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Given the sorry fate of other work derived from Disney theme-park attractions – The Country Bears (2002), The Haunted Mansion (2003) – it’s amazing that the Pirates of the Caribbean series should have remained financially seaworthy through four passable-to-disinterest movies. With Pirates of the Caribbean 5 (named Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales in the US, and Salazar’s Revenge in some other nations) the cracks in the hull become definitely-must-watch.
Orlando Bloom has begged for minor participation, handing his sextant to on-screen son Brenton Thwaites while Skins alumna Kaya Scodelario inherits Keira Knightley’s corsets. The franchise, in other words, has begun its Muppet Babies /Scrappy-Doo phase, with all the pop-cultural weight that hints.
There’s also fresher blood behind the camera, not entirely undesirable after the experimental boredom of Gore Verbinski’s three-hour farewell At World’s End and Rob Marshall’s by-the-numbers On Stranger Tides. Norwegians Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg and the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki, are keener than their previous wok to spend time at sea – some comfort to anybody wondering how fun this series really is in pirating – and throw much of the ballast that clogged predecessors overboard. Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales moves at a faster rate of knots than those previous ones; one issue, nothing has really been added. It’s the same soggy adventure, aim at a marginally rational pace.
In terms of plot, there is literally a ghost of an idea: to have Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow – washed up on St Martin, with his dear boat the Black Pearl subtly secreted inside a bottle – tried to back out on to the sea after the revelation of Salazar, a decomposing Spaniard whom Sparrow formerly sent to a watery grave. Javier Bardem brings an air of old-schooled chorizo to this villainous character, but the performance doesn’t develop the hatred much, stirring up noisy disturbance – positively sensing that the fans aren’t here for entangled yarn-spinning, rather the long-awaited return of Captain Jack.
Johnny Depp properly does what he does in Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales movies – he swaggers, he rolls those kohl-heavy Keith Richards eyes, he peeks at younger female co-star – but this series has always been about bringing pantomimic nonsense, tons of it. So it’s that Golshifteh Farahani (who starred in last year’s Paterson) is bald with foul teeth as a twisted witch; so it is Paul McCartney briefly pops up as Sparrow’s scouse uncle. After Becks in King Arthur, it’s not the film’s worst famous cameo – rather lovely, Macca steps in, tells a joke, and wanders off, thumbs semi-aloft – but this isn’t A Hard Day’s Night so much as A Very Easy Paycheque.
Audience value-for-money indicates more disputable. The Pirates franchise hasn’t conveyed a memorable scene since Dead Man’s Chest’s gigantic waterwheel, and time and again this chooses distraction over consequence, overfilling the screen with pictures that reach scale – like the ship that rises up on its sides in willingness for attack – but not much meaning. The much-trailed zombie shark scene appears feeling like seeing somebody playing a tie-in video game.
Maybe the series’ success depends on the bountiful downtime it offers encircled consumers: even with the wind in its sails here, long stretches of fruitless exposition invite one to relax, text a friend, make funeral arrangements, whatever it is. The rock’n’roll impudence the Pirates franchise once claimed to have freighted into multiplexes has now long since shifted over the horizon.