Release date: 26th May 2017/Watch the trailer here
By the time most franchises reach their fifth film, one of two things have usually happened: either the franchise was terrible right from the beginning but somehow continues to make ridiculous amounts of money; or the franchise was good once, before it received the endless sequel treatment. Pirates of the Caribbean falls into the second category. The first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, was a fantastic adventure movie with an equally fantastic performance from Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, and it’s a film that still stands up today, fourteen years on. With each sequel, however, the plots became progressively more convoluted and Depp’s performance became progressively less charming – although Dead Man’s Chest and, to a lesser extent, At World’s End at least managed to retain some of the fun of the original (but the less said about the fourth entry, On Stranger Tides, the better).
Salazar’s Revenge (which has the far better title Dead Men Tell No Tales in most countries outside of Europe) is not the return to form that the franchise needed. This time, Jack Sparrow is down on his luck and even drunker than usual, setting out in search of the Trident of Poseidon (because it wouldn’t be a Pirates film without some sort of McGuffin that every character is after for different reasons), a powerful artefact that grants its owner complete power over the sea. Jack is after it in the hope that it will save him from Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an old nemesis who, along with his undead crew, has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle that Jack once left him imprisoned in, hellbent on revenge. Along for the ride are newcomers Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who wants the Trident to break the curse that binds his father to the Flying Dutchman; and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer with the map that leads them directly to the Trident.
Considering that they’re little more than a budget version of Will and Elizabeth, the characters of Henry and Carina are surprisingly two of the more interesting elements of the film – and they’re some of the only actors who look like they actually want to be there, too (with the exception, of course, of Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, who always appears to be having the time of his life whenever he’s in a Pirates movie). Bardem as the villain is chewing scenery in every single scene he’s in, but the real tragedy here is Depp, who in Salazar’s Revenge could easily be mistaken for a bad Jack Sparrow impersonator. Gone is the witty, cunning, resourceful Jack of the original films, replaced by what now feels like little more than a parody; constantly drunk, never funny, always annoying and, by the end of the film, serving very little purpose to the actual plot.
The plot itself may well be the least convoluted we’ve ever seen in a Pirates of the Caribbean film, but perhaps that’s because it all feels so familiar: multiple characters searching for the same thing and numerous double-crosses along the way. Still, it also takes the shortest amount of time to get to the finish line of any of the Pirates movies, with a welcome two-hour runtime – but an extra fifteen minutes wouldn’t have gone amiss if they could have given us a climax that felt like it was worth the tedious journey it took to get there. When you compare the climactic scene of Salazar’s Revenge with some of its predecessors – the moonlit fight between Jack and Barbossa; a three-person sword fight taking place on a giant, spinning wheel; a huge battle between the Black Pearl and the Flying Dutchman in the middle of a swirling maelstrom – it only makes Salazar’s Revenge seem all the more disappointing.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of good films that are let down by a rushed, lazy climax, but unfortunately, Salazar’s Revenge wasn’t a particularly good film before that point, either. It has its moments, but they’re all hindered by awkward dialogue and silly set pieces that, even by Pirates of the Caribbean standards, are asking a bit too much in terms of suspending your disbelief.
The saving grace of Salazar’s Revenge comes at the very end of the film: a small handful of brief scenes that will surely bring a smile to the face of any longtime Pirates fan; and it feels like there couldn’t have possibly been a more perfect way to close the franchise (apart from stopping after the third movie, that is). Sadly, though, there’ll most likely end up being a sixth film in the series, and then we’ll have to go through the process of seeing a once-great franchise be turned into another uninspired, lacklustre mess all over again.