Friday, 26 May 2017

"Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge" (Guardian 22/05/17)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge **
Dirs: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg. With: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Kaya Scodelario. 129 mins. Cert: 12A

Given the sorry fate of other projects derived from Disney theme-park attractions – 2002’s The Country Bears, 2003’s The Haunted Mansion – it’s staggering that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise should have remained financially seaworthy through four passable-to-indifferent features. With Pirates V, Salazar’s Revenge, the cracks in the hull become unignorable. Orlando Bloom has pled for reduced participation, handing his sextant to onscreen offspring Brenton Thwaites; Skins alumna Kaya Scodelario inherits Keira Knightley’s corsets. The series, in other words, has entered its Muppet Babies or Scrappy-Doo phase, with all the pop-cultural heft that implies.

There’s fresher blood behind the camera, too, not entirely unwelcome after the avant-garde tedium of Gore Verbinski’s three-hour send-off At World’s End and Rob Marshall’s by-the-numbers On Stranger Tides. Norwegians Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, fresh off the Oscar-nominated Kon-Tiki, are keener than their predecessors to spend time at sea – some consolation to anybody wondering how interested this series really was in pirating – and toss much of the ballast that clogged previous instalments overboard. Revenge moves at a faster rate of knots than any Pirates film; trouble is, nothing’s really been added. It’s the same soggy ride, set to a marginally preferable speed.

Of plot, there is literally a ghost of an idea: to have Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow – washed up on St. Martin, with his beloved boat The Black Pearl cleverly secreted inside a bottle – tempted back out onto the waves after the resurfacing of one Salazar, a decomposing Spaniard whom Sparrow previously sent to a watery grave. Javier Bardem brings an air of mouldering chorizo to this guest-villain role, but Jeff Nathanson’s screenplay doesn’t develop the enmity so much as jetski around it, stirring up noisy turbulence – doubtless sensing that the fanbase isn’t here for intricate yarnspinning, rather the long-awaited/shruggingly tolerated return of Cap’n Jack.

Depp duly does what Depp does in these films: he swaggers, he rolls those kohl-heavy Keith Richards eyes, he leers at his younger female co-star. The schtick is, granted, more feature than glitch: this franchise has always been about delivering pantomimic nonsense, and lots of it. So it is that Paterson’s Golshifteh Farahani goes bald with rank teeth as a conniving witch; so it is Paul McCartney momentarily shows up as Sparrow’s Scouse uncle. After Becks in King Arthur, it’s not the season’s worst celeb cameo – rather sweetly, Macca strolls on, tells a joke, and walks off, thumbs semi-aloft – but this isn’t A Hard Day’s Night so much as A Very Easy Paycheque.

Viewer value-for-money proves more debatable. The Pirates series hasn’t delivered a single memorable setpiece since Dead Man’s Chest’s oversized waterwheel business, and time and again, Revenge plumps for distraction over consequence, flooding the screen with images that attain scale – like the ship that rears up on its haunches in readiness for attack – but not one iota of meaning. Without any extra emotional investment in these characters – Nathanson regards them as revivable running jokes – the much-trailed zombie shark sequence comes to feel like watching somebody playing a tie-in videogame.

Maybe the franchise’s success lies in the bountiful downtime it offers beleaguered consumers: even with the wind in its sails here, long stretches of fruitless exposition invite one to have a pee, text a friend, make funeral arrangements, whatever. Yet the rock ‘n’ roll irreverence this franchise once claimed to have freighted into multiplexes has now long since drifted over the horizon. For all Depp’s posturing, the singer-songwriter Revenge most reminded me of was neither raffish Stone nor larky Beatle, rather the mournful Robert Wyatt: how curious and sad it is that we’ve canned actual shipbuilding, yet persisted in setting this disposable, plasticky junk afloat.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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