Undead-ghostly-zombified pirates are the flogged horse of this series, a franchise that appears to have no intention of stopping. The last entry, 2011’s On Stranger Tides, was a mixed bag; for every good thing it had going for it (Ian McShane as Blackbeard), there was an equal downer (Sam Claflin’s overly-earnest preacher). The plot at least, in the search for the Fountain of Youth, actually had some drive to it. Salazar’s Revenge, however, is a chaotic tornado, a jumbled assortment of plotlines that converge and scatter with no apparent recourse for logic, plot or indeed satisfying entertainment.
The plot MacGuffin in this film is Poseidon’s Trident, which Henry Turner (first Lewis McGowan as the 12 year old Henry, then subsequently Brenton Thwaites) seeks in an effort to free his dad Will Turner (a returning Orlando Bloom), from his cursed time aboard The Flying Dutchman ship. Swept up in Henry’s quest is Kaya Scodelario’s Carina Smyth, a feisty young lady with a penchant for science. These two inadvertently run into Captain Jack Sparrow and his motley crew. After a bank heist gone wrong, Sparrow and company flee, hotly pursued by Captain Scarfield of the Royal Navy (a wonderfully sneering David Wenham). A more serious threat emerges in Javier Bardem’s undead Captain Salazar, intent on hunting down Jack Sparrow. In a nifty CGI-fuelled flashback, we see a young Sparrow trick and thwart Bardem’s pirate hunter, leading Salazar to a watery grave.
Shiver the rickety timbers, this is a right mess of a film, which is fortunately lightened with some energetic performances from faces familiar and new. The young couple at the heart of the film, Thwaites and Scodelario, are far better than the material deserves, but are not given a great deal of anything to do. Bardem is a snarling revelation but again is a bit part player ill served by the shipwreck of a script. Depp is on good, quippy form, but his Sparrow seems superfluous as a main character, given lots of screen time but again not a great deal to do. Kevin McNally shines once more as Gibbs, as does Stephen Graham’s Scrum. Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa, however, is saddled with a ridiculous plot arc that is neither effective or well engineered. There are a few cameos (Bruce Spence!) that don’t distract too much, and overall the acting is not the main problem.
Jeff Nathanson’s script, as you may have gathered by now, is the problem, and he does not have great pedigree as it stands, going by past projects. The story and plot are tired and overly familiar. However, his dialogue is good fun, and allows for some witty set pieces (Captain Sparrow in the guillotine was the most amusing for me).
The two directors, Norwegians Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, went straight into this behemoth project from their similarly seafaring breakthrough, the Golden Globe and Academy award-nominated Kon-Tiki, and Pirates marks their fourth collaboration. They do a decent job here, in what must have seemed a quite daunting prospect, working with a gigantic budget (a reputed $230 million!), an established cast and crew, and the confines of a Jerry Bruckheimer production. The film is at times leaden and at others brisk, but to its credit, it is a busy escapade, if a tad skittish, and eager to please. Nonsense then, but entertaining nonsense at that.
Video courtesy of: Disney UK
Directors: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Writers: Jeff Nathanson (screenplay), Jeff Nathanson
Stars: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem
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