Creativity remains in the rotten timber of Salazar’s Revenge, but there’s little passion left in the hollowed out core.
Henry Turner seeks to remove the curse that has his father, Will Turner, trapped as the undying captain of the Flying Dutchman, but to do so he needs the trident of Poseidon. Joining him is a woman of science and the ill-fated Jack Sparrow, who is being hunted by an undead Spanish captain.
Warning, this review contains reference to films with titles too long for their own good.
The first film, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, was released in 2003! Nearly fifteen years ago! Since then we have been privy to three sequels of diminishing quality and over-written storytelling, ending with 2011’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which almost ended the franchise with audiences underwhelmed by the hard focus on Johnny Depp’s slapstick protagonist Captain Jack Sparrow.
Now we are back in it again and things are feeling distinctly 2003. We are introduced to two new protagonists, Henry Turner and Carina Smyth played by Brenton Thwaites (last seen, unfortunately, in Gods of Egypt and the dreadful Maleficent) and Kaya Scodelario (the Maze Runner films) respectively. They are distinctively the next generation Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, only with even less charisma. Plus we have Javier Bardem doing his thing as the vengeful villain Salazar, his ghost ship terrorizing the seas looking for Jack.
The film is baffling directed by two men, which is hard to swallow since some of the later action sequences are so dark and messy I had no idea what was happening, and Bardem’s slurring undead captain was hard to understand at times. There are also often points when it feels like a scene is missing, such as when Jack’s crew miraculously escapes a fully functioning British galleon’s prison without being spotted.
Oh lord, is there a lot of “being captured and then escaping” in this film. Jack, Carina, Henry and co all get caught only to escape again moments later, multiple times. If audiences are truly attentive, this kills almost all threat posed by our antagonists.
Antagonists plural, as Salazar’s Revenge has also shoehorned David Wenham (Netflix’s Iron Fist) into the plot as a… British… naval… captain? He does nearly nothing except chase Carina’s misunderstood-to-be-a-witch scientist (which is a joke that gets incredibly old quickly, like most of the jokes).
The film starts to feel more and more like what it is based on: an amusement park ride. There’s plenty of spectacle and inventiveness. I thoroughly enjoyed Depp’s shtick as he and his crew “rob a bank” in the opening third of the film and then the following breaking up of his crew (a shame that drama didn’t last more than ten minutes). Salazar’s crew and ship are foreboding and interesting, but without the original films’ director Gore Verbinski’s steady hand and gorgeous photography, they look poorly handled. Not quite as menacing as Barbossa’s skeletal crew or Davy Jones’ nautical monsters as the film wants them to be. But zombie sharks, a ship that literally eats other ships, and cool ghost effects on the undead crew, among other larger-than-life events later in the film, are impressive to see.
As for Depp, he is delivering the same performance but it never feels especially fresh; Salazar is a real threat, on paper, but it never seems to really matter to Jack. He’s an unflappable fool.
Really, I would wait for a DVD release for Dead Men Tell No Tales / Salazar’s Revenge. Normally I would suggest a cinema visit for the spectacle, but at times it is so dark and poorly photographed that it isn’t as incredible as it should be (nothing memorable like Davy Jones and Jack fighting on masts over a whirlpool).
But at this point everything feels a little recycled and more than a little passionless.