The Curse of the Black Pearl was an incredible experience for me when I was a little girl – it was awe-inspiring, frightening at times and unlike anything I’d seen in film before (I was 9 and still am terrified by the sea). Never before had pirates been attempted so ambitiously and brilliantly, with a strong story combining myth and legend, and some fantastic protagonists. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales as it’s known to the rest of the world) slots exactly in the middle of the five films for me. It’s not the worst, but not nearly the best.
A crew of deadly ghost sailors, led by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle and hunt their old nemesis Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Jack is down-on-his-luck, and his only hope of survival lies in seeking out the legendary Trident of Poseidon, known to break all curses of the sea. To find it, he must forge an uneasy alliance with brilliant astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and headstrong young man Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who needs the Trident to free his father from his curse.
Casting aside how good or bad they may be, what I love about all of these movies is that they all intertwine actual maritime myth and legend; Cortez’s gold, Davy Jones and the Flying Dutchman, Blackbeard etc. I am yet to know whether Salazar himself is actually based on a Spanish myth, but either way, Javier Bardem really holds some scenes together here. But he is known for playing brilliant bad guys (No Country for Old Men and Skyfall).
The problem with Salazar’s Revenge is that it’s formula is getting repetitive: a villain is trapped in a cursed form because of the actions of Jack Sparrow, the villain seeks his revenge, two young adventurers aid Jack to find a mystical object of the sea and all are followed by the constantly angry East India Trading Company who chase them around the oceans (lead by the snarling David Wenham, who’s character really isn’t necessary at all). Another problem is that Jack is sometimes completely redundant in a scene, as it becomes more about Carina and Henry and their personal reasons why they need the Trident. Henry’s reason resonates with us more, especially if you’ve followed all of the Pirates movies.
It has some great stand-out moments though, namely Jack’s hilarious narrow escapes from the guillotine, when his crew attempt to rob a bank, meeting Jack’s Uncle (a genuinely funny Paul McCartney) and Salazar’s flashback to encountering a young Jack Sparrow. At times, bits of the action sequences are impressive. But, it’s a bit of a CGI fest as the plot lunges back and forth between stock characters and action sequences, with not one bloody sword fight! Mythology and exposition, too, is rarely explained and inconsistent (the Trident? Jack’s compass being able to free an entire cursed army from their cave? How Barbosa obtained that ruby? I could go on…)
The appearance of older and original characters though do make some impact, but that enough doesn’t make Salazar’s Revenge great. Also, what bothers me is that apparently there are MORE Pirates’ films to come – how?! The ending reaches a state of equilibrium, and there is nothing else that can be exhausted: no curses, myths, legends or characters we’ve followed for five films. I don’t see how it can evolve but, like the Disney ride these films are based on, we’ll just have to wait to ride it again.