12A – 129mins – 2017 – 3D
THE POWER OF THE SEA
After six years on dry land – the longest gap between installments in Disney’s “savvy” saga to date – Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny “Mad Hatter” Depp) has set sail on blockbuster seas for the fifth time in Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or the mouthful that is Dead Men Tell No Tales, as it is known Stateside), after both script and budgetary issues blighted initial 2015, then 2016, departures from dock.
After 2011’s On Stranger Tides largely introduced new cohorts for Jack and his lifelong ‘frienemy’ Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to adventure with, incoming directing duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg tried to recapture the winning tone of the 2003 original, The Curse of the Black Pearl, by striking a more even balance between fresh ideas and popular, established characters.
So there are (peripheral) returns for former shipmates Will Turner (Orlando Unlocked Bloom) and his wife, Elizabeth Swan (Kiera Knightley), while the main story sails on unchartered waters by teaming a down-on-his-luck Jack with Will’s now-adult son, Henry (Brenton Thwaites), and female astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) to track down the Trident of Poseidon. Each wants the powerful artefact for individual reasons: Henry to break the curse which ties his barnacle-faced pa to the Flying Dutchman, Carina to honour the father she never knew, while Jack needs it to dispose of the undead crew of the Flying Gull, who are hot on his heels.
While general opinion seems to be that this franchise hasn’t burned bright since its debut mega-hit, with subsequent stories being bloated and baffling, I have always enjoyed the swashbuckling comedy quests as spectacle-filled easy-watches, even if they haven’t quite recaptured Pearl‘s magic. I was incredibly hopeful that lessons would be learned and Salazar’s Revenge would be a true barnstorming and rollicking return to form. Efficacious early audience reactions only upped my anticipation further, aaaaand… I was disappointed.
Positives first: it is a vivid, vivacious and often exhilarating romp, but more than ever before it feels strained and superfluous. Some may argue that all the sequels have been, but Salazar’s Revenge felt overwhelmingly try-hard, and fun under pressure is no fun at all. I appreciated nods to the series mythology (kraken and mermaids) and attempts to give ghostly antagonist Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) relevance to the leads with a Jack-incorporating backstory, but he felt like a lesser facsimile of every previous villain we’ve seen so far. A cursed phantom crew is so common in Pirates it’s a surprise anyone feels the slightest element of peril any more.
While the audience I saw it with cackled and howled in all the right places, I raised no more than an acknowledging smirk throughout, with only a 12A-pushing piece of innuendo truly landing (“It’s probably cold,” Jack deadpans when his bottle-released Black Pearl fails to grow) in a similar vein to the “hairy hand” joke in Dead Man’s Chest. Elsewhere it was a case of Pirates of the Caribbean by-the-numbers, with that rock star cameo being the cherry atop an eye-rolling cake. I get why they including Sir Paul, but that doesn’t make it funny.
At least On Stranger Tides tried something new. Despite bringing on board fresh blood in the form of screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (who worked with Depp in ironing out franchise alum Terry Rossio’s first draft), Salazar’s Revenge feels like a tired re-tread masquerading under the banner of recapturing the glory days. It wasn’t a complete mess, but it did fail to live up to a casual fan’s expectations. Any further instalments will need a serious injection of fresh water to not completely wreck one of the finest ship’s in Disney’s blockbuster fleet.
CR@B’s Claw Score: