Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Screenplay: Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally
Runtime: 129 Minutes
There’s a point in the latest instalment of this neverending franchise in which Depp’s illustrious character falls asleep while another character explains the plot of the film to him, waking with a shudder as a disgruntled “Are you still talking?”. This is about as close to the experience of the horrifically titled Salazar’s Revenge as you’d want to get. Once again the Pirates of the Caribbean series returns to our screens in another attempt to recapture the increasingly brilliant fortune that was the original film – and once again comes up short.
Although the new directing duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (who directed the high seas drama Kon-Tiki) have been brought on to breathe new life into the ailing brand, many of their action sequences fail to live up to the kinetic visual energy of Gore Verbinski’s original vision, instead devolving into over edited CGI slop on pretty much every occurrence. There’s certainly an amount of colour on show and one vaguely entertaining skit involving a rotating guillotine, but the setting and staging of events do little to disguise its admittedly smaller scale production values and Jeff Nathanson’s shockingly inept screenplay.
Cannibalising elements of the first film into a far more conventional small-scale slog which adds little to the canon, offers no real challenge beyond fan service, and in the process of bending over backwards to maintain a continuity forces contrivance upon unbelievable contrivance on the narrative with awe-inspiring ineptitude. Yet none of what is occurring carries any clear emotional weight or circumstance.
Our two new leads in the form of Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario’s Carina Smyth are bores – although Scodelario gets more out of her performance than the staggeringly dull Thwaites – who are merely there to fill in the plot details and exposition on the way to this instalment’s MacGuffin; the Trident of Poseidon.
Depp appears to be on autopilot as Captain Jack Sparrow, once again picking up the check but delivering the jokes through increasingly drunken and foppish attitudes which actually make them harder to understand. Javier Bardem’s villain Captain Salazar gets some interesting design choices (though not nearly half as imaginative as some of the stuff from Davy Jones’ crew), but his character is tedious and Bardem isn’t really given the chance to exploit the campiness of his performance. The familiar faces of Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally and numerous others appear to do the rounds yet still bring little to the experience.
Really, that’s all to be said of the film beyond lamenting its once admittedly novel presence in popular culture. So detached from its high-spirited humility that the walking joke of Jack Sparrow being little more than a drunken idiot parading as a legendary captain is now completely lost on a series dedicated to retconning his presence into something that it never was – and whose antics have only grown more tiresome as the years have moved on.