It’s been 14 years since the first Pirates of The Caribbean, and at least 10 since the last good one. After a promising debut and a not-terrible sequel, the third and fourth movies drowned in an ocean of hubris and overacting. This new instalment, Salazar’s Revenge, doesn’t break the mould, but it does remind you why the franchise became so popular in the first place.
Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, the adult son of Will (Orlando Bloom), obsessed with freeing his father from the curse placed on him in the third film. He believes the key to this is The Trident of Poseidon, which can, of course, break all curses. He enlists the help of horologist Carina (Kaya Scodelario) and Jack Sparrow (Depp), whose compass can show them the way. The problem is, ghostly sailor Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is on Sparrow’s tail, threatening both the mission and lives of everyone involved.
Mercifully shorter than its predecessors, there’s no great secret to the formula of this new adventure. The first 90 minutes are basically a prolonged chase scene, with some twists coming in the third act to make the finale interesting. It isn’t clever, but it is big, and (ironically given the franchise was inspired by a Disneyland attraction) every effort has been made to make the film feel like a theme park ride. The action is polished, with only occasional bursts of exposition to keep the ship on course.
Depp’s Jack Sparrow comes as advertised – drunk, shambolic, still passably entertaining. Without the responsibilities that come from being a leading man, Depp is freed up to stagger about in the background, demonstrating his considerable slapstick prowess. Making him superfluous to the plot is little short of a masterstroke.
The only person having more fun than Depp is Geoffrey Rush, putting his everything into Jack’s old foe Captain Barbosa, while Javier Bardem delivers a spooky (if hammy) performance as the new bad man. Newbies Thwaites and Scodelario are not especially memorable; the former may as well have been credited as Orlando Bloom Imitator Number One. Trying to create the Bloom/Knightley spark in a new generation just reminds you of earlier, better movies.
Much like the Fast and Furious films, Pirates of The Caribbean is a series that has endured almost despite itself. Salazar’s Revenge can only promise a slightly better ride than the last movie, but for many that will be enough.