I have more affection for the entirety of the first trilogy that Gore Verbinski delivered than most people seem to have. The movies that followed, though, had no idea what was appealing at all about those first three. Diluting the weirdness, pushing Jack Sparrow forward even though he ends up with little to no reason for being around, and then introducing new characters with a great need to connect them familially with established characters all combine together for little more than the definition of corporate cash grabs.
#4 in my ranking of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
This is more of what I might have expected from a corporate driven sequel to the first film in the series. A somewhat competent repackaging of the original elements, essentially replaying everything one more time. After the profitable (but less so) On Stranger Tides where Jack Sparrow was finally made the main character to less entertaining effect, Disney seems to have pushed for the soft reboot route by creating a new pair of characters to be the new Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann of the continuing adventures on the high seas in the early 18th century Caribbean.
The movie starts with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), at twelve years old having figured out where his father’s ship will be at a particular time and getting himself on it by effectively drowning himself. The opening scene is played wrong, far too serious for the opening of this adventurous romp, but it sets the stage for what’s to come. Henry wants to free his father from the curse, knows of the Trident of Poseidon which should do the trick, and Will refuses his help, knowing his curse will never end. Skip ahead nine years, and we’re ready for our adventure with Henry being a seaman on a British naval vessel in pursuit of some pirates heading towards the Devil’s Triangle, a large collection of rocks. Determined to save the ship, Henry breaks ranks to warn the captain, ends up being called a traitor for his efforts, and then the ship gets overtaken by Spanish ghosts in the triangle that kill everyone but Henry, leaving him the last one alive to tell the tale and warn Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) that Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is going to come for him specifically because they have a past.
Jack, meanwhile, is in St. Martin robbing a bank, and the big special effects scene of Jack and his motley crew roping the bank vault with horses but taking the entire building with them is the right kind of ridiculous nonsense I expect from these movies. Dragging an entire building with a one tonne safe inside through the dirt streets of a small Caribbean city with eight horses is literally impossible, but gosh darn is it fun to watch as Jack goes from sleeping in the safe to dragging along behind it to climbing atop of it and on top of the building and finally jumping over a stone bridge to land back on the safe, now free of the building that got torn apart by the bridge itself, creating a barrier to block the royal marines chasing them.
The problem for Jack is that the chase emptied the vault onto the streets of St. Martin, leaving it empty by the time they get to their landlocked ship, continuing a string of bad luck that has led from one failure to another. Meanwhile, Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) is being held by the British for being a witch (this subplot feels 200 years out of date, but whatever) because she has a book about the lost Trident of Poseidon and clues as to figuring out the map that no man can read. She connects with Henry who washes up and gets arrested as a traitor. Henry frees himself and finds Jack, getting him to agree to help him. And then we get our next ridiculous action scene where Henry gets Jack’s men to attack the site of the guillotine (some decades before its actual invention, but whatever). The centerpiece of this is when Jack’s guillotine ends up swinging in a circle with the blade getting close to his head and falling back with the center of gravity moving. There’s also the introduction of the amusing idea of Jack demanding tribute from his crew who are rescuing him, an idea that ultimately goes nowhere but is amusing at the time.
Freed from St. Martin, the three and Jack’s crew take Jack’s ship onto the sea, but Jack had given up his mythical compass while in St. Martin, which somehow freed Salazar from the Devil’s Triangle, set to rid the seas of all pirates, but Jack in particular. Unofficial king of the pirates in these waters is Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), determined to fight off the unkillable Salazar and secure his place of comfort after decades of pirating, he heads towards Salazar, having acquired Jack’s compass from a real witch who just ends up disappearing from the film altogether shortly thereafter (I assume she was placed in for future sequels). We then get our race to the Trident with Jack helping our actual main character Henry, who has a solid motivation, along with Carina who has her own motivation while Salazar is chasing Jack with his own motivation and Barbossa helps Salazar with his own motivation. I only point this out because this is pretty much what the previous film lacked. The motivations not only exist here, but they also make sense.
Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t really know what to do with all this and the final half of the film ends up kind of a murky mess of things just happening. The early promise descends into a bit of meandering (especially when Jack and crew end up on an island and Jack gets thrown into a wedding ceremony that gets ended quickly as though none of it matters). It also moves towards sentimentality by creating a connection between Carina and another character that reminded me of how everyone needs to be related in the Star Wars movies. These movies never really tried earnest sentimentality straight up, and it just doesn’t fit. These movies really rely on a particular tone, and that is just the full embrace of ridiculousness and swashbuckling.
The finale is all about the finding of the Trident, and it’s a colorful looking place, fighting it out on the exposed seabed of the ocean floor, but the movie doesn’t seem to understand the implications it sets up. The implication to me, at least, is that destroying the Trident won’t only end all curses of the sea (as the characters state), but that the Trident is where all the magic of the sea comes from. Destroying the Trident destroys the magic of the sea, and it means the end of an era. However the movie doesn’t make that connection and it’s just a purely happy thing.
I really enjoyed the first third of the film, but as it moved into its second act things just steadily became less engaging. By the final act, I was just watching the pretty colors with the smallest bit of bemusement. It’s kind of sad to say that it got at least enough right to be a step up from On Stranger Tides. The directors, a pair of Swedish filmmakers who had made the not as interesting as it sounds Kon-Tiki, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg were obviously brought in as easily controlled directors who would rock no boats while bringing competence to their duties, and they did that well enough. This is honestly the best looking movie in the franchise. There are bright colors in the beginning with some often wonderful visuals around the Devil’s Triangle. The nighttime action scenes are not as well handled though, often becoming nearly incomprehensible, so it’s a bit more of a mixed bag than I would have liked.
It’s a middling entertainment in the end. It starts pretty strong but ends weakly. There could have been more adventures with Jack Sparrow in his appropriate supporting role, but it looks like Disney doesn’t want to work with him anymore. So, if this franchise continues, we’re probably just going to get some kind of hard reboot if we get any kind of movie at all.
Originally published here.