Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (US title)

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush
In UK Cinemas May 25th, 2017
Watch on iTunes

by Richard Hamer

Salazar’s Revenge is the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It reunites stars Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush as Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbarossa. Joining them are newcomers Brendon Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario playing as remakes of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, and Javier Bardem, playing as some CGI.

So, it’s a movie that’s gloriously easy to be dismissive of, and difficult to talk about in any real depth. Its plot, concerning a quest for an object called ‘Trident of Poseidon’ that can put an end to all pirate curses, needs no further examination because that one sentence pretty much covered it. The cast are fine, and while that swipe at Thwaites and Scodelario in the intro was a tad cruel, it had a ring of truth to it: They are Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann in younger, less charming form. Their backstories painfully hackneyed; their performances not strong enough to overcome them. If there’s one hook I can use to try and get to the core of my feelings about this movie – to find something actually worth talking about – it’s Johnny Depp. So, let’s start with Johnny Deep:

For this fifth outing, you’d almost think Depp was slyly playing up to media speculation about his personal life, choosing as he does to play Jack Sparrow as a mumbling drunk with chronic cash flow problems. Mostly, he stares. When he speaks (which is surprisingly rarely) it is to mumble incoherently. To say Johnny Depp ‘sleepwalks’ his way through proceedings would be to set unfair expectations of his mobility. Rather he rolls through the film; forever tumbling over fences, falling over the sides of boats, or simply lying on the ground looking at nothing. That Captain Jack Sparrow has been fully reduced to the pratfalling comic relief in his own franchise not only makes for extremely one-note physical comedy, but also helps to create the curious sensation that this movie has no main character.

The story you see, consumes all: The cast are dragged along by it, utterly subsumed to the needs of it, yet simultaneously detached from it. Don’t get me wrong, Salazar’s Revenge is full of personal vendettas, betrayals, family legacies and plot revelations. Yet without exception, they contain all the depth of a Post-It note on a first-draft beat sheet, and are delivered with the same amount of disposability. Salazar’s Revenge has all the hollowness of a strange, ritualistic remake of the original Curse of the Black Pearl: The same plot points and characters reoccurring in slightly altered form, mumbling lines like prayers, inhabiting roles like costumes at mass.

Salazar’s Revenge is one of that relatively recent breed of blockbuster: Its highest ambition just to exist; to remind you of something you already know you like, to appear a safe enough bet that you will part with your money without reticence. Once you are in your seat, its goal is to ensure that it never – for a second – appears boring. This it achieves through ceaseless movement and noise; through a CG production utterly unparsable in its visual busyness, against which a new generation of Hollywood actors simply lack the power-house talent required to stand out.

It’s difficult to talk about, simply because the movie has so little to say.

And so, what is the critic to say of all this? Perhaps surprisingly, it is not to condemn; at least not completely. For all their loud vapidity, blockbusters like Salazar’s Revenge are built with the solid assurance of a factory that has found the formula for flawless production: They are sprightly paced (such that this does not feel half its absurd 129 minutes), tightly plotted, intermittently funny. They have moments of wonderful visual imagination.

No, for the critic, the overriding sensation is simply one of profound pointlessness. Salazar’s Revenge shares with this summer’s Beauty and The Beast and Alien Covenant the feeling of existing simply because they can; because a powerful combination of nostalgia and marketing guarantee them success. They are stories that have no need to be told – or have already been told – filling in gaps in a mythology that were best left unfilled. To watch them is to have somebody repeat your fond, half-remembered childhood memories back at you, loudly and insistently in your ear.

There is simply not a great deal to unpack here. Once I went to the cinema. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge happened there. It was a bit like something I’d already seen, only not. Eventually, several hours later, it stopped happening. Then I went home.


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