In a summer featuring the fifth Transformers adventure, sixth Alien instalment, and the eighth Fast and Furious film, another bow for Cap’n Jack Sparrow seemed almost inevitable.
The popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean series never waned, with the last three films making around a billion dollars apiece. It also propelled Johnny Depp to mega-stardom, with his Keith Richards-inspired creation becoming one of the great characters in mainstream film (even earning him an Oscar nomination along the way!).
Times have changed, however – Depp is not the draw he once was, and it’s six years since the fourth film, On Stranger Tides. Can the makers find cinematic treasure once again?
Set several years on from the third film, At World's End, this yarn sees Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the now-grown up son of Elizabeth and Will (Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom), set out to find the fabled Trident of Poseidon, the only thing that can free his father from his curse.
Using clues left in his father’s diary, Henry enlists the help of Jack Sparrow, along with scientist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). Captain Jack’s motivation (aside from gold) is also to escape the demented attentions of revenge-seeking undead pirate Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).
While it takes a while to get going, this story rightly takes inspiration from the first movie, becoming a reboot of sorts. If you’ve seen any of the other films, you’ll know what to expect – our heroes get chased, captured, escape… and repeat. Nothing in the story really takes precedence over the action, but this is about the ride, which for the most part is enjoyable. Comedy set pieces involving Sparrow being dragged by a building or clinging on to a guillotine are light-hearted and fun, before the action gets a little more spectacular (one sequence with an undead shark is downright scary).
Unlike On Stranger Tides, Depp is not as much of a focus this time round, which is a very good thing. He’s central to the plot, certainly, but with other characters handling the serious stuff he’s allowed to have a lot more fun with his character. As with Curse of the Black Pearl, he’s important but also just along for the ride, like a human MacGuffin, allowing some crowd-pleasing sequences like his forced marriage and a bizarre exchange with a former Beatle.
Newcomers Kaya and Brenton seem set up to become the new Keira and Orlando, although neither has the presence of their predecessors, particularly in such a crowded cast. Bardem has a great time hissing and wheezing as arguably the most sinister villain in the franchise, even if he seems buried in make-up and CGI. Surprisingly, the most interesting arc belongs to Geoffrey Rush as Sparrow’s old foe Captain Barbossa, who gets caught up in the chase. A revelation in the third act gives the Aussie Oscar winner something to work with, adding an extra emotional stake to the adventure.
An impressive finale caps off a film that never blows you out of your seat, but neither does it give you time to get bored once the main plot is established. Some loose ends are tied up, leaving room for a sequel that wouldn’t be entirely unwelcome. At its best, it’s a satisfying reminder of why these characters have endured for 14 years, and in particular why Depp is a star who is savvy to what audiences want.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge is in cinemas Friday 26 May