This article is also available to read on The Yorker.
It seems that everyone in the world, apart from Disney movie execs and the actors, have decided that we really should stop making Pirates of the Caribbean films now. We probably reached that stage after 2007’s At World’s End. But here we are, ten years later with number five, which wasn’t worth making unless the aim was to show just how long corporations can flog a dead horse.
Saying that, the film wasn’t entirely appalling. We follow Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), Will and Elizabeth’s son, as he seeks the help of Jack Sparrow in finding the Trident of Poseidon – the only thing that can break Will’s curse. Joining the quest is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who clutches her father’s notebook and uses it to map the stars and search for information about him. Meanwhile, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is on the hunt for Jack, who cursed him to the half-life he now lives. The first act is fun enough, with charming newcomers and some semblance of pace, and the final battle is more involving than CGI beings of unspecified power hitting one another. The moment with Will and Elizabeth made me feel more than I expected it to. What was appalling, unfortunately, was Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow.
Way back in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, far and away the best instalment of the franchise, Sparrow was exciting and new and moderated. He wasn’t the protagonist and so we didn’t get tired of him, rather looked forward to him popping up again with some new scheme. There was always a reason for him to be where he was, for him to make certain decisions, because the writing had more care taken over it. Also, Johnny Depp cared. Let’s not forget, he was Leading Actor-nominated by the Academy for the role first time around. Now, though, he’s the least attractive part of the film. What once was a character is now a routine; funny walk, drink, say something mildly inappropriate followed by a catchphrase. The scripts have declined in quality, Depp’s paycheck has skyrocketed and his effort – across his career – has slumped significantly. From Black Mass to Fantastic Beasts and now Pirates 5, he now just does the Johnny Depp thing and wows nobody.
Jack Sparrow is also the character through which we become involved in the lowest point of the entire franchise. Quite unexpectedly, in the middle of the film we find ourselves on a beach somewhere with someone who Jack owes money to or something forcing him to marry his sister. And guess what? This guy’s sister is fat and grubby with warts and cracked lips. And Jack has to kiss her to live. I reached a point of exasperation I had never reached before during that scene. There’s also some excruciating dialogue between the crew on several occasions, usually pertaining to women. It’s reasonable to include viewpoints which are relevant to the period, especially when they are being proved wrong in characters’ actions, but when you centre every joke around it, nobody laughs. The second act is a real trudge.
There were some brighter sides to this film, though! Carina was a joy, and her company so much more enjoyable than Elizabeth’s in the earlier films. She doesn’t have the middle class fussiness or the high-pitched whining voice; instead she is a woman of science and astronomy who patiently explains to those stuck in the times that she isn’t a witch and then gets stuck in during action scenes. Javier Bardem was a suitably dribbly villain, with cool CGI hair that looked like it was underwater which you could watch float around when you couldn’t quite tell what he was saying. Geoffrey Rush, as always, was a pleasure and was gifted the most poignant moment of the film.
All in all, this film was pretty much what I expected it to be, exceeding those expectations at times and seriously disappointing them at others. It was another Pirates film. I expect it won’t be the last, and the next will be just as pointless as this one was. Until next time, then.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is now out in cinemas across the UK. Image source: IMDb.com