Ah, Pirates of the Caribbean. The plucky blockbuster franchise that spawned from a Disneyland ride in 2003 is a teenager now, fourteen years old and emerging from its bedroom with a surly expression for more high-sea hijinks. Set nineteen years after the events of the 2011 film On Stranger Tides, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Man Tell No Tales if you prefer the post-Colonial title) is the fifth installment in the series – and the way Hollywood is going, we should all be grateful it’s not a reboot.
Instead, the story picks up with Henry Turner, the son of Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) attempting to find the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp, reprising arguably his most famous role) so he can break the curse that has condemned his father to the sea. He’s not the only one looking for Jack though – an embittered sea captain named Salazar is on the hunt too. Oh, and the British navy, because y’know – one villain and storyline isn’t quite enough.
Salazar is played by Academy Award-winning actor Javier Bardem, six years after his wife Penelope Cruz starred in On Stranger Tides as Blackbeard’s daughter. You would have thought Bardem would have learned from Cruz’s mistake, but alas – no such luck. To his credit, Bardem does seem to have a whale of a time hamming it up as the nefarious Armando Salazar, proving that he’s really capable of turning his hand to any role, but he mumbles his way through his dialogue and isn’t really given an interesting enough backstory to make audiences care what happens to him.
Geoffrey Rush also reprises his role as Hector Barbossa, and out of everyone in the cast, seems to be enjoying himself the most rather than just performing because he’s contractually obligated to. Depp has always been the backbone of the franchise, but slurs his way through the 129-minute runtime without any of the charisma he had in Curse of the Black Pearl – a performance so well-received in 2003, he was nominated for an Oscar. He looks like he couldn’t care less, and neither could the audience.
Also returning are various pirate accomplices, including Kevin McNally and Stephen Graham, who are joined for the ride by newcomers Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites as Carina Smyth and Henry Turner respectively. Scodelario tries to imbue Carina with personality, but she’s doomed to come across as Elizabeth Swann 2.0, and Brenton Thwaites gives a carbon-copy performance of Sam Claflin’s in On Stranger Tides. However, the film’s biggest coup was the touted return of original cast members Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley (for all of five minutes). Bloom’s performance especially is a sight to behold, so wooden you could fashion a lovely pirate ship out of it if you had the time.
As for the plot, it’s as predictable and formulaic as the last two installments, failing to recapture the energy and creativity that made the first film such a hit. It looks like it cost a lot of money to make (the budget was $230 million) but you don’t really get a sense of where that money actually went. It’s almost a parody of itself, packed with terrible acting, unfunny slapstick, pointless subplots, bad jokes and sub-par CGI. It’s a film that in fact has very few redeeming qualities, beyond the presence of Geoffrey Rush and Paul McCartney’s so-baffling-it’s-hilarious cameo as Captain Jack’s uncle.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seems to have gone the way of the pirates themselves – it’s taken a long walk off a short plank and landed in the ocean. If the post-credits scene is anything to go by, it’s not over yet, either. Just dig out your Black Pearl DVD instead and save the cinema ticket money for something better.