The world didn’t really need another Pirates of the Caribbean film, but nonetheless, it got one. The fifth installment in the series follows Henry Turner, son of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner, as he searches for Jack Sparrow in order to find the trident of Poseidon, which is what he needs to set his father free of the curse of the Flying Dutchman. This is rumoured to be the last installment of the franchise, and you won’t hear any arguments from me suggesting that this shouldn’t be the case.
I have really fond memories of the original POTC, which was kind of like the Guardians of the Galaxy of its day: a fantasy film based on an an odd choice of source material (an amusement park ride) which was expected to fail, but instead took everyone by surprise with its quirky humour, charismatic leads, and most of all a show-stealing performance by Johnny Depp. It took in a load of cash and immediately made an impression on popular culture, with Depp’s idiosyncratic performance (and its inspiration being Keith Richards) becoming the stuff of legend. It also had an engaging story at it core: Will and Elizabeth’s forbidden love, Jack Sparrow’s coming to terms with the end of the golden age of piracy, and the desire to find somewhere to feel like you belong. It may have been fantasy, but it had something most people could relate to. It actually had a coherent narrative.
Fourteen years and four films later, the franchise has circled the globe, covered multiple maritime myths, and frankly has worn out its welcome with me. Johnny Depp now appears to be playing a caricature of Johnny Depp-as-Jack-Sparrow: the sort of performance you see at a party when someone imitates Sparrow. The story is convoluted and is really just an excuse to utilise what I’m sure is an impressive SFX budget. In attempting to tie up the loose ends of the franchise, the film just ends up tying itself up in knots.
Javier Barden plays Captain Salazar, a zombie-ghost-pirate who’s after Jack due to an old grudge, continuing the scenery-chewing type of villainy he seems to have picked up in Skyfall. Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, and he actually looks like what you’d get if you composited the faces of Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom together in one of internet those baby-face-makers. Kaya Scodelario plays the obligatory prickly female presence, doing the best she can with a script which isn’t terribly clever or funny.
There’s a lot of action. Nothing in this film is done simply or logically: every single task that needs to be performed somehow gives way to an action set piece, which quickly gets tiring. The whole film is so reliant on CGI that it becomes hard to suspend your disbelief.
There are a some great cameos, which provide the film with a few moments of brightness. The most interesting cameo is by a young Johnny Depp: there is a scene, which is featured heavily in the marketing of this film, which shows a young Jack Sparrow taking on Salazar. The image of a young Depp is quite jarring: I know what a young Johnny Depp looks like, because I grew up watching his films – and it’s not like an image of young Johnny Depp is hard to find. Comparing this image in my mind with the weird, dead-eye CGI creation presented in this film was quite disconcerting. It would have been more impressive if they had just used another actor who could mimic Depp’s performance as Jack Sparrow convincingly.
There’s a mean-spiritedness to the humour in this film which I hadn’t noticed in previous installments. Most of it is aimed at women, which isn’t cool, especially since this film will probably be seen by a large number of young people. An extended joke about the word “horologist” and its similarity to the word “whore” deserves nothing but an eye roll, and shows that the scriptwriters were really clutching at straws.
I did enjoy learning about Jack Sparrow’s origin story, and I hope that if they do continue with this franchise at any point in the future, that they go back to when it was at its best: less CGI ships blowing up and fancy monsters, more adventure and actual narrative. As it stands though, there’s nothing about this film which suggests that the franchise is anything other than dead in the water. It’s sailed its course, and now it’s time to decommission it. It’s run out of steam, just like I’ve run out of sailing puns.
Image: Walt Disney Pictures