Well, that was better than the last one. Color me surprised.
Jack Sparrow is back and I have to be honest – I was less interested in him than I was in Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, and my ever favorite in this franchise Geoffrey Rush. Something started happening in the second film. It was subtle and very light, so much so that I didn’t even catch on back then, but it was beginning all the same. Jack Sparrow, in the first film, is this archetypal trickster, Loki and Gollum and Sherlock with a sword. But then he goes from the drunken nonsense being half-persona to it being who he is. In the first film I could sit and believe that this was the famous pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, masquerading as a drunken lout who was half BS and half reality that hid a brilliant individual. Here, however, he bumbles from lucky break to lucky break. He has for 2 and a half films now and I have to admit…it’s gotten grating. I’d be happier watching a film in this franchise without him.
Whooo, got that off of my chest. Now onto the rest of the film.
So the rest of it isn’t bad. It isn’t Hitchcock, but there are things to like here.
Let’s start with Salazar. Something I was missing in the 4th film was a menacing villain. Davy Jones had, previously, been a rather disturbing and touching and vicious aggressor and following him with Ian McShane, who was the most chill bad guy ever, Seeing Javier Bardem, even if he’s overacting a bit, is a welcome addition to the cast. He’s oozing, he’s walking like he has MS (how that sword isn’t dull is surprising), and he’s clenching his jaw together so tight that I was frankly worried we’d see teeth shatter in real-time. With all of this grossness he gets by, doing his Javier Bardem thing, and makes it work.
But there are issues with his plot. I still don’t quite know how he and his men became ghosts. It has something to do with the Devil’s Triangle (the nautical location where they drowned) and their rage in death, but there is zero explanation on that front beyond just a quick and cool visual. I had this issue with the 4th film and its plot holes (how is the Fountain, existing from the beginning of time, opened by clinging 2 goblets that are less than 50 years old together and speaking in Spanish, a language created after time started?) and in this film we still don’t have much care given to making sense. Instead, the audience is left to either guess or accept the hand-waving and grit their teeth through it. Even the use of Jack’s compass as a key to keeping them locked in the Triangle makes no sense as we never get an explanation. Seriously, not everything in every film has to be intricately interconnected. We can add new things to the mythos, because the last 3 movies revolved around Jack’s past and that compass so….something new Disney, please.
It baffles me that this is being put out there by the studio. They’re putting out coherent Star Wars and Marvel films quite often, even good live-action updates to their former animated films. So why is it so hard for them to put out a thought-out Pirates movie these days? The films can be fun, they can be clever, and they can play in darker waters than even their superhero films. This is prime territory and they’re settling for less than mediocrity because the cash is already coming in. I just don’t understand.
There’s still more than Salazar to like. Thwaites and Scodelario were welcome surprises as the two new leads in the film. While Thwaites is kind of a callback and ripoff of Bloom from the first film there’s a great reason to excuse that, and Scodelario is a cliche but she’s one we haven’t seen yet and she plays it decently enough. I quite enjoyed her character. Hell, I even enjoyed the childish and unsophisticated but funny sexual innuendo in the dialog between them Sure, it’s petty and easy laughs, but I’ll take whatever works from this franchise anymore.
The score is a bit less impressive this time around. Hans Zimmer has left the franchise, instead leaving his 2nd unit composer to do this one. It reminds me a lot of a Giacchino score in that the most interesting parts are when he is using someone else’s composition in his own way, leaving the rest to be forgetful background noise. It’s a safe and easy score and I’m unimpressed, but it isn’t bad in any way that’s offensive so it’s just forgettable.
At the end of the day this is worth watching, but I’d wait till you can do so at home with some rum and the comfort of a pause button so you can take breaks. It’s an entertaining bit of fluff, but its 2.5 hour runtime will wear you out quickly and if one plans repeated viewings they really should be based around renting it. I think this one will only be for the more die-hard, forgiving fans of the franchise and for those looking to kill time (solid Netflix and chill movie here everyone, seriously).
From here on I’ll be touching on spoilers so…turn back matey, here they be.
So Barbossa died. That’s perhaps the saddest part of the film for me. By the end of 3 he’d become my favorite character in the franchise, and he stole the show in the 4th film to the point that I actually would have rather followed him than Jack in this one. This would have made a lot more sense because…well, there are chucked-in side plots with him. We do not learn (and are given no reason to care) till over ⅔ of the way through the film that Carina Smythe’s arc is leading to discovering her birth-father after being left as a child, an orphan on a doorstep with Galileo’s diary to hock for cash. So the late-plot discovery that Barbossa is her long-missing father felt tacked on. This is such a missed opportunity because Thwaites character Henry Turner is also looking for his daddy, and a movie about father-issues and abandonment could have given the story a nice tie-together if they’d hit it from the beginning. Instead, we’re given two brief moments, a tattoo, and possibly the worst final line a character has been given in this franchise so far. Rush still does all he can with it and he’s still great in the movie, but he deserved a better note to go out on. His final act, however, is pretty badass as he catches a falling sword (tossed to him by Jack) and swings down to slam it into an un-cursed Salazar’s back, pulling them both into the sea to die. That was badass.
The other spoiler I want to touch on is the post-credits scene, the return of Davy Jones. I’m really torn on this one because while I adored him as a character from the design to the backstory to the arc…he really did complete what he set out to do. He found his woman, he reunited with her, he was freed from the ship, there was a lot going on with that. Davy Jones being given this release from death is troubling to me for a lot of reasons because while I want more of him I also just want him left to rest, great for what he was. The 2nd film is still my favorite in the franchise and he shines in that, but he also really helps make the 3rd film tolerable in it’s misdirection. I don’t know that poking the nostalgia button with him is the greatest idea and I hope it works because…well, it’s happening.