Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge starring Johnny Depp, Kaya Scodelario, Brenton Thwaites, Javier Bardem, Kevin R McNally and Geoffrey Rush
Minor Spoilers follow, but if you’ve seen the trailers you know all of them already.
When I heard they were making a fifth film in the series I reacted with wearied resignation. After an entertaining but massively bloated third film and a convoluted, disappointing fourth film the series looked dead in the water. But after seeing the trailer, I decided to give it a chance. And while this entry sails in familiar waters, it steadies the ship sufficiently well that the series may not be dead just yet.
Johnny Depp is no longer the reliable star (on or off camera) who can guarantee a film’s success. After being the core part of a trinity of main characters in the first three films, he was indisputably the focus of the fourth film, which suffered greatly for it. Jack Sparrow serves as great light relief and fodder for ludicrous actions scenes, but after so much screen-time in previous adventures isn’t someone you want as the focus of the film anymore. There aren’t enough places left to take the character for him to stay interesting, which On Stranger Tides proved. Fortunately, Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales if you’re in the US) is more of an ensemble film, which arguably is what the series has to be going forward. Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner is arguably the main character, while Kaya Scodelario steals the show for large stretches as Carina, while Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa gets his best material since the first film. This leaves Depp to keep his focus on portraying the amiable rogue of a pirate that we all loved in the earlier films, and his performance is certainly a step up from On Stranger Tides. Even better, most of the supporting cast from the other films, such as Gibbs, Will, Elizabeth, Marty, Scrum, Mullroy and Murtogg all return (though it is a slight shame Pintel and Ragetti, who were so great in the first 3 films, are still absent) and help lend a sense of continuity to proceedings.
On the other hand, Javier Bardem is a mixed bag of a villain. Captain Salazar is arguably the least interesting main villain the series has given us (not a major criticism given that Barbossa, Davy Jones and Blackbeard were all so well done) and is the kind of villain we see a lot in Marvel films; well-acted, menacing but ultimately forgettable. His dialogue can’t also be pretty hard to understand at times, a problem we haven’t seen in cinema since Bane in TDKR. His ghost crew, while well animated, aren’t as threatening as the crew of the Dutchman or the Black Pearl in previous entries, though at least they are better than the Mermaids and Zombies of On Stranger Tides (by now you’ll have realised how much I don’t like that film).
The action scenes are ludicrous and over the top, but the film cheerfully embraces this and makes them work (the sequence where Jack’s crew accidentally steal an entire bank is memorable while a botched execution with Jack stuck on a revolving guillotine is downright hilarious). The humour mostly works, through it can be a touch too crude and juvenile in places. The action sequences are generally well-directed and engaging, but the lack of a proper ship-to-ship naval battle is a bit disappointing, and the final confrontation between Jack and Salazar is one of the weakest fight scenes in the series. Generally though, the whole thing flows an awful lot better than its immediate predecessor and the whole less-is-more and back-to-basics approaches do it a lot of favours. It’s not up there with the highlights of the series, but it moves back in the right direction.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (major spoilers follow, so stop reading now if you haven’t watched the film yet).
Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The twist with the identity of Carina’s father was hardly a revolutionary idea or an unpredictable one, but Geoffrey Rush’s endearing performance coupled with Carina’s ‘my name is Barbossa’ character moment makes it work. Barbossa’s heroic sacrifice to save her and kill Salazar is a fitting send-off for his character, and one that gives the film a much-needed strong ending after it looked in serious danger of flagging during its second half. Rush will be sorely missed in any future films, but hopefully Carina Barbossa can more than make up for that. Besides, as the post-credits scene indicates, we may have another familiar face returning in any sixth film…
Lest we forget, Pirates of the Caribbean started the whole post-credits trend which Marvel and DC have now adopted. Until the post-credits scene, it looked like this was, very much, the final entry in the series. But surely it can’t be now? You don’t hint at the return of a previous villain this strongly unless you actually intend to follow through in film 6. If Davy Jones is coming back, I won’t complain (Bill Nighy nailed the role) but it better be worth it. The series could very easily end here; so if it comes back for more, it needs to be good enough to deserve it.
Overall, Salazar’s Revenge gives us an entertaining but imperfect return to the Pirates films of old, with a promising new cast, some welcome cameos, a slightly forgettable villain and a sombre exit for one long-serving character.