Pirates of the Caribbean is massive. It’s the ninth highest grossing franchise is cinema history. It’s bombastic. It’s outlandish. It’s rammed with big names—Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Bill Nighy with a squid on his face to name but a few. There is, however, one thing that the Pirates franchise seems to struggle with—closure.
Although quality was variable, the first three films formed quite a neat trilogy. The lovable crew from Curse of the Black Pearl achieved something in the way of closure with the epic-scale finale of At World’s End. This was a natural end point, and it is hard to view the two efforts since as anything but cash-grabs. 2011’s On Stranger Tides was a dismal trudge with few returning characters and Ian McShane wasted as an underwritten Blackbeard.
This fifth instalment of franchise has, however, been billed as “the final adventure”. Titled Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales), this supposed last hurrah brings back the main cast of the first film. Orlando Bloom, playing the new young hero’s father, and of course Johnny Depp as the lovable pirate Captain Jack Sparrow—although Depp’s personal appeal has plummeted of late.
The hero of this latest film is the handsome, young, and generic Henry, played by Brenton Thwaites of Home and Away fame. Henry has found his father, Bloom’s Will Turner, trapped upon the Flying Dutchman, and the only way to save Will and break Davy Jones’s curse is, for some reason, finding the mythical Trident of Poseidon.
Remembering Will’s friendship with Jack Sparrow, Henry finds Sparrow locked away after a drunk failed bank robbery, with Carina Smyth—played by Kaya Scodelario, an astronomer whose intelligence has sparked fears that she is a witch. The three manage to break out of jail and begin their hunt for the lost trident.
Also on the hunt is Sparrow’s old friend/nemesis Barbosa (played by a returning Geoffrey Rush). Javier Bardem’s leering Captain Salazar pops up too, aiming to thwart the trio’s plans as he seeks revenge on Sparrow for an incident in their youth (conveyed in flashbacks which include an impressively CGI-ed young Jack Sparrow).
Depp is a swaggering, irreverent rapscallion as ever, but after five films the act feels worn. Bardem manages to add a sense of ghoulish terror, however the plot is anything but watertight.
The heavy use of flashbacks, and bids for nostalgia with the re-introduction of Bloom show what is very obvious—the film cannot recreate the franchise’s old magic.
Thwaites and Scodelario are both charismatic at times but ultimately lacking in chemistry, and cannot match up to their predecessors Bloom and Kiera Knightley. The CGI is as impressive as a $230 million budget would suggest, but while the effects are overwhelming they do not make up for the fundamental lack of plot substance. Jeff Nathanson’s script does the talented cast no services—though there are some fun scenes and moments that, although forced, do produce an audience reaction, including a surprise cameo by Paul McCartney.
Ultimately, however, the film as a whole feels tired and disjointed, and this attempt to capitalize on the success of the charming 2003 film, despite its high budget and constant nostalgia tripping, ends up floundering.
Contrary to the original marketing, director Joachim Ronning said in a recent interview that Salazar’s Revenge is “the beginning of the finale”. Don’t expect Disney to stop flogging this dead horse any time soon.