Johnny Depp famously channelled Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards to portray the rapscallion Captain Jack Sparrow for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. In the fifth movie, Salazar’s Revenge, Depp channels his own recent image of an alcohol-swilling and high-spending troubled Hollywood star. Depp’s swagger in the latest addition to the franchise seems to owe more to imbibing rather than attitude, and when he delivers his bon mots, a slur is unmistakable. It’s a personal send-up that is more poignant than amusing.
The movie, directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, keeps Depp to the periphery of the action, treating him as an antique piece and a grizzled observer of the heroics of future pirates. As in the previous productions, the plot revolves around the frantic hunt for a doodad that, in this case, provides control over the seas. The Trident of Poseidon is sought most of all by Henry Turner (Brendon Thwaites), the son of William Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Henry wants to free his father from the curse of ferrying dead souls on board the Flying Dutchman.
Also in pursuit are amateur astronomer and proto-feminist Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario), who literally gets entangled with Depp and his loyal crew (Kevin McNally’s First Mate Gibbs included) while they rob a bank by yanking it off its foundations and dragging it halfway across town. The action set pieces and bravura visual effects are among the franchise’s selling points, and at least on this score. Salazar’s Revenge doesn’t disappoint one bit.
When former Spanish naval captain Armando Salazar and full-time ghost in the present (Javier Bardem), who has been thirsting to avenge his death at the hands of Sparrow, learns of the trident, he leaps on board too, followed by the royal English navy to keep alive the anti-imperialist strain of the third part, At World’s End (2007).
There’s a back story to how Sparrow got his name, and a younger version of the captain of the Black Pearl ship makes his appearance with the help of visual effects. Depp’s 53 years on the planet have never been more in evidence than in the CGI-aided sequence, but at least for once in the movie, his character seems to be behaving exactly like Sparrow would.
Sparrow’s eccentricities, canniness and healthy cynicism are deployed merely to add humour to an otherwise dark and grim story. A gag involving a guillotine and the possible fate of Sparrow’s perfectly proportioned head is alarming rather than humourous, and elsewhere in the movie, the directors get the spectacle right but miss the wit and fleetness of the first three films. Directed by Gore Verbinski and written with tongue firmly planted in cheek by Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot, the movies balanced mayhem with madness. They successfully created an immersive and escapist yet wholly believable universe populated by flamboyant yet lovable crackpots.
Henry Turner and Carina Smith are wholly acceptable characters and performers, but they have not been endowed with the twinkle in the eye that made even pedestrian actors like Bloom and Knightley respectable. Geoffrey Rush’s Hector Barbossa, literally and figuratively crippled in the redundant fourth movie On Stranger Tides (2011), serves merely as a cue to loop back to the previous films. Barbossa has his big moment in the movie, but it barely registers in a swirl of CGI. Acclaimed Spanish actor Javier Bardem appears to enjoy his tentpole outings, but his Salazar is as disposable as the numerous victims of random killings scattered across the movie.
The most outlandish of all characters takes a backseat in Salazar’s Revenge. The movie is called Dead Men Tell No Tales in the United States of America. It’s tempting to see the subtitle as a statement by the producers on Jack Sparrow’s fate. The movie denies the untrustworthy yet charming pirate, who always comes through in the end, the chance to prove his importance to the central adventure. Franchise logic dictates that dead men will always live to tell more tales – a post-credits sequence hints at the return of Davy Jones, voiced indelibly by Bill Nighy in Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End. But if Jack Sparrow merges into the woodwork like some of the undead who have populated previous editions, where’s the fun, and what’s the point of it all?