It’s been six years since the last Pirates film was released and rather than continue with another standalone instalment, this time the franchise harkens back to the original by building on the old cast as well as including some new blood.
The plot and structure of the film are similar to the original, right down to pitting the main trio against a horde of undead pirates. It’s all very familiar but with unique settings adding flavour to an adventure film acting as a reboot to a very popular franchise.
Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, more drunk and unintelligible than ever, happy to be simultaneously belligerent and charming to anyone he meets. He’s joined by Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who Jack calls the “spawn” of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, on a mission to break his father’s curse and reunite his family. In a way this is Henry’s story, so it’s a shame that Brenton doesn’t stand out next to Johnny Depp, at times even feeling like a discount Orlando Bloom. Kaya Scodelario (of Skins fame) joins the trio as Carina Smyth, a girl so clever she’s often mistaken for a witch – you can tell she’s giving it her all in this role outshining even Depp in her scenes.
Skipping ahead 20 years since Will Turner was cursed at the end of the third film, the audience is reintroduced to Jack. Down on his luck he has lost his crew, his money and his ship the Black Pearl (which is now trapped inside a bottle). Meanwhile Henry is on the search for the Trident of Poseidon, a mystical object that can break any curses of the sea. But only a map no man can read will lead the way, forcing him to team up with Carina who believes she can interpret the map and fulfil her father’s wish to find it. For both of the young stars, this Pirates of the Caribbean is more about reconnecting with their fathers’ than finding treasure. All the while trying to escape the East India Company and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).
Then there’s the titular villain Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), cursed to wander the sea by Captain Jack. Salazar is driven by a hatred of pirates and revenge, his menacing aura emphasised by an ephemeral underwater appearance and his unyielding command over his crew. Ironically Salazar would be the hero hunting down pirates if this were another film.
The previous films were accused of having bloated storylines but it takes the film nearly 40 minutes to explain its plot and then only halfway through the film do we really see pace beginning to build. When the complex narrative starts to unwind and become clearer, we focus on the trio and Captain Salazar, making the other characters seem superfluous – a witch is on-screen twice for plot direction and then is never seen again – and plotlines are just axed-off unceremoniously.
Salazar’s Revenge breathes life into the franchise by honouring the original film and building a base for more sequels (or even mid-quels, as the tale of how the Black Pearl is trapped in a bottle is explained in a few sentences but could have easily been its own film). The cast is superb, capturing spirited adventure and swashbuckling fun, which makes it hard not to find a love for the pirates infectious. The plot doesn’t reinvent the wheel but the cast, action and suspense help elevate it to a place that truly starts off this summer blockbuster season.
Words by Sunny Ramgolam
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge is out in cinemas on May 25, 2017