We all have unpopular opinions when it comes to film. Some of us are proud of them; we don’t care for bad reviews or poor box office, we stand up and fight for what we believe in. And then there are some we’re not proud of, and maybe just keep to ourselves for fear of being criticised. Well, I have never been ashamed to admit that I think the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films are absolute gold. Most people enjoy the first one, but 2 and 3 are often on the receiving end of hate. I think the trilogy as a whole is an exciting and complex adventure that does such a great job of setting up a fantastic character dynamic and delving deep into the lore of the world it creates. These are the Pirates films I defend. From there on out, it’s a little bit shaky, as the lacklustre fourth instalment offered little in the way of fun or excitement, and while this fifth film is most definitely a recovery of sorts, it still leaves a lot to be desired.
Salazar’s Revenge – or as it’s known elsewhere, Dead Men Tell No Tales, (which is clearly the better title but here in the UK, we always get the shit versions) – follows our hero Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) at the end of his rope; he’s a drunken mess who’s no longer capable of his wicked ways, to the point where even his own crew have abandoned him. But as usual, someone is after our Captain, and it’s the ghost pirate Salazar (Javier Bardem), seeking revenge for the destruction of his fleet many years before, and will stop at nothing until he is dead. Joining him on the adventure is an astrologist (Kaya Scodelario), deemed a witch by everyone she meets, and young Henry Turner (Brendon Thwaites), the son of Jack’s former companions Will and Elizabeth (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley), determined to find the Trident of Poseidon to break his father’s curse.
Let’s start with the positives, because this film really isn’t a total disaster; it’s most certainly not a difficult watch. Not everything is on point, sure, but where the previous film tended to drag, Salazar’s Revenge is fairly well paced and there’s enough action to prevent boredom. The bigger set pieces in this film are pulled off very well, and it makes for a fairly entertaining watch. The visuals are stunning, and with the exception of our lead star (Which we’ll get into in just a sec…), the performances all around are very decent, in particular, our new young leads Brendon Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, who steal the show from the legendary captain and bring the necessary heart and investment to the story.
Where this film fails is it’s many missed opportunities, and baffling storytelling decisions. I should warn you, I’m heading into spoiler territory so if you haven’t Salazar’s Revenge, abandon ship now…
Okay, so it was no secret that Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann would be making a return to the franchise, but what we got from the duo was utterly pathetic; the opening scene shows Henry finding his father, telling him of his plan to save him – Orlando Bloom is terrible, but it’s a good terrible, the kind that’s essential to a character like Will – and once again at the end when Henry breaks the curse, and Elizabeth appears for all of five seconds to be reunited with her love. While I appreciate I’m maybe the only person in the world to seem any kind of complexity in this franchise, this indisputably ignores the importance of these two characters, and more specifically, their importance to Jack; it’s one thing to basically leave them out of the film, but to have Jack’s only reaction to them be pure disgust is disgraceful, and completely goes against what has already been established. I appreciate Jack is not the type of person to express any type of fondness or sentiment for those around him, but this is a relationship that cannot be argued against. It’s far too obvious by the end of the third film that they’ve had an impact on him, and to introduce them back into the film could have been to bring back an interesting dynamic to a now soulless franchise, and bring something to Jack that is desperately needed, but they are reduced to bite size cameos and it is not okay.
But Jack’s disgust towards them is actually a product of an even larger problem this franchise currently suffers, and that is Disney’s complete and utter refusal to let Jack have any character development; this is by far Johnny Depp’s worst performance as the character, but I can only give him half the blame because he is not written to be anything other than the cheap gimmick they’ve decided that he is. At first, it seems kind of appropriate. Jack is clearly drunk through the first part of this film, and that’s in establishing that he’s no longer a good pirate, and that could’ve made for a touching story line about an otherwise confident pirate being down on his luck, but then Depp spends the entirely film like this, and it becomes sickening. This was a character that got Depp his first Oscar nomination, and deservedly so, when the character actually had depth to him, and while many believe the joke got old after the first film, I maintain that Jack grows as a character through all three of them and it’s beautifully done. Now, he’s nothing more than a cheap punchline that no one finds funny, and it is in dire need of a shake up.
Beyond that, the film is not particularly well written and most of the jokes do not land. It’s not completely insufferable; it’s a perfectly entertaining watch, but that’s not what this franchise needs or deserves. We may have to hope that the next instalment delivers on what’s it’s after credits scene promised, a larger story for Will and Elizabeth and the return of Davy Jones, and we have to hope it’s done well.
For now, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is an okay film with a serious misunderstanding of it’s characters.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!