Campy and theatrical, messy and convoluted... it's Pirates of the Caribbean, what more would you expect?
I’ll admit, I have a lot of nostalgia for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. When The Curse of the Black Pearl was released in 2003, Gore Verbinski and co. nailed a market gap that was begging to be filled, the result of which was a hugely entertaining, massively rewatchable and incredibly fresh action adventure, birthing one of the biggest franchises of recent years and most popular characters of the 21st century in Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow. To this day it’s still a movie that I’ll come back to over and over again. Whilst each new instalment proved to be a cluster-filled step in the wrong direction, seemingly ending with 2011’s meandering billion dollar On Stranger Tides, the money signs have been flashing for the Mouse House and now, 14 years on from its debut, we receive the fifth entry – Salazar’s Revenge.
Captain Jack is back as he, along with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), search for the fabled trident of Poseidon, pursued by the vengeful Salazar (Javier Bardem) and the treacherous Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush). If you haven’t figured out already, the plot isn’t necessarily anything new to this series; the fabled artefact, the double-crossing, the abundance of parties with differing ambitions and reasonings for said artefact and double crosses, it’s the standard messy and overstuffed Pirates affair. A shame really, perhaps the change of directors and a six-year gap could have helped to remedy these long-standing issues with the series and help it to become more streamlined and focused.
Where the movie does succeed however is with the spectacle. The CGI is great and the set pieces are fun and feel true to the series’ roots as the uniquely swashbuckling caper it has become, it certainly helps to smooth over the flaws of the story. Whilst the story may be too convoluted, the set up is good and establishes a solid and encouraging through line with characters who feel believable, the nitty-gritty is what lets it down. On top of this, these characters are strong and are conveyed with some good performances; Sparrow is Sparrow and that ain’t gonna change anytime soon, but Turner, Smyth and Salazar feel well established and three-dimensional, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at another venture with them to continue on with their stories. Barbosa as well is given some added flavour as the Pirate lord sees his empire begin to crumble away and finds himself facing someone from his past that he never thought he would see again, it’s encouraging to see these characters receive some development and depth in amidst the dense plotting. In addition to the swashbuckling action, there is a strong sense of camaraderie among the characters and actors and a lot of good fun to be had with the spectacle.
If you like the Pirates films, then you’ll like this one, if you know what to expect from the Pirates films, then you’ll like this one. It’s messy, it’s rough and it’s convoluted, but it’s fun, end of, perhaps a bit of a missed opportunity, but fun nonetheless.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017), directed Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, certificate 12a.