(As I get back into the more frequent writing game - which includes potential more in-depth film essays and analysis - I felt I should get back into casually reviewing films! So here's the first taste of that with a review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge!)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge (or in other territories the more thematically apt Dead Men Tell No Tales) is an odd jewel in the treasure trove of sequels. It felt like no-one really cared for the previous, fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie - On Stranger Tides - let alone clamor for a sequel.
A sequel to that has still been made, regardless. Dead Men Tell No Tales of Salazar's Revenge is a flick that's pretty unremarkable, especially so when compared to the rest of the franchise. A fair bit of this can be theorised to be due to the direction. Pirates of the Caribbean 5 runs at 129 minutes and yet it's still the shortest film in the series. Gore Verbinski's original trilogy of films he helmed may have stretched the runtime longer, but to much better degrees.
Each of those films had amazingly crafted set pieces. Not quite on the Spielberg scale, but Verbinski still knew how to craft a set piece. Rob Marshall tried to do similar in sequel On Stranger Tides, but one only has to think of Jack Sparrow's drawn-out escape scene near the beginning of that film and roll their eyes.
The set pieces in Salazar's Revenge also suffer. With the film being an entry in a blockbuster action adventure film-series with a lean to the over-the-top, Pirates 5 always has good concepts but the execution leaves much to be desired. There's a scene at the beginning where Jac- Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew try to drag away a safe he's tied up with rope Fast Five-with-horses style...and they end up dragging an entire building. While that sounds good on paper, it's never quite interesting or fun enough. There's not enough excitement or energy to the scene, and all cuts to other characters and goings on just take away from the full effect.
It plagues the entire movie, the not quite being good enough. The story itself feels like a continuation of the original trilogy's storyline that completely skips over On Stranger Tides, where we follow the kid of William Turner (Orlando Bloom's character) who wants to save his father by finding the Trident of Poseidon, the latest McGuffin to get us to the sea. The Trident removes all curses in the sea, which means that Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) could save his dad from his fate, but also means that Big Bad of the film - the titular Salazar (the forever brilliant Javier Bardem) - can have his stab at revenge at Captain Jack Sparrow. Because of course he's the architect of Salazar's cursed fate.
Narratively there's a lot of plot convenience. Loads of right place in the right time situations. Kaya Scodelario's Carina is also bound by fate and just happens to have deeper connections to the characters as the film sails along. The way her, Henry, and Jack are all brought together feels a bit “Of course this is all happening at this time and place!” and that sense continues through the film. For a large sea ships seem to be in relatively close proximity to one another rather swiftly despite different departure times and situations.
Of course, it’s a movie where all this stuff needs to happen, but when it’s just that little bit too blatantly convenient, that sorta messes with the construction. It helps with the runtime, though.
Salazar’s Revenge is a fine film. Unremarkable and forgettable, but it’s never necessarily a bad film. There are some really good character moments. Captain Jack Sparrow – even though Johnny Depp is sleepwalking through the role at this point – has a solid origin moment and other beats that work for his character (Though goddamn the de-aging CG on his face isn’t quite as good as what Marvel movies have done) Plus Geoffrey Rush returns as Barbossa and even he has a solid emotional arc.
Ultimately, Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is not required viewing for any Pirates of the Caribbean fans. If they even exist nowadays. There are some pieces of closure and character beats, but you have to sit through a solid film where nothing really wows you. You’ve seen most of the things in this movie before across four movies done so much better.
Also it’s got a fair few dirty jokes in it. Which is kinda weird but also fitting for a movie about pirates coming from Disney. Some scenes even go on for a few lines too long in order to get more said dirty jokes in.
Oh yeah, and Paul McCartney has a cameo scene. Where he’s actually kinda funny. But also kinda out of place. Pirates has always been more Rolling Stones than The Beatles. Just ask Captain Jack’s father played by Keith Richards. Who is – shit, he’s still alive?