Victoria Brown, Arts and Entertainment’s Co-Editor.
As a child, did ‘The Curse of the Black Pearl’ make you want to dress up in leather boots, a long coat and hat, and brandish a sword at your enemies? Me too. After the unexpected success of the first film in 2003, the series has grown in plot complexity, character development, and visual elegance. However, the fifth installment of the franchise feels both painfully forced and unnecessary.
The film follows Henry Turner, son of the previous protagonists, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, in his search for Poseidon’s Trident. This mystical object is the key to breaking all curses at sea, and young Turner enlists Jack Sparrow’s help in the hope of breaking The Flying Dutchman’s hold on his father. Jack, however, has his own trouble. After giving away his compass, which the series has established points to the thing you want most, an enemy from his past is released and is hell-bent on getting revenge on the Captain.
Despite the engaging premise – I was very happy to see the beautiful Orlando Bloom again – the film falls short of what I expected from the franchise. Henry’s motivation is understandable, but not overly intriguing. The audience knows from the film’s light tone, in comparison to its predecessors, that Henry will achieve his goal so there is a lack of engaging anticipation. The entire narrative feels like a bunch of left over ideas from the franchise thrown together in an attempt to create a story; at which it fails miserably.
The antagonist Captain Salazar, played by Skyfall’s Javier Bardem, comes across as lazily written. The CGI makes the living-dead Captain appear ghostly and menacing, but the look is too similar to Barbosa’s undead crew in the first film, and Davy Jones’ undead crew in the second and third film. The visuals have become tirelessly clichéd. The overuse of CGI, loud explosions, and reliance on fantastical battle sequences (what is wrong with the classic and realistic sword fights from Black Pearl?) have become boring as they are so commonplace in the series. Salazar’s backstory is nothing more than an info-dump to explain why he is after Jack, and lacks the depth to be in any way interesting. The payback-seeking villain is overused and boring.
This nagging sense of unoriginal familiarity lacks the sentiment it is supposed to evoke. This is especially true in the scenes between Henry and Jack. Their relationship seems more like a too recent remake of the first film, rather than a sentimental reflection of Will and Jack’s previous relationship that the audience are supposed to recognise and enjoy.
Now, you can’t review a Pirates of the Caribbean film and not mention Johnny Depp. Depp’s original portrayal of the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow is arguably what made the first film such a success, but 14 years later, the character has gone stale. Normally in my books, Depp can do no wrong. But his performance in this film seems horribly forced. I cringed through every scene. The character came across like a bad caricature of himself. This version of Sparrow lacks the original charming humour and wit that audiences fell in love with. He’s like that embarrassing relative that you dread seeing at family reunions. Now, this disappointing portrayal may be down to limitations in the script – an actor can only do so much with what they are given – or personal troubles in Depp’s personal life during production, but the feeling I got is that his heart just wasn’t in it and it definitely comes across in the film. Also, the de-aging on Depp’s face during his backstory is painful to watch. If you want to see this done gracefully, check out Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2.
The film does have one saving grace – Carina Smith. Played by Skins’ Kaya Scodelario, we first meet Carina as she flees the patriarchal authorities after being accused of witchcraft. Despite innuendo-laden dialogue from her male counterparts, and a forced unromantic relationship between herself and Henry, Carina is a brilliant new addition to the franchise. An orphan driven by her desire to fulfil her unknown father’s work, Carina becomes an expert in astronomy and horology (the study of time and measurement) and joins Henry on his quest for the trident. Carina is supposed to be this film’s version of Elizabeth Swann, but she far surpasses her predecessor. While Elizabeth grows throughout the series, Carina is already a strong, intelligent and independent young woman, which is a refreshing portrayal of females in this time period. She doesn’t take any of the pirates’ sexism and never doubts her intelligence or ability to apply herself. Her sass makes her scenes genuinely enjoyable.
Overall, although enjoyable at the most basic level of entertainment, Salazar’s Revenge is an unflattering and forgettable addition to the Pirates of the Caribbean universe. Hollywood’s obsession with profit-producing franchises needs to stop. Please learn when enough is enough. More doesn’t mean better. Sometimes it is about quality over quantity.