Outside of Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Pirates of the Caribbean is one of Disney’s most successful franchises, amassing millions at the worldwide box office over four films. Thirteen years after the first, a fifth is here.
Salazar’s Revenge, or Dead Men Tell No Tales as it’s known in the US, takes the series back to its roots somewhat, which is welcome considering how tedious the previous two instalments were. The focus is still Johnny Depp’s oddball pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, though this time the narrative is decidedly easier to follow, with one of his former enemies, Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), taking on the role of lead nemesis in a race to find the Trident of Poseidon – a powerful and mythical artefact – and rule the seas once and for all.
Along for the ride, and aiding Sparrow in his bid, are Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who has a very personal reason for wanting the Trident, and astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), whose cherished book may hold the map needed to find the Trident’s hidden location. The narrative, unlike previous entries in the series, is easy-to-follow, without many of the usual embellishments that have come to be expected from a Pirates of the Caribbean film. There’s three central plot lines that all, by the end of the film, merge into one with a neat resolution that leaves the door open for more without requiring it as a need for resolution.
New directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (best known for Kon-Tiki) bring a fresh perspective to the table, with a clear focus on stripping back and having some fun with the characters. The action sequences, of which there are plenty, are well staged and thrilling as seen in an opening that has Sparrow sliding through a town on the roof of a bank, and the CGI effects are, in parts, spectacular. It’s a real relief to see the directors reel things in and break free of the cluttered, anything goes approach employed by Rob Marshall in On Stranger Tides.
As for the actors, while Thwaites and Scodelario are no match for Bloom and Knightley’s dynamic back in the day, they do offer a youthful vigour that’s refreshing to watch, Scodelario perhaps coming across the best of the two as the headstrong Carina, driven by both a determination to succeed as a woman in a man’s world and to discover the treasure left by her father. The same, however, can’t be said for Bardem, whose role isn’t fleshed out enough, the film driven more by personal motivations than as a direct result of his villainous ways.
It’s hard to rate any Pirates of the Caribbean film beyond the very first as anything more than superfluous because of how much that film felt like a standalone adventure that should have stayed that way. But considering the three entries that have come before it, Salazar’s Revenge feels more like a Pirates of the Caribbean film than anyone could have hoped. It’s hardly original nor necessary, but it’s a fun and absorbing escapade on the Seven Seas.
Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish