The Pirates of the Caribbean series is so rich in nostalgia for me that, much like a recovering alcoholic, every time I have a bad experience with it, I inevitably have to go back for more. ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’ remains a modern classic in the adventure genre and is still in my top ten favourite films. However, the decreasing quality of each subsequent overblown and over the top sequel became apparent as early as ‘Dead Man’s Chest.’ That was what I thought up until I saw this film, that is. 2011’s ‘On Stranger Tides’, the fourth movie in the franchise hit a low point of mediocrity that was a far cry from the already problematic, overstuffed and clunky mess that were Gore Verbinski’s ‘At World’s End’. However, ‘Salazar’s Revenge’ breathes new undead life into the franchise with a few (though not many) new ideas, some genuinely good character beats and above all, a spectacle worthy of a Marvel film; this film looks gorgeous.
As a long time fan, the re-introduction of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, regardless of the brevity of their appearances, is great to see. Newcomers Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites are actually welcome additions to the mythos, feeling suitably fleshed out and realised, not succumbing to the very real danger of becoming the ‘obligatory love interest characters’ and instead being the driving force for the plot. The decision to put less focus on Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow (we’ll get to him) is a wise one, with lessons somewhat being learnt from ‘On Stranger Tides.’ The plot feels much more organic this time and despite featuring elements almost entirely derived from previous instalments, manages to feel fresh and capture a sense of adventure and scale not felt in the series for quite a while. Whilst the macguffin of Poseidon’s trident is fairly cheap, it works as a goal for all of our characters to work towards.
I would also be remiss not to mention Javier Bardem’s titular Captain Salazar, who along with the always fantastic Geoffrey Rush, gives the most convincing performance as a sinister ghost sailor, ably aided by some pretty convincing and cool ‘underwater’ CGI effects. As alluded to previously, the films main strength is its remarkable visuals and spectacle, with every scene being a feast for the eyes. Though it slightly saddens me to think back to a time where a simple sword fight was enough for these films, I must admit that seeing an entire bank being dragged half way through a town is an impressive feat of effects, if nothing else.
While the film has the honour of being the shortest of the series, it’s paced rather oddly, with the action being thrust at the audience at breakneck speed only to be stopped by some random ‘humorous’ scenes. Examples include Jack being thrown into an (actually pretty sexist when you think about it) arranged marriage with an over the top repulsive woman. Scenes like this I’m sure were intended for comedy, but unlike the razor sharp writing and wit of ‘Curse of the Black Pearl’, they come off as childish and unnecessary, damaging the tone of the film significantly. It starts off with a grittier approach and shows a down on his luck Jack, drunker and seemingly madder than ever losing everything. This should be the springboard for a redemption arc that makes us triumphantly roar by the time he gets the Black Pearl back in the third act, but sadly, it’s all played for laughs. And most of the time, they’re just not very funny, it’s sad to say.
And speaking of things that aren’t funny, this leads me to Captain Jack Sparrow. Oh Jack, what did they do to you? What was once one of the most interesting, mysterious and compelling characters in recent blockbuster history has become an absolute joke. I don’t know whether to blame the writing, the direction, Depp’s performance or a mixture of all three, but Jack Sparrow was easily the absolute least compelling aspect of the whole film. Even ‘On Stranger Tides’, where Depp’s performance was getting into pantomime territory, kept the integrity of the character intact. The scene where Barbossa tells him he lost the Pearl to Blackbeard and Jack totally loses it, shows that his character still means something; he still has goals, a purpose and isn’t a total idiot. In this film, he’s just there for laughs. And again, most of them aren’t funny. They’re childish and stupid. It pains me to write this as I love Jack Sparrow in the first three, heck, even four films. This was like a parody; it was like Scary Movie deciding to throw in someone doing a bad Jack Sparrow impression. Good Lord, if you’re doing a Pirates 6 (which with the box office performance they obviously will) please, please give Jack some credibility back and turn him back into the witty, clever pirate that we once knew. Not this insane pantomime dame owing more to Carry on Pirates than Captain Jack Sparrow. The one and only redeeming aspect was a brilliant flashback scene showing young Jack in his prime. If we had seen more of the young, confident Jack, played as a competent and credible pirate albeit with a humorous manner, as we saw in the other films, the picture could’ve been much stronger.
All in all, I liked ‘Salazar’s Revenge.’ I may be bias for my own personal love of the series and in particular the characters of Will, Elizabeth and especially Barbossa, but with the (admittedly huge) exception of Jack, the film worked for me. The three new main characters were engaging, well acted and well written and the execution of the plot, while sloppy and childish in places, generally came together well. The film ends on a triumphant note with it’s excellent third act being the clear highlight. If Depp hadn’t been playing an escaped lunatic dressed as a pirate instead of Jack Sparrow it might have even been close to the level of ‘Curse of the Black Pearl.’ As it stands, it isn’t. But it’s still worth a watch if you’re a fan of adventure films. Oh, and Hans Zimmer’s score is fantastic as usual. Most of it is reoccurring motifs from the previous films, but they’re all used well and it’s great to hear action themes used for Will and Elizabeth being cleverly utilized as a ‘Turner motif’ for their son Henry.
Wait, what? What’s this post credits sce…
CAN NOBODY STAY DEAD IN THIS DAMN PIRATES UNIVERSE