Oooookay, trying to sum up the plot of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Here goes nothing:
Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley, respectively). In order to free his father from the curse he was put under to captain the Flying Dutchman, he sets on a quest to find the bullshit McGuff-Trident of Poseidon, which is believed to break all the curses of the sea. In order to carry this out, he recruits the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), currently worse for wear abusing alcohol and abandoned by his crew (so…yeah, Johnny Depp). Along the way, they meet astronomer and horologist (the latter of which leads to one of the few decent, if overdone, jokes) Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who has worked out a map to get to the Trident using science inspired by a book left by her absentee father whose identity will in NO FUCKING WAY be utterly convenient. As they go on this dangerous voyage, Jack breaks a curse binding Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) by just…trading his compass for booze. Seriously, that’s how the curse is broken, it’s that fucking arbitrary and stupid. Anyway, Salazar is the ghost of a former pirate hunter who was wronged by Jack in the past, and now that he’s free, is able to terrorise pirates attempting to hunt him down, eventually getting wind of the Trident and teaming up with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to get it, the cutthroat pirate only doing so to save his own ass from getting killed.
Got that? Good, because there’ll be a test later. Also, Henry Turner may as well have died 20 minutes in for the amount of fucking good he does in the story.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is quite noteworthy for making a crapton of money despite only one of them being any good, naturally the debut feature Curse of the Black Pearl. Since then, they’ve either been increasingly convoluted and mean-spirited that they took what was an edgy (for Disney) but still very lighthearted and fun adventure movie and turned them into an epic trainwrecks of confused proportions, or…boring. This latest installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales or Salazar’s Revenge as it’s called over here for reasons that have yet been adequately explained, even drops the two guys who have written the movies since the start so the series loses what little sense of continuity it has.
That being said, this real…who gives a shit attitude from a lot of the production is almost refreshing. It’s like they know this will make a lot of money so why care? Johnny Depp is particularly asleep on the wheel here, his character becoming so much of a Flanderised caricature of the Captain Jack Sparrow from the original movies it’s hard to really care. Geoffrey Rush looks similarly done, though he gives Barbossa such an intimidating charm that he still manages to be pretty compelling nonetheless.
A lot of new elements do work. Someone must have yelled at them do boost up the opacity, because this is the most colourful the series has looked since the first. A lot of the effects are kind of dodge, but the ocean looks crisp and clear, and images pop and actually leave an impact rather than overstimulating you or leaving you numb. There’s an especially beautiful sequence involving an island near the end. We have two new directors, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg of Kon-Tiki fame. I hope this is a jumping off point for them cause they are really interesting filmmakers; managing to keep the style of this franchise while making this film their own instead of Rob Marshall trying to ape what Gore Verbinski did (I may dislike the second film and LOAAAAAAATHE the third, but this franchise utterly lost its identity without him). My biggest take away from this was I really gotta see Kon-Tiki!
But this is a Pirates movie, through and through. Overstuffed casts because they have a COMPLETE inability to leave anything go. Extremely convoluted plot where nothing is given its proper breathing time in order to gain a presence (Javier Bardem, why are you in this?). An obnoxious obsession with Depp’s Keith Richards impression that is nowhere near as effective as that lightning in a bottle from the first film was…mainly because that film didn’t focus that much on Jack whilst the subsequent films seem to exclusively do so. Over reliance on comic relief characters. Painful references to the previous movies, either by ideas being lifted wholecloth (this movie has some embarrassing ripping off of its prequels) or reminding the audience of the time this series was actually good. One or two moments or scenes that actually are pretty solid (these moments being the execution scene, the shark scene and the aforementioned island). And Paul McCartney. This isn’t a series staple in any way, but…seriously how desperate and pointless was that? I can’t decide which cameo was worse between that and David Beckham’s in the Guy Ritchie Arthur movie.
I’d legitimately put this above On Stranger Tides and At World’s End. Hell, it’s a hell of a lot more consistent than Dead Man’s Chest, though that film probably has some of the best moments in the series. There are things I really liked about it. But everything just feels very tired. This feels like it’s done. They were almost begging in the advertising to end this already. And with the indulgent as hell post-credit sequence threatening us with another fucking Pirate movie, I’m just imagining how little the returning cast will care when they have to do this again.
Nobody cares. It’s even becoming infectious. Drawn out franchises well past their prime is the new normal.
p.s. Never got to fit this into the review, bloated that it is, but Skin’s Kaya Scodelario is wonderful in this, easily the show stealer from the rest of the (mostly jaded) cast. I hope she too gets bigger opportunities in the future