Dead men may tell no tales but dead horses are still ripe for flogging it seems as Disney cranks out yet another sequel to the surprise 2003 smash hit based on a veteran theme park attraction.
When a down-on-his-luck Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) trades his precious magical compass for a bottle of rum, he unknowingly releases the ruthless and vengeful Captain Salazer (Javier Bardem) and his ghost ship who set about wiping pirates from the seas. His livelihood threatened, Captain Barbossa determines to find Jack and hand him over to Salazar but in the meantime, Jack has found himself entangled on a different mission: to help Will Turner’s son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) recover the trident of Poseidon and rescue his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.
As is usual for this franchise, there’s a lot going on and plot points and set pieces are hurled at the screen thick and fast in the hope you won’t notice just how jury-rigged everything actually is. The surprising thing here is that its actually quite fun again, proving that the successful formula isn’t solely based on Depp’s iconic pirate but on a dashing, clean-cut hero and a feisty leading lady in the mix as well, both sorely missing from the doldrum-dwelling fourth instalment. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario make for effective and likeable proxies for the original’s Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly, with “Salazer’s Revenge” providing some much-needed closure to Turners’ tale after leaving one of them high and dry and the other down and deep at the end of…er…“At World’s End”.
It’s become very fashionable to dump on Depp and Lord knows he’s not been shy in giving the general public reasons to dislike him recently but his Captain Jack Sparrow is still one of cinema’s great characters and while the routine might be getting a little stale, it’s still got enough in the tank to power this likeably adequate summer swashbuckler. He may be closer to caricature actor than character actor these days but there’s few in Hollywood who can hold a candle to him in the elaborate make-up and costumed leading character department, even if he’s phoning it in or getting his lines fed to him by a stage hand (allegedly).
As decent as Depp is, he is of course upstaged by the great Geoffrey Rush who shines like never before as Captain Barbossa. With a wit as ruddy as his complexion, Barbossa has plenty to do this time out and even gets something approaching a real character arc in amongst all his double and triple crossing. He’s matched by Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, a fantastically realised villain, easily as good as Bill Nighy’s betentacled Davy Jones. Salazar and his crew are part of the movie’s real strength which is in the effects. The practical and digital effects work is superb, providing a gloriously realised backdrop for the shanties and shenanigans. Depp even gets to be the latest recipient of Disney’s ever more ubiquitous deagifyingTM as we see a flashback to a pre-captaincy Jack’s youthful exploits.
Less bloated than its predecessors, it’s still probably about twenty minutes too long and there are numerous sequences which could be trimmed without harming the finished product. Paul McCartney’s unnecessary appearance plucks the pointless cameo crown from Beckham’s “King Arthur” head before the gold lacquer is even dry.
The ending is finely balanced leaving it as either a fun wrap up of the entire saga with enough room for a sequel if the post credit scene is anything to go by. I started off this review by suggesting that Disney had wrung this franchise dry, which was how I felt after “On Stranger Tides” but “Salazar’s Revenge” pleasantly surprised me. It may be creaking in the wind a little more than it used to but this swashbuckling piratical adventure still has its sea legs and if they make another one, I’ll be happy to sign on again for another voyage.