REVIEW: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

Director(s): Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom

Running time: 129 minutes

2-stars

In an attempt to save his father, Will (Bloom), from his entrapment aboard The Flying Dutchman, Henry Turner (Thwaites) sets out on a quest to find the mythical Trident of Poseidon, said to have the power to rid the ocean of all curses. Along the way, he enlists the help of Astronomer/Horologist fugitive, Carina Smyth (Scodelario), who has her own motivations for seeking the treasure, and Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) who basically just comes along for the ride – and happens to be hunted by an evil Spanish Ghost (Bardem) seeking revenge.

Question: what exactly should we be calling this one? Pirates 5? Salazar’s Revenge? Or the US title Dead Men Tell No Tales? While we can sit here and argue until the Sparrows come home about what its proper name is, there’s one thing we can probably all agree on: if dead men tell no tales, then judging by this latest instalment in the POTC franchise, neither do living ones – well, tales worth (re)telling, anyway.

There is a scene early on in, let’s go with Salazar’s Revenge, in which Johnny Depp’s imprisoned (and probably intoxicated) Captain Jack Sparrow starts to nod off during one of Henry’s righteous and heroic ramblings. It’s a moment that is both funny and ironic for all the wrong reasons. While Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s entry into the franchise isn’t without its merits, it is for the most part a snooze-inducing stodge of a film that feels awfully familiar.

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A pair of young, good looking do-gooders team up with an ageing, washed-up pirate to do battle with a crew of cursed undead ghouls. Déjà vu, anyone? Right from the opening scenes, this all has a very Curse of the Black Pearl feel to it. In fact, rather than another sequel, this feels much more like a remake, in plot, character, and tone. And while the original was good ol’ swashbuckling fun, Salazar’s Revenge is Wublickshangs – an anagram of swashbuckling to emphasise just how much of a total muddled mess of a pirate film this is.  Beyond the basic plot elements, the narrative intricacies make frustratingly little sense. There’s something about Poseidon’s trident, following stars and parting seas (the biblical analogies are about as subtle as Paul McCartney in a Jack Sparrow costume), and a shoehorned relevance to Jack’s trusty compass which feels just awkwardly and confusingly thrown in there. We jump from action set piece to action set piece at such speed and velocity that there’s no time to stop and ask ‘What?’ ‘Who?’ ‘Why?’ Likewise, the dialogue is seasoned with more exposition and plot-explaining than the sea is with salt, and some of the acting and delivery is as wooden as the very ships that sail it. There’s a totally pointless flashback about half-way through that serves only to show off the (bad) CGI de-aging work on Depp’s face, and even an attempt to give us the genesis of the name Sparrow – an underwhelming revelation that feels half-arsed and totally, totally unsatisfying.

But while the whole Depp-show may have started to lose its appeal, and Sparrow a washed-up parody of his former self in a film that altogether feels short of a marble or two, Pirates 5’s very own pearl comes in the form of Bardem’s fiendish, snarling villain, Salazar. Previous performances (No Country for Old Men and Skyfall) show that Bardem can do evil very well, and whenever his sinister hobbling figure is on screen, or deep, ominous Spanish tones are heard, the film becomes instantly more interesting – although these instances are disappointingly infrequent, and any character complexity is soon lost in favour of generic evil motivations.

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Rush’s Captain Barbosa offers up some camp pirate fun amidst Depp’s more physical shenanigans, but the gags quickly dry up as the plot gets increasingly bottlenecked in its own sub-plots – one involving Barbosa that feels like a last-minute addition to the script to justify his narrative inclusion, but comes far too late to have any of the intended emotional investment or impact.

Just weeks after we were reunited with Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and the gang for the eighth time, Salazar’s Revenge is the marine equivalent of the Fast and Furious – in fact, during one scene Depp engineers what is effectively a pirate ship handbrake turn. It’s loud, senseless, far too long and, save for snippets of Bardem brilliance, is comprehensibly unremarkable. After five films of Caribbean ocean ghouls and curses, the only thing that would get a lower rating would be the Trip Advisor score. No more, savy?

 

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