Tanya Dudnikova reviews the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise’s ‘final adventure’.
Billed as a “soft reboot”, Dead Men Tell No Tales – also known as Salazar’s Revenge – was supposed to be a breath of fresh air for the already long-winded Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The writers intended to bring back the simplicity and heart of the first instalment. Instead, this hot mess of a movie feels worlds away from The Curse of the Black Pearl, and leaves you wondering whether there is any need for it to exist at all.
Directed by Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, whose 2012 seafaring adventure Kon-Tiki was nominated for a best-foreign language Oscar, it remains an entertaining enough summer blockbuster; die-hard fans will not be heart broken by this latest outing. But the entertainment factor and humour alone do not redeem the film’s many faults, and it struggles to stay afloat for its hefty runtime of 129 minutes.
The main gears of the film are Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, most notable for her role in Skins). Henry is desperately looking for a way to free his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, who returns – albeit very fleetingly – after his absence from the last Pirates movie) from the curse of Davy Jones. Carina is an astronomer and horologist – a word which proves the butt of one of the film’s sexual jokes, which are surprisingly numerous considering its 12A rating – determined to find the key to her past. The two are united in their search for the Trident of Poseidon, an object of legend capable of breaking every curse, as well as by their mutual desire to discover their identity and to reunite with their respective fathers. Scodelario is particularly strong as the headstrong and smart Carina (a stereotypical Hollywood ‘Strong Female Character’ that inevitably brings to mind Star Wars’ Rey), and by contrast the character of the young Henry is so entirely bland that his presence offers nothing to the film. He serves as little more than a love interest for Carina and a convenient plot device to set the quest for the Trident in motion, and he plays second fiddle to her every time the two appear together on the screen. Overall, their relationship seems a lazy rehash of the Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner romance, this time without the chemistry.
Most disappointingly, the weakest aspects of the film can be found in the once-lovable protagonist, Captain Jack Sparrow (portrayed, as always, by the one and only Johnny Depp). Here, Sparrow is relegated to the role of drunken mentor to the film’s younger protagonists, and is no longer the centrepiece of the show. Even this diminished role does not hide the fact that the times when he could singlehandedly lead the Pirates brand to success have come to an end. His drunken routine, once fresh and funny, feels stale and utterly lacking in charisma; Jack begins the film with no ship, no crew, and no luck, and although he succeeds in regaining some dignity by the end, it is clear that his glory days are over. “Face it, Jack, bad luck dogs you day and night,” he is told by his own crew mates, and it seems as though they could be talking about the actor himself. Is it perhaps time for Depp to hang up his pirate boots?
The film does benefit from some visually interesting and unforgettable set-pieces, such as the remarkable opening scene in which Jack and his band of pirates attempt to steal a bank vault from a Caribbean town, but the excitement of the earlier movies is simply not there. Even when the pacing is on point, it never feels like there’s any real sense of danger, even from the menacing Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate-hunter who is determined to exact revenge on Jack at all costs. Bardem, whose prosthetic makeup to turn him into a horrifically scarred villain took hours to apply every day, brings just enough emotion to the character to make him somewhat impressive, but doesn’t quite manage to make nearly as memorable an impression as Barbossa or Davy Jones.
Final verdict? Not a total disaster, but certainly no masterpiece.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dean Men Tell No Tales (released in the UK as Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge) is out now in cinemas. See the final trailer below: