Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Kaya Scodelario
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“Could someone explain why I’m here?” asks Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) at the start of Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge. The fifth film in the franchise, which has been running for almost 15 years, you might well be asking the same question: it’s been six years since the fourth entry in Disney’s series and any swashbuckling momentum the movies built up has long since buckled its swash. The answer, of course, is to reboot Pirates… for a new generation of paying audiences.
Salazar’s Revenge certainly goes about things in the right way: the franchise brings in two new directors, Joaquin Rønning and Espen Sandberg, who add a fresh sense of energy to proceedings. The Norwegian duo’s last film was 2012’s Oscar nominee Kon-Tiki, a rafting drama that showcased the kind of verve and imagination that comes in waves once given a blockbuster budget. The opening set piece, which involves a literal bank heist, rivals the Fast & Furious films for sheer novelty and bravura, while an execution escape sequence features the use of a guillotine to thrillingly witty effect.
In our lead roles, too, are young, relatively unknown faces: Brenton Thwaites as Harry, a go-getting adventurer with a just cause, and Britain’s own Kaya Scodelario (who wowed in Wuthering Heights back in 2011) as Carina Smyth, a stargazer with smarts that lead her to be accused of being a witch. Thwaites may be lacking in depth, but he’s got the dashing, derring-do needed for a shallow hero, while Scodelario is fantastic as a heroine who is by no means inferior or a sidekick, putting people in their place and driving the plot forward with her own knowledge.
What a shame, then, that their characters are shackled to the chains of Pirates past: before they can even start to navigate unknown waters, they’re forced to sail through familiar backstories and references to the original trilogy. What most people will have forgotten, Jeff Nathanson’s script treats with a reverence bordering on the most devout Star Wars’ fans, skirting around the fact that the Pirates franchise only really began to sink when it weighed itself down with a mythology so convoluted it could have been written by Kafka. The underrated fourth film, which featured Ian McShane as the bad guy, moved us away from those shores, but Salazar’s Revenge does a complete 180, bringing back cameos and family connections that add complexity but no depth to the plotting – what doesn’t feel messy, feels contrived, particularly when Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa reveals a new, emotional side.
Javier Bardem is impressively weighty as Salazar, a pirate hunter looking to wipe the scourge of the sea off the proverbial map – he has beef with Jack Sparrow that feels believable, even with his body made up almost entirely of CGI pixels. But while memory and history is a main theme of the film, it’s ironic that the major weak point here is Johnny Depp’s flagship protagonist, who becomes more and more over-the-top as the franchise continues. Where once he swaggered and fluked his way through outrageous stunts, now, he’s a spluttering, confused man who is drunk but not necessarily in a charming way. Even the way he speaks feels oddly changed. Perhaps it’s a bad performance, perhaps it’s the novelty wearing off, but that disjunct between a script laboriously anchored to old tricks and a central figure feeling totally lost at sea results in an underwhelming sequel that stops you from being able to cheer on its more rewarding elements. To continue for yet more outings, Pirates of the Caribbean is certainly in need of a reboot, but Salazar’s Revenge only leaves you gazing to the horizon, hoping for something genuinely different.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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