Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – a franchise barely staying afloat

  1. 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)
For a big summer blockbuster, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is surprisingly nimble vessel.

Even given its comparatively svelte run-time1, whether the film is a voyage worth the taking is another question altogether.

Directed by Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg2, the film is more akin to the original installment3 than its first two sequels – lumbering galleons weighed down with double-crosses – or the leaky lifeboat that was Stranger Tides4, the film speeds through its first act like it’s afraid of taking on water.

Rather than, say, Curse Of The Black Pearl‘s comedy of class between charming but nervous blacksmith Will Turner and his would-be paramour, spirited governor’s Elizabeth, we’re straight in with child suicide5, accused witches, and cursed pirate hunters. What the franchise has lost in charm, it seemingly seeks to make up in energy.

We are acquainted with, in short order, the naïve, handsome Henry (Brenton Thwaites)6 and self-possessing polymath Carina (Kayla Scodelario)7. They’re both independently on quests for the franchise’s latest fabled MacGuffin, a cursed doubloon the heart of Davey Jones the Fountain of Youth the Trident of Poseidon.8

Then there’s Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow as Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow), who opens the film asleep in a bank vault9 and spends the rest of it metaphorically asleep at the wheel10 His opening line as he stumbles out, swaying – “Why am I here?” – says it all, really. Even the set-pieces, like the bank building being dragged through the streets by a team of a horses, spilling wealth in its wake, lack the franchise’s customary creativity: Fast Five, anyone?11

The villain – the waxy, crack-skinned, oil-seeping Captain Salazar – 12 is played by Javier Bardem, perhaps Hollywood’s current go-to guy for villains of varying intensity13, flamboyancy14, and European-ness15. Purred rs16, tilt-headed tics, and a certain single-mindedness of purpose17 still put him in second-to-last place in the series’ villain rankings.18

Salazar’s crew, meanwhile, are just more gruesome, ghostly versions of Barbossa’s lot from the first film.19The whole Pirates universe essentially powered by curses – magic enables the plot, which is basically just a means to gets from one set-piece to another20 – but when you’re casually throwing around terms like “the Devil’s Triangle” or “Poseidon’s Tomb”21.

Which is not to say the film is entirely devoid of character.  Almost all of it comes from one character in particular: Geoffrey Rush’s returning fan-favorite Captain Barbossa, whose veiny, bulbous nose in itself has more of an implied history than anything else in this increasingly purgatorial tropical playground.22Amid the scenery-chewing, Rush also finds a way to bring real heart to proceedings.23

In a film that includes a great number of returning characters24 and a few eccentric touches25, its ostensible hero kind of gets lost in the mix. The fact it concludes with Depp back on the bridge of his ship, ready to sail off to adventures unknown, is so token, so predictable, it feels like a joke on the audience.26

At its best and at its worst, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is simply adequate in its inadequacy. Even the House Of Mouse can’t animate this wreck.27Don’t let it half-heartedly plunder your free time. Go and see Wonder Woman instead.28

  1. Six minutes shorter than The Curse Of The Black Pearl. And yes, Ben, the footnotes are back and this time I’ve got a plug-in.
  2. Presumably cast off the back of Kon-Tiki
  3. Or at least the eponymous Black Pearl.
  4. A film that, back in 2011, made over a billion dollars at the box office; though it is, even more inexplicably, the *most expensive film ever made*. I challenge you, from memory, to figure out why.
  5. As neat a the notion as it is that a twelve-year-old Henry might well try drowning himself in order to summon The Flying Dutchman, it’s not exactly the perfect prelude to the frolicsome, throwaway swashbuckling that follows.
  6. The series’ second Orlando Bloom substitute; preferable to the first – Sam Claflin’s long-haired, square-jawed man of the cloth – in his earnestness, relative lack of self-seriousness, and in that, while being a bit of a wet, the film doesn’t end with him being removed from the plot via mermaid.
  7. Who communicates mostly through technobabble and exasperated sighing, and who qualifies as “strong female character” only insofar as having to put up with uneducated pirates misunderstanding what horology is.
  8. They’re also both, coincidentally, motivated by absent fathers, which would seem to be the most popular motivation for protagonists throughout the expanded Disneyverse.
  9. The gag about him falling asleep when other people are speaking was never going to be funny, but under the circumstances it feels a little sad. Whatever you think about the grotesque, possibly abusive parody he’s become, this is a man historically capable of great performances (see: Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, Fear And Loathing…, Edward Scissorhands, Dead Man, the first Pirates) and memorable ones as recently as 2015 (see: Black Mass).
  10. He mostly looks puzzled, which is in character, but, given Depp’s well-documented personal issues off the set – like notoriously sleeping through his call-times – may not actually be him acting.
  11. One sequence involving a ship’s figurehead coming to life Ray Harryhausen-style and chasing Jack along the side of the ship could be winning, but it’s so dark and rainy it’s almost impossible to make out what’s happening.
  12. Whose hair, in a small touch of inventiveness, floats like he’s still being submerged in water
  13. Anton Chigurgh in No Country For Old Men.
  14. Silva in Skyfall.
  15. Apart from perhaps Christoph Waltz, a fellow Oscar winner – who, in a meta-nod to just how formulaic the whole thing is, was apparently was also in contention for (a presumably non-Spanish version of) the part
  16. He and the more piratical Geoffrey Rush are the two members of the cast with credited voice coaches.
  17. He wants Jack Sparrow dead. That’s pretty much it. Aside from being sorta scary looking, if this is Jack’s worst nightmare – as Salazar claims – then he’s got a pretty feeble imagination. Maybe he could take over writing duties on the next Pirates installment.
  18. Just above Stranger Tide‘s Blackbeard (Ian McShane) – another criminal under-use of a great character actor.
  19. Garbed in black and sporting jagged edged wounds from the destruction of their ship, one of them is has a floating patch of face suspended above an absent jaw-line.
  20. One of the script’s few daring touches is to suggest this may not the case going forward; only for the film to bottle out with a nonsensical postscript.
  21. The latter of which suggests that not only is there an actual god of the sea in the Pirates universe but that he’s dead, which you think would, you know, deserve a bit more explanation than just a throwaway line.
  22. Wikipedia tells me this film is reportedly set five years after the events of Stranger Tides, which must have been set well over a decade after At World’s End, and yet nothing seems to have changed in the world. Salazar aside, the seafaring baddies are still the British, who are, it seems, more sneery and less effective than ever.
  23. Even though Salazar’s vendetta against Jack is ostensibly the driving force behind the plot, as much as the aforementioned quest, Jack himself barely gets anything to do besides the odd bit of slapstick – to which Depp himself takes what could be kindly described as a less-is-more approach.
  24. At least one of whom seems to have been shot exclusively on green screen. This includes the two (presumably named) comedy guards from the original trilogy, who, of all the cast, are looking increasingly long in tooth; much like the film itself.
  25. Which the film makes no effort to justify or explain – like the partially rotted zombie sharks that Salazar’s crew keep aboard or the fact the shattered hull of the ship can open up and crawl over things in its path like a millipede.
  26. At this point he basically seems like a placeholder till they can find someone new and bankable.
  27. What, for instance, is up with their persistent de-ageing actors – i.e. Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy, Michael Douglas in Ant-Man, Carrie Fisher in Rogue One, Kurt Russell in Guardians Of The Galaxy, Vol. 2 – which at this point seems to be bordering on the obsessive?
  28. And if you’ve already seen it, maybe see it again. We want to encourage Warner Bros. in this sort of film-making.

Author: robertmwallis

Graduate of Royal Holloway and the London Film School. Founder of Of All The Film Sites; formerly Of All The Film Blogs. Formerly Film & TV Editor of The Metropolist and Official Sidekick at A Place to Hang Your Cape. Co-host of The Movie RobCast podcast (formerly Electric Shadows) and member of the Online Film Critics Society.

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