“Could someone explain to me why I’m here?” asks Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow, in this newest swashbuckling adventure. A reasonable question, as the 14-year old pirate series has done nothing but churn out underwhelming and needlessly bloated sequels ever since its enjoyable 2003 debut, and seemed well and truly sunk after 2011’s On Stranger Tides. However, after six mercifully long years since the fourth adventure comes this soft-reboot of sorts, which sees Javier Bardem’s undead Captain Salazar out for Jack’s head. The only way to avoid his vengeance is to find this instalment’s MacGuffin, Poseidon’s Trident, which has the power not only to reverse all curses but also to create a subplot which allows Orlando Bloom to return as the world’s dullest pirate.
Brass tacks: while Disney couldn’t settle on a title for this fifth Pirates film (it’s known as both Salazar’s Revenge and Dead Men Tell No Tales depending where you choose to see it), the House of Mouse at least hired two directors who have course-corrected the franchise by steering it towards welcome back-to-basics territory. Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg keep things moving along at a brisk pace and even orchestrate a few entertaining action set pieces, including a grandiose slapstick bank robbery and a memorable dual execution. However, while it is an improvement on past adventures and comes closest to the original as actually entertaining, the bar was set so low that things could only get better. The whole thing is essentially a spark-less rerun of The Curse of the Black Pearl; Depp’s played-out schtick is still as tiresome and is only partially redeemed by Bardem’s CGI-enhanced antics and a standout performance by the charismatic Kaya Scodelario, who runs away with every scene she’s in.
But even these minor positives can’t save this from being a shipwreck. It’s clear that the franchise needs to walk the proverbial, fall into Davy Jones’ locker and stay there. Sadly, if the end-credit stinger is to be trusted, Pirates of the Caribbean joins Fast And Furious as yet another franchise that simply refuses to perish.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge | Directed by Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg (US, 2017) with Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Kaya Scodelario. Starts May 25.
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