Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)

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We were promised zombie sharks. There were very few zombie sharks.

Depending on where in the world you live, this latest in a long line of hugely expensive movies, seemingly created for the sole purpose of showcasing Johnny Depp’s incredible ability to wear a revolving wardrobe of different costumes, but still essentially deliver the same boring performance, has a totally different title. The American (and in many ways, “official”) naming is the quietly menacing Dead Men Tell No Tales, an old-timey motto spoken by a borderline-heinous number of actual cast members throughout the film. Some other territories get the decidedly plain Pirates of the Caribbean 5, and everyone else is stuck with the headscratchingly awful Salazar’s Revenge.

So who, I hear you ask, is this mysterious Salazar? Why is he swearing revenge, and who, might we add, is he swearing revenge on? Why are Europeans apparently incapable of understanding a simple, inoffensive phrase that is spoken throughout the film anyway? The collective answer to all of the above pretty perfectly encapsulates everything wrong with this latest Pirates effort.

It’s jumbled, over-stuffed, at times barely-sensical, and ultimately feels like it’s yet another made-by-committee affair. Each and every creative decision has been calculated through some bizarre market-lead algorithm designed to do little more than sell toys and rocket it closer and closer to that all-important billion-dollar mark.

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You’d never guess that the film in question is, for example, directed by critically acclaimed Norwegian adventurer pair Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. Or that it features one of the acting world’s finest living performers, Javier Bardem, still at the very tip top of his game. Not to mention one of the industry’s brightest young heroines Kaya Scodelario totally nailing her first big commercial break, despite fighting toe-to-toe throughout with some of the most screen-hungry talent Hollywood has to offer.

You’d never guess, because so much of the film is so utterly buried in stodgy storytelling, cheap jokes and totally uninspired action set-pieces, that it’s genuinely difficult to cherry-pick the few exceptions from the otherwise screamingly average movie Disney have delivered here.

In fact, so much of Salazar’s Revenge is spent trying to make the Pirates franchise relevant again that anything and everything that’s even remotely unique about it as a whole is lost in a hail of awful, awful, awful Captain Jack sketches. Sketches that essentially amount to little more than Johnny Depp marching around in full pirate regalia, drunkenly pointing to things and grinning at his own lame, poor-taste jokes. A character that was once a novelty has quickly become the series’ apparent only selling point, despite being a totally worn-out and now, largely unfunny, property in himself. And whilst Disney have seemingly tried to widen the cast list with yet another forcibly romantic boy-girl pairing, it’s of course Jack that still ends up with 95% of the screen-time, despite having very little overall purpose.

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But ultimately, this is nothing new. We could rant about the overpriced and under-thought studio summer blockbusters until the cows come home; there’s so many now it’s not even a surprise when yet another once-promising franchise like Pirates seemingly tanks itself all over again. The important take away here is that this could very, very easily be a totally different story.

There’s so much genuine ingenuity at play here under the surface: from Bardem’s deliciously spitting villain, to yes, those god-damn beautiful flesh-eating zombie sharks, that Salazar’s Revenge could’ve 100% been the series’ grand-return to originality and quality. Finally a bad guy to rival Bill Nighy’s legendary Davy Jones, and enough underlying neat ideas to keep audiences guessing for a change. So why bury it all under a metric tonne of pointlessly familiar, overly-pandering bullshit and suffocate the creativity?

Salazar’s Revenge isn’t broadly offensive, it’s just very uninspiring to watch and offers absolutely no new spark for an otherwise totally decrepit billion-dollar franchise. Well, either that or it’s great and we’re just bitter because there’s barely any zombie sharks in it. You decide.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is out in the UK this Friday.

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