For someone who isn't keen on the idea of swimming in open water, I love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. If you keep in mind that they don't accurately portray 18th century piracy, what you end up with is a lighthearted collection of jokes, gags, and set pieces that even shallow children can enjoy while pretending they have scurvy.
But since its debut in 2003, some say the series had been steadily declining like a drunk on a rickety stool. With On Stranger Tides having almost no original ideas and being disconnected from the other movies, is the fifth title any good?
Well, it's better than the previous one, that's for sure.
Pirates of the Caribbean:
Salazar's Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales, to confuse the
worldwide audience) throws Captain Jack Sparrow back into the pirate's life
with yet another blooming couple and an undead army that he unknowingly pissed
This time around, the treasure that everybody seeks is the trident of Poseidon, a mystical tuning fork that grants total control of the seas to whomever wields it. Designated pretty boy Henry Turner (son of Orlando Bloom's Will Turner) wants it to free his father from his curse. Female astronomer (and obvious romantic interest) Carina Smyth is after the trident to solve a puzzling book that was left as her birthright. The British want it to rule the seas. And lastly we have Jack, who needs the artifact to save himself from both Captain Barbossa and the zombielike crew of Armando Salazar.
That's a lot of plot points to cover over the course of two hours, resulting in some parts becoming as compelling as a bag of dog biscuits.
But let's not start with the bad; this is a Disney movie, after all!
Everything that you have come to expect from a Pirates outing is here. The lowbrow humor, the clumsy combat, and the sense of discovery are all held together by a cast of characters that, apart from some new additions, are reminiscent of a very dysfunctional family.
"Reminiscent" is the word here, as most of the themes and characters have direct comparisons to the older films.
As always, Captain Jack Sparrow steals the show almost every time, making me wonder why the series isn't just called Pirate of the Caribbean (singular). Captain Barbossa and a few distinguishable pirates also make a return, lending a sense of familiarity while introducing some interesting character arcs that we haven't seen before. And though Henry and Carina aren't always on par with series veterans Will and Elizabeth, they do a good enough job of moving the plot along with their specific quests.
It's a formula that has worked since the series' inception and though it is in dire need of some new ideas, sticking with what works isn't the worst thing the producers could have done.
Sadly, treading familiar waters does not get a sailor any of that sweet booty (the treasure kind, that is).
Salazar's Revenge does almost nothing new to elevate to the
series over its "find-the-treasure-while-avoiding-the-zombies" motif. Yes,
there are new characters and settings to replace the old ones, but the overall
story boils down to the same one people watched 14 years ago. The only
difference is that this pays homage to its better-written predecessors.
The changes the movie tries to implement are usually hit-or-miss. Choosing to use Henry Turner as a protagonist is one such example. Though viewers can relate to him because of his relation to past characters, the movie reduces him to nothing more than an inexperienced brawler who serves as an extra pair of hands when everyone else is literally tied up.
Even his importance as an expert on the occult is overshadowed by Carina, who is surprisingly more able-bodied than her scrawny suitor. Kaya Scodelario's character doesn't come off as tomboyish or brash as Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swan was, but her wits and knowledge often save the crew from Captain Jack's drunken musings.
The other members of this sea-faring escapade do not get off so easily. Both Scarfield (the British Navy officer who looks suspiciously like a clean-shaven Faramir from The Lord of the Rings) and Shansa the sea-witch are given so little importance that they may as well be extras.
Shansa in particular is a disappointment. You'd think that with all those piercings and tattoos, she would play a larger role than a quest giver but noooo... She just hands Captain Barbossa his heading and disappears Obi-Wan Kenobi-style, never to be heard from again.
But even these side characters pale in comparison to the palest
antagonist who is as generic as vanilla ice cream.
Armando Salazar's motive is singular throughout the whole movie: to kill Jack Sparrow. That's literally all there is to him. While there is a segment where his backstory gets told (which includes a very creepy teenage Johnny Depp), this does not do anything to humanize him at all. Not only that, but he eats his words so much that you would need subtitles to understand anything he says.
If you don't mind having to deal with a villain who has less dimensions than 90s 7Up mascot Fido Dido, Salazar's Revenge is more of the same.
Though elements like Carina and the backstories of old characters are a welcome addition, other attempts to revitalize the series such as Henry Turner and his ragtag family (who comprise less screen time than Jack Sparrow's hat) come off as nothing more than bad fan service that keeps the series anchored from setting sail to more interesting narratives.
It does require that you watch the previous entries to make sense of certain portions though, so it is not that good of an entry point to the series. With an end credits scene that teases an inevitable sequel (or sequels), who knows how long these pirates can hold out before the modern age catches up with them?