped in their watery tomb as their very own ghost story, exacting their revenge on anyone stupid enough to come near them.
So here’s where it gets a bit convoluted.
Added to the pirates, and the ghost pirate hunters, is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an horologist and astronomer following a map she doesn’t yet understand, to an end she doesn’t yet know. Then there’s Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of the original trilogy’s Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who is on the search for the Trident of Poseidon, a mythical doohickey that has the power to break every sea-based curse ever brought upon someone. Turner wants it to free his father from the curse of captaining The Flying Dutchman and Salazar wants it so he and his crew can live again; let’s just stick with those two for now.
All of these story threads tie themselves around Jack and his magic compass* and eventually come to a head as the seemingly infinite oceans become very, very small and everyone finds themselves all fighting for the same little spot of water.
*Seriously, Sparrow needs to be rid of that fucking compass already. It attracts more trouble than it has ever been worth and is, at this point, the 12A rated equivalent of Hellraiser‘s Lemarchand Puzzle Box.
Right now, we are five films into a franchise that revolves around Johnny Depp being a drunken fool, dicking around on ships and somehow NOT drowning like we all know he would in real life. For anyone that doesn’t know what to expect when they plonk themselves into their local overpriced cinema seat? I’m not sure it’s possible for me to help you out. I don’t say that in a pretentious “I’ve seen all the films, why haven’t you?” kind of way. I say it in a way that suggests you also probably don’t know Harry Potter, Twilight or James Bond either. Given their status in pop culture being as huge as they are, for you to go to Pirates 5 without a clue would be a minor miracle.
That is to say that, assuming you have seen the other films in this barnacle-covered franchise, you already know whether or not you’re going to see and like this. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor does it reinvent the franchise. It’s simply more of the same; and if that’s your thing, quit reading this and book yourself a ticket before Wonder Woman takes over all the screens everywhere.
Now, that doesn’t mean that Kon Tiki directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have stuck their film on auto-pilot and let it float in whatever direction it fancies. God no. All the signs are there for a story that had very little substance at its inception: Ghost baddies versus pirate goodies. It isn’t all that inspiring. But add to that a few elements that, while they don’t hit the dark and sometimes scary heights of previous entries, do have a sinister feel to them.
This is where conversation has to turn to Bardem’s Captain Salazar. At first appearance, the vengeful ghost is a little silly. His floaty hair, like he’s permanently stuck underwater, was quite the distraction – yes, I understand that was the POINT of his look – and if you can forget that he and his crew are basically the cursed pirates from the first movie rehashed, hoping to grasp back a little of what made Curse of the Black Pearl so memorable, he’s actually quite the effective bad guy. It pains me to say it, but he’s much better that Ian McShane’s Blackbeard.
A man who captains a ship that literally EATS other ships – see? Silly – leaving one man behind to tell the tale and thus inspiring the original/international subtitle for this film (Dead Men Tell No Tales). A man who’s crew mercilessly executes at every tap of his sword, striking the fear of God into even the most hardened pirate. A man so singleminded in his quest for revenge that in a film that easily falls into the category of family fun, he’s quite scary.
Bardem’s portrayal is, of course, the highlight of Salazar’s Revenge; if only because everyone else on screen is maybe a little too comfortable with the old slippers that have become their roles here. While Thwaites and Scodelario are decent in their parts, they serve basically to have a young couple, that aren’t a couple, that might be a couple, to fill the roles vacated by Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom years ago.
I can’t tell if Johnny Depp is phoning in his performance, simply here for the pay cheque and nothing else, or if he genuinely is good at pulling off this role with minimal effort. I find Captain Sparrow a ton of fun to watch; and having recently watched through the previous four films in preparation for this one, he always seems to be having fun as the drunken fool. But recent outings have the feel of a caricature of the already ridiculously caricatured pirate stereotypes. It feels more like both Disney and Depp think that an alcoholic fool sells this series more than its swashbuckling antics.
Maybe that is true, the character of Jack Sparrow definitely resonates with a large portion of the audience, to the point that my (three year old) daughter is even quite the fan. I’m not saying he’s not good, on the contrary; Sparrow is one of Depp’s best creations and I love watching him, but I’m here for the pirate films too. Luckily, at least so far, every director brought in to give us a new one of these films understands that too.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge doesn’t do anything that the Pirates franchise hasn’t done four times previously. And if that’s your bag, you’re going to enjoy the little over two hours you get to spend with Jack and his crew. If PotC hasn’t enthused you up to this point, Dead Men Tell No Tales does absolutely nothing to change your mind. Take from that what you will. I thought it was great, but you might not.