We return to the high seas of the Caribbean for another Disney-helmed trip to a time of photogenic pirates (portrayed typically by Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush) thrown amidst a bunch of supernatural shenanigans. The movie is confusingly titled Salazar’s Revenge in the British and international release schedule.
The last time Johnny Depp played his signature role as pirate Jack Sparrow was in 2011’s outing, On Stranger Tides, which lifted its title from a novel by Tim Powers, as well as its plot of seeking the fabled Fountain of Youth whilst pursued by an undead Blackbeard. The film received mixed reviews, along with concerns that Depp was no longer being stretched by his performance.
The new film opens with a call-back to the end of the much maligned third movie, At Worlds End, with Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner briefly summoned up from the sea, where he has been laboring under an enchantment as captain of the ghostly vessel The Flying Dutchman. A young boy, quickly revealed Will’s son, Henry, vows to free his father from his magically imposed burden.
We then rapidly encounter Jack Sparrow himself, immersed in a rather over the top interpretation of a heist, as he literally knocks over a bank in an attempt to abscond with a safe full of gold. Jack’s luck appears to be failing him as he ages, however. Despondent and abandoned by his crew, he pawns away his magic compass that has long been his ally, and an old enemy is freed from a ghostly imprisonment.
Whilst Jack hits a new low, newcomer actress Kaya Scodelario (formerly of Skins fame) joins the franchise as Carina Smyth, a highly-intelligent young women and would be scientist, on the trail of what she believes to be an ancient map leading to rumoured treasure. She crosses paths with the now grown-up Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and both are soon swept up in Jack’s wake as he seeks to escape from local prison. Meanwhile, Javier Bardem gets his teeth into a somewhat hammy role as Armando Salazar, an undead pirate hunter who Jack once got the better of, in a short but engaging flashback scene, to when Jack was a mere adolescent. Seeking revenge, he pressgangs Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Hector Barbossa into his service – who once again gets some of the most interesting development and lines.
All parties are soon swept up in a quest for the fabled Trident of Poseidon, which is rumoured to control the sea and lift all curses. It is here that the plot gets a little bit wobbly, as scenes tend to lose momentum and characters drift in and out of the story. A rather unnecessary complication is added by the introduction of David Wenham as Lieutenant Scarfield, leading a contingent of disposable Royal Navy officers on their own voyage to oppose Salazar, advised by Golshifteh Farahani as Shansa, a bald sea witch who adds very little to the plot, but may be a thread to yet another sequel.
Bardem looks impressive as a spectral figure, his visage and body oddly rippling and floating as if underwater, and many of her crew appear impressively mouldy and missing much of their body mass. Some are even floating torsos or arms. Somewhat more awkwardly, a trio of CGI undead sharks are unleashed in pursuit of the lead characters, swimming through the water with rib cages and muscles showing, and leaping in cheesy slow motion over the top of a rowboat, snapping as if in treacle. Bardem leaves a menacing impression early on, ordering the execution of many of Barbossa’s crew and other prisoners, but his dialogue is somewhat stilted and he ends up trailing in the wake of a somewhat underdeveloped plot. He participates in the final action showdown, but is prevented from unleashing his full power, or making use of the trident for any length of time.
Johnny Depp returns, settling pretty naturally back into the role, but is beginning to sound more like a slurred Australian. He also plays Jack as rather drunker than he’s ever been before, particularly in the first act. I still got the impression many scenes were done almost on autopilot, as Jack receives some punchlines, but many are a bit groan-worthy. There is even a little bit of smut mixed in. Too much emphasis seems placed on seeking laughs and almost cartoonish feats – compared with the more witty and clever deeds of his early outings.
Scodelario (playing a little too smug at times) and Thwaites perform serviceably during the film, and participate in a fan-pleasing reunion at the climax. But Geoffrey Rush once again delivers much of the acting chops in his scenes, both when still having a ball, and when adding a little more wistfulness as a new facet of Barbossa’s past is unearthed. He also adopts a more peacock-like look early in the film, revelling in newfound wealth. Whether this is his swansong in a memorable if comfortable role remains to be seen, but he certainly manages to ‘pirate’ a lot of scenes from his co-stars.
The special effects remain impressive looking, if not always impactfully realised. The new undead pirate threat is initially unsettling, but their inability to walk on land detracts heavily from their menace as the story progresses, and they get lost among the magic and near superheroics of the finale, within a ocean chasm colliding with spectacle straight out of The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. There is also a rather unremarkable soundtrack by Geoff Zanelli – it sets atmosphere, and Salazar’s theme has menace, but it mostly lacks the epic themes from the earlier works of Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer. The showpiece of the final act is also surprisingly gloomy and ill-lit, making it hard to take some things in. Still, the film is less convoluted than the first two sequels, and better paced than the fourth one – it merely lacks some much needed oomph. Perhaps this is not the final swansong for this dipsomaniac Depp role, but the teeth are starting to look long.
That said, drink up me hearties – and you should find some things to enjoy…