By Will Fox
It’s finally here. The latest financially profitable adventure of Jack Sparrow, the debauched scallywag of the seas. Times are hard for Jack as his crew up and leave him after one misadventure too many. You can hardly blame them. In 2003, he was a scoundrel who traded on his charms, his cunning and status as luckiest man in the world. But memorable, zeitgeist-grabbing performances are the hardest to recreate and the more you try, the more it devolves into a performance of a performance. And so we have 2017 Jack, a bumbling idiot who slurs his lines, wears a silly face and generally has no clue what’s going on.
Since this doesn’t exactly make for an active protagonist, the series must once again pair him up with others willing to deal with the plot and such. Through the first of many eye-rolling coincidences, he meets Carina, a young woman with an interest in astronomy and navigation. This being unusual for a woman, everyone in town calls her a witch and sentences her to death. Let’s take a second. That’s a stretch. This isn’t a backwater Puritan town like Salem. Are we supposed to believe that the people of this Caribbean island, mainly stationed British soldiers and sophisticated gentry, really believe in witchcraft? And that they would they actually convict someone on that kind of “evidence”? Then again, this movie has zombie sharks so arguing historical accuracy may be a waste of digital ink.
Carina seeks the Trident of Poseidon, a mythical artefact that grants the wielder the power of the sea, and leads the pirates to it through her keen celestial navigation. The pirates are suspicious of this strange star-reading, despite it being exactly what pirates had used to navigate for centuries. If the witch thing was a stretch, this is a damn stretch. Great pains have been taken to make the people around her idiots in a misguided attempt at creating a ‘strong female character’. Unfortunately too much focus is put on the ‘female’ and not enough on the ‘character’. Besides, it’s hard not to feel cynical about a female empowerment narrative that places our lead in a series of cleavage-inducing outfits.
Henry Turner, son of series vet Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), also seeks the Trident in order to break the curse placed on his father that binds him to the Flying Dutchman. Blandly attractive and lacking any real screen presence, he’d make his old man proud. The whole Trident thing, i.e. our trio’s main objective, is pushed to the background at the appearance of Captain Salazar. After being killed by a younger, CGI-er Jack Sparrow, Salazar and his crew were turned undead (yes, like the first one) and imprisoned in the Devil’s Triangle. Now freed, he is eager to enact his titular (for Irish and UK viewers at least) revenge.
As with its predecessors, this movie is a slave to excess: big action, big budgets, big runtimes. We move at a breakneck pace, racing through exposition and perfunctory character development to get to the next bombastic set piece. The haste is partly justified since creative set pieces are where the Pirates series reliably delivers. For instance, the opening, featuring a literal bank robbing, has more ambition and invention than the remaining 2 hours 20 minutes combined.
The Pirates franchise is past its sell-by date. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that but it really, really is. The whole thing has become a little like Jack himself: stumbling around aimlessly, testing our good will, doing the same impression that gets a little less funny every time we see it. All the while we debate whether or not we should tell it that maybe it could use a shower. And a rest. And a retirement.