US Release Date: Friday, May 26, 2017
This was my overwhelming question to myself as this fifth instalment in a film franchise based on a ride began in earnest.
You see, we’d just come out of a touching little prologue, in which a little boy hurls himself in the deep with a rock tied to his foot. But before you can get too upset at the movie 13 Reasons Why-ing us, it transpires that this photogenic moppet is young Henry Turner (played excellently by Lewis McGowan), son of the franchise’s own Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his far-too-good-for-him love, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly). You see, last time we saw Will he was doomed to spend eternity at the bottom of the sea — I know! At World’s End lied to us! It’s wasn’t only ten years, as that far superior film claimed and proved, it was forever — and this is the only way his offspring can have a chat with dear old dad. Except! There is, of course, a cure for what ails Will, and all it needs is for young Henry to grow up and seek out the treasure to make all right with this fanciful world.
Not a bad premise for a Pirates film, is it? Even if it does make one nostalgic for that earlier episode. Believe me, I never thought I would be looking back wistfully at Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End as a halcyon time.
But this movie. It even makes me nostalgic for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the 2011 monstrosity that featured no Will and Elizabeth, was not directed by Gore Verbinski, and was All Jack Sparrow All the Time, because at least that had Penélope Cruz in it.
This one is All Jack Sparrow All the Time and pretty much the only mitigating factor is… a Jack Sparrow backstory. Ugh.
Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow was a breath of fresh air in the first Pirates film, all the way back in 2003. He was uncouth but somehow charming with it, and he held a weird kind of appeal to both the winsome Elizabeth and the audience, all bedraggled and ill-mannered and profligate, but adhering to his own, if dubious, moral code. He and the gallant, if dull, Will Turner played wonderfully off one another, and the fact that Elizabeth more than held her own against these duelling beta-males was one of the film’s most pleasing aspects. But the Jack Sparrow of then is not the Jack Sparrow of now, and not simply because he has descended from Arthur-style debauchery into Leaving Las Vegas levels of suicide-by-drunkenness. Where once he was amusing he is trying to be amusing, and failing abysmally. Depp’s performance here is one of the more painful I can recall squirming my way through, and I’ve seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In accent, in affect, in every way, everything is just off, and by a lot, which does the film no favors when it is at pains to put Jack front and center of every damn thing.
Depp’s performance here is one of the more painful I can recall squirming my way through, and I’ve seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
And it goes on forever. There are over two hours of All Jack Sparrow All the Time here. Of which I probably enjoyed roughly eight minutes, the rest of the time spent in a mental drinking game (oh, if only I’d had a proper drink!) of Spot the Recycled Plot Point. Actually, it’s a very good thing that my showing happened to be at one of those plebian cinemas that do not serve alcohol, because that little exercise would have put me in a coma. There’s a curse! Jack’s magic compass! A ghost crew out for revenge on Jack! (Led by Javier Bardem. Oh, you poor dear man.) A strong-willed female much more competent than the alleged hero. A legendary treasure! (It’s the Trident of Poseidon, you guys.) Yet more ghosts! Even Barbossa is there. (Oh, Goeffrey Rush, you poor dear man. Or, more likely, you rich dear man but completely dead inside now.)
It’s all very silly. And in itself, that would hardly be a problem — the franchise has always been silly. But it used to be silly and fun, now it is just silly and tiresome and dreary and exhausting and soul-crushing and ludicrous and interminable and just too damned long.
But hey! There’s a monkey. The little capuchin kind, like the one Ross had on Friends. And yet somehow, this movie manages to make an adorable freaking monkey dull, just another overused sight gag, along with Captain Sparrow’s drunken list and our lady astronomer’s big skirts.
I will give the movie a few points for said lady astronomer, one Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), sentenced to death as a witch for knowing Math. And the grown up Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is, at least, a convincing enough genetic amalgam of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly to not strain credulity too far. One action sequence in particular stands out, when Jack is about to be guillotined — and Javier Bardem’s immortal Captain Salazar helms one pretty cool, seemingly sentient, ship — but almost all the battles at sea are so dark and shadowy, and yet somehow clinical and uninspired, that they have all melded together in a morass of swelling sea and even more swelling orchestral score. (A score that I suspect may have been composed for a different movie entirely. A better movie, possibly. Certainly a more thrilling one.)
There is an after-credits scene at the end of Pirates 5 that attempts to make a Pirates 6 a seeming inevitability. And if this film does even half as well at the box office as its record-breaking predecessors, then it probably is inevitable. But will I go see it? I really doubt it. This movie has broken me, and it’s not like I expected much. It’s a Pirates of the Caribbean movie! I wasn’t looking for gold. Dross would have done just fine.
Instead, I got All Jack Sparrow All the Time. And the shine went out of that years ago.
Adventure Fantasy | PG-13 | 129 minutes
Written by Jeff Nathanson | Directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Starring Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Orlando Bloom