by Benjamín Harguindey
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise continues its drunken waddle through the same stale shallows it’s been routinely charting since its inception with 2003’s Curse of the Black Pearl.
The fifth entry doesn’t even get a proper subtitle – it’s either ‘Salazar’s Revenge‘ or ‘Dead Men Tell No Tales‘, depending on the marketing, which rings some straight to DVD bells. It’s also the shortest movie in the franchise, done with the cheapest budget since movie number two. The cash-in smells strong in this one.
Unsurprisingly, Salazar Tells No Tales is a stealth reboot of sorts, wrapping up the loose ends from previous movies while recycling its cast with younger starlets for the millennial crowd. So Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have one brief final say as Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann before being replaced as the de facto romantic duo by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, while Johnny Depp portrays a young Jack Sparrow in an extended flashback that is probably testing the waters for a “Young Jack Sparrow” trilogy/Netflix deal.
Dead Men’s Revenge is also a direct riff of the first movie. There is a curse, and a McGuffin to dispel it, and a race between a crew of accursed undead and the rascally carefree Jack Sparrow, who strikes an unlikely alliance with two star-crossed lovers. This is as beat-by-beat a remake of Curse of the Black Pearl as you can get without going through the annoyance of replacing Depp in an unreplaceable role.
The only real novelty is the titular-ish Salazar, played by Javier Bardem. Like everybody else in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, he holds a grudge against Sparrow, and no further effort is done to characterize him. Bardem is always dependable in a villainous role but the character is so bland it feels like a placeholder, as if writers Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio had simply written down “insert Bardem performance here”.
By contrast, villain-turned-ally Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is given the closest thing to an arc – a pirate grown fat on his riches who discovers the one strand of humanity he’d lost so long ago he’d forgotten about it. It feels a bit tacked on but it’s a welcome development in an otherwise cookie-cutter plot.
About the series newcomers: Thwaites plays Henry, son of Will, bent on removing the curse placed upon his father and reuniting him with his mother. Scodelario plays Carina, as astronomer. In a movie featuring pirate ghosts and zombie sharks, that Carina would be labeled a ‘witch’ for dabbling with telescopes is the most unbelievable. It gets so silly that at one point all she has to do is look through one to send its foppish owner into a shock, screaming ‘witch’. That the British lawmen later on happily consult an actual witch (Golshifteh Farahani) on the wherabouts of a woman accused of witchcraft via astronomy in the late 18th century is beyond ludicrous – Monty Python territory.
The movie does have a sense of humor, it’s just that it’s so coy and childish. It’s all about getting its PG audience to giggle at every instance in which Henry and Carina touch, and laugh at the silly ways in which the fastidious authorities are humiliated, and go eeew when something gross shows up on screen, like Jack falling face-first on mud or being forced into an impromptu shotgun wedding with a hideous woman that really comes out of the blue and retreats back there once the joke is over.
Let’s call Salazar Dead Revenge Tales what it is: Disney testing the waters to see if Johnny Depp is still bankable after the Lone Ranger (2013) fiasco, and would the people be interested in more Pirates of the Caribbean? Vote with your wallet.
Benjamín Harguindey / Managing Editor, Writer (Mar del Plata, Argentina – 1989) Screenwriter graduated from Universidad del Cine, Buenos Aires. Benja’s worked for EscribiendoCine as a film critic since 2010, covering the Biarritz, San Sebastián and Venice festivals. He judged the CILECT Prize and won several writing & criticism contests. He’s published one novel, Noches de Tartaria (2006).