Synopsis – Captain Jack Sparrow searches for the trident of Poseidon.
My Take – It hard to believe that it’s been 14 years since Disney decided to create a fantasy swash buckling sea adventure based on a theme park water ride which not only gained its star Johnny Depp a role he will always be remembered for along with an Oscar nomination, but create a juggernaut franchise with a box office returns of more than $3 Billion worldwide. Like many of you, I too became a huge fan of the 1st film of the series, The Curse of the Black Pearl, upon release, mainly as the film directed by Gore Verbinski paid excellent homage to its then long forgotten genre while also being highly entertaining. While its next two installments, Dead Man’s Chest & At World’s End, which were originally intended to complete the trilogy, are generally held in low esteem by most, I personally think they were better than many give them credit for. Sure, they have convoluted plots, but the action set pieces are fun, and I widely enjoyed the characters and world-building. However, it was the forced 4th entry, On Stranger Tides, a spin-off focusing on Captain Jack Sparrow & his merry crew with nil connection to the earlier films which ended up nailing the coffin to the very enjoyable franchise (well not financially though), mainly due to its bloated, clunky and tedious narrative. Even though we all thought the franchise was dead and eventually groaned when Disney announced that even though it has been six years since the franchise had sailed, they were going to bring us another installment, which none of us were asking for, especially with a Johnny Depp, who seems to have a hit a road block since the 2011 release, with an obvious aim to cash in on whatever goodwill left from the earlier trilogy. However, this film turned out to be quite the surprise! Sure, the film cannot stop itself from falling into the pervasive problems as the other movies in the series, for example, too many plot lines, which mostly come out of nowhere and of course sound quite absurd, and at 129-minute runtime, it seems a bit too long to care about the conclusion. However, like the original 2003 film, this too is a fun, perfectly decent blockbuster featuring good acting, stunning visuals, an impeccable soundtrack— and most importantly heads back to the roots of the series and adds some very welcome heart and soul back into the characters and their legacies we had fallen in love with. Yes, directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have given us the 1st biggest surprise of this year’s summer blockbuster season.
Taking place a few years after the events of At World’s End, the story follows a 12-year-old Henry Turner (Lewis McGowan), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who promises his father that he will find the Trident of Poseidon and free him from his curse. Flash forward nine years later, a now grown up Henry (Brenton Thwaites) finds himself on a British ship entering the Devil’s Triangle, which ends up being attacked by a crew of dead pirates, led by the terrifying Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) who lets him go and tells him to find Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) & bring him to the sea so he can seek his revenge against the man responsible for his curse. Once back on land, he crosses path Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astrologer and horologist, who is currently being chased down by the Redcoats for being a suspected witch. Naturally, Carina is after the Trident of Poseidon too, because she was orphaned as a baby and the only possession she owns is her father’s diary, which holds his dozens of calculations & a map which will lead to the trident, and the two end making a deal to help each other find the source together and convince a now drunk & crewless Sparrow to join their hunt before Salazar catches up to him, who has now teamed up with Jack’s old rival Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to find the Trident too. Despite fighting against a tide of hate generated by the 2011 release, this Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg film rises up to the challenge by becoming the best Pirates film since Black Pearl, mainly as the film opts for a streamlined approach that centers on a good old-fashioned quest for buried treasure despite minor hindrances from the usual convoluted plot problem faced by other films of the franchise. Plus, this film is oddly placed as a continuation, a soft reboot and a final hurrah all at once and it seems to be aware that a large chunk of its audience didn’t bother with or can’t remember the franchise’s last couple of installments, and yet it works on its own. Aided by the shortest running time of the series to date, that quest is consistently entertaining and, at its best, the film feels as fresh as The Curse of the Black Pearl did in 2003. This is especially felt in its inventive set pieces, backed by the iconic Pirates theme, which focus on witty character beats instead of explosions. The first half of the film is in most ways just as good as the original three. Weirdly enough, most of this takes place on land. Unlike the other Pirates movies, which have intricate moving pieces that all carefully align in the end, this one’s story becomes far simpler not too far after the halfway point. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the story arc flattens. The direction of the story leading up to the final battles, yes plural, is far too obvious and simplistic, besides some minor hiccups. Yet strangely, there are at least five relevant ships, and some of their crews’ motives and fates get muddled until only two ships remain. The film doesn’t worry about building a trilogy of films (obviously until a post credit scene pops up) and takes the time to tell its own story on its own terms. The story is easy to follow (which is saying something for this series), the action isn’t confusing, and the situations are often fun and funny. You can’t say any of that about the previous sequel. That’s a lot of plot and character to work with, and the film doesn’t always succeed in tying all the threads together, especially letting all the characters on an inevitable collision course takes ages. What the film gets right is its decision to return Captain Jack to supporting-character status. That’s not to say he doesn’t have plenty of screen-time. As he has done since 2003, the perennially half- drunk Jack shambles throughout the film, oozing his trademark insouciant charm as he tries to make his crew pay for the privilege of serving and saving him. But Jack is not called upon to carry the emotional weight of the film here, as he has been for the past few films – especially Stranger Tides, a peculiar misfire on almost all counts. Instead, he’s allowed to do what he does best: steal most of the scenes he is present in.
As a result, the film makes a real effort to focus on its newcomers, and is all the better for it, especially Carina, in particular, who is an intriguing creation. While clearly set up as a love interest for Henry, that’s not all she is: her hunt for the Trident is entirely her own, tied to a storyline that isn’t romantic in the least. Smart and determined (more so than all the pirates she encounters), she fights or thinks her way out of tough spots and never lingers in the background, damsel-in-distressing. Her relationships with everyone she meets – from Henry to Jack and Barbossa – form the film’s emotional core, anchored by Kaya Scodelario‘s fun, feisty performance. That said, it’s Captain Hector Barbossa who remains the franchise’s ace in the hole. From dastardly villain to reluctant ally, Barbossa has enjoyed a character trajectory that can only be pulled off by an actor of Geoffrey Rush‘s caliber & thankfully, he’s given excellent material to work with here. Nevertheless, developing characters does not prevent directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg from creating some of the biggest sequences of the series so far, with some very creative shots which really capture the action. Whether it’s on land with the guillotine or out at sea with the cursed ghost sharks, the scenes have you on the edge of your seat one minute and then laughing the next. I can’t say yet where I’d rank it in the series, but it’s a much better film than the last installment and has many improvements over the first two sequels in the original trilogy. The special effects and CGI are astoundingly lifelike. The most stunning visual effects in the film are the CGI animated ghost sharks, which are sent to hunt down Jack Sparrow. The movements of the ghost pirates and sharks are hyper-realistic. The various set pieces in the film are visually interesting and perfectly judged, with even the brief slapstick elements far more creative than they have any right to be. The first sequence, in which Jack and his crew attempt to steal a bank vault, is an absolute delight. What’s more, it’s violent and genuinely scary again, and there are old characters, callbacks, and cameos ranging from the bizarre to the delightful. But the biggest and best thing the film remembers to do is have fun, which it achieves with aplomb. Both Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End were heavily criticized for being too gloomy and serious, forgetting that what audiences had originally enjoyed was the sheer spirit of adventure oozing out of Curse of The Black Pearl’s every frame. However, the lead antagonist, Salazar is the weakest part of the film despite the nice visual juxtaposition between Bardem’s physical heft and the weightless character design, he suffers from being far too similar to Blackbeard, and after a while his motivations are lost along with the various situations and usual double crosses that are tossed around across the film’s runtime. Considering how excellent Davy Jones was, it’s disappointing that we don’t get slightly more from Salazar than the routine revenge angle. Coming to the performances, Johnny Depp is once again in fine form. His interpretation of Jack Sparrow is one of the most entertaining and memorable characters in recent film history. As mentioned above, Kaya Scodelario is excellent here, mainly as she has the most interesting back-story, even though as it unfolds it becomes a little cheesy, and is easily the most competent character of the film. Despite having the film revolve around Henry is character never seems too exciting, yet Brenton Thwaites turns in a particularly impressive performance. The inimitable Geoffrey Rush is again terrific as Captain Barbossa and Javier Bardem is excellent despite an underwritten part. In small roles, Golshifteh Farahani & David Wenham are alright. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are likable in their cameos while Paul McCartney continues the series’ tradition of rock star cameos. Sparrow’s crew is likable as always. On the whole, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ aka ‘Salazar’s Revenge’ is a very enjoyable, harmless, crowd pleasing blockbuster which sees the return to form of a franchise once seemed to be dead at sea.
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 129 minutes