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Review – Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – “Worthy, somewhat unnecessary, but ultimately satisfying”

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Following the (Oscar nominated) success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) a whole fourteen years ago, the franchise soon became archetypal of everything that is wrong with contemporary Hollywood. We got zero-idea films – a bloated second, a muggy and convoluted third and a terribly inconsequential fourth film. All were rather boring. Thinking back, it’s difficult to differentiate between the films or even remember anything besides a tentacle beard, killer mermaids, a Kraken and Chow Yun-fat in a Fu Manchu moustache. It seems this franchise had truly sailed and all sense of navigational direction of where to go next had been lost to the chasm. Luckily, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Dead Men Tell No Tales) re-surfaces some of the original films joyful creativity and humour to make it a worthy, somewhat unnecessary, but ultimately satisfying conclusion to the Jack Sparrow tale.

You’d be hard-pressed not to feel rapturous glee at hearing the now iconic Pirates of the Caribbean theme tune chime to the sight of sailing ships and acrobatic adventure spectacle. These moments of physical comedy, visual marvel and fast-passed action are what you pay the ticket price for and it’s what you remember once leaving the theatre. Unfortunately, between undead hammerhead sharks and canon parkour, the film sails into quagmires of uninteresting faux-mythological plot involving multiple Captain’s and a supremely tedious romance between Orlando and Keira surrogates, played by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario. Henry Turner, son of Will, is a go-getter naval boy who believes in the myths and legends of the sea, whilst Carina isa stubborn independent astronomer whose character arc seems to solely consist of admitting that she was wrong and the man was right in the myth vs. science debate.

But let’s talk about Jack Sparrow, the one thing in these films that has made an enduring mark on popular culture. Considering the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is essentially a family adventure series, how strange that the hero of the film, the one we all know and love, is an alcoholic. While Jack has always had a penchant for the occasional swig of rum, in Salazar’s Revenge he seems to have tipped into full-blown dependency. In light of reports of Depp’s on-set drunkenness, one gets the feeling that such antics may have crossed over into his performance. Still, Depp has managed to perform an impressive feat in his creation of Sparrow; a rock star masquerading as a children’s entertainer, it is common knowledge that Depp based his performance on his friend Keith Richards, and the fact that he has turned a counter-culture scallywag that encourages you to break the rules into a pop-culture hero for the Walt Disney crowd is undeniably impressive. As Steve Jobs once said, “it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.”

Having just as much fun as Johnny is Javier Bardem in a delectably sinister performance as the Spanish naval Capitan, Salazar, a man who was once wronged by Sparrow and seeks revenge in the afterlife. A mix between the Penguin from Batman Returns (1992) and the ghosts from Crimson Peak (2015), Salazar makes for a rather quite scary and memorable villain. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the other new characters or the films silly plot about trying to find the Trident of Poseidon for some nonsensical reason. The Pirates films have always suffered from an over-reliance on multi-stranded plot over character, which inevitably leads to sagging middle areas, and this latest is little different. While we do get to see the origin of a young Captain Jack (assisted by digital de-ageing), knowing where Jack got his hat and quirky beads from does not make for character intrigue.

Unlike every Hollywood film released at the moment, there is a strong degree of closure to this film, a pretty bow that ties everything together, including strands left from previous films. One wonders if the franchise has finally decided to abandon ship rather than be forced to go down with it. Fact is, Depp is getting older, his career has come across some choppy waters, and the question remains: how many more times can you use a Captain villain burdened with a supernatural curse before things start to get more hackneyed than they already are?

Far from perfect, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge does not so much resuscitate the franchise as give it a respectable last hurrah. This is a finely entertaining roller-coaster adventure that showcases building surfing, lots of ships emerging from underwater, some funny gags and, once again, that music. Now, show me that horizon.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is out in the UK on 25th May 2017.

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