No one at Disney expected the first film, The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) to be much more than a cash cow at the box office. What the studio did not count on was director Gore Verbinski bringing adventure of the grandest order to the high seas, crazy scary ghosts, a nasty villain portrayed by Geoffrey Rish, a plucky heroine played nicely by Keira Knightley, a film populated with terrific supporting performances, and best of all a swishy drunken pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, a marvelous creation from actor Johnny Depp. The film had it all, adventure, excitement, love, action, horror, betrayal, and a crazy popular hero (Depp) making it the perfect popcorn picture, but it was so well made it became much more. Almost at once the raves poured in for the film and Depp who would go on to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and win the Screen Actors Guild for Best Actor, cementing his reputation as one of the finest artists at work in modern times. DVD and then Blu Ray sales made the film an even greater success, and the picture went far beyond being a mere cash cow.
Sequels followed, each a little weaker than the previous until it seemed the series was taking on water, sinking and had no where to go. But greed is greed, the films made money, and Disney, never a company to turn down a buck or two, decided enough time had passed that they could make a fifth Pirates installment, and so here we are. Depp is back as is Geoffrey Rush, but there’s no Gore Verbinski and in that is the problem. The director of the first film had a firm hand on the storyline, and made the film a sweeping adventure with lovely comic touches. He understood the quirks of it all. Remember the first time we see Depp in the first picture? Hands on hips he appears to be on a ship, high on the mast, but is in fact in a small boat, sinking, but he makes it to the dock to be able to step on the dock. That was a both a wonderful comic moment and yet a tip off to just how great a pirate Jack Sparrow was, and he took every chance to remind us he was a pirate.
This new film feels tired, Depp, always game, feels worn out, like an old stand up comic expected to get up and perform on cue, as Jerry Lewis was in his later films. We had seen it, we expected more of him, and that is true of Depp, he is truly a gifted actor who with his striking good looks could have had a great career as a movie star, doing silly love films. But he is an artist trapped in a matinee idols body, a character actor preferring to challenge himself. How many times has he made sure his good looks are masked? Too many to count, but he often does his best work when doing so. Only in Public Enemies (2009) did his good looks need to match the character he was playing, John Dillinger. After his searing performance in Black Mass (2015) I had hoped he was going to move back into fine roles that might bring him that Oscar he deserves to win at some point.
Here we are back at sea, with Captain Jack in the same troubles he has always been in. Facing death for stealing, he encounters the child of former co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and enlists them to help him escape, which is in their best interests. The villains of the film as Captain Barbarosa (Rush) and a Spanish pirate Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), both nasty men who want something from Jack, who of course wants something from them.
Thus, we have adventures on the high seas, and though it is not a terrible film, it is just not very interesting. It all feels the same, like taking the ride The Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World and expecting something different. It is like the film is on a loop and we are going through the motions of the same events over and over and over.
Bardem is ready to give a great, grand performance as the pirate Salazar but they forgot to give him a role, and Rush, with that great evil laugh is face with the same issue, nothing to do, nothing to play.
Depp can do this part in his sleep by now and that appears what he is doing. There was a perverse spark in his eyes the first time he played Jack Sparrow, sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow, a nod and wink that said to us, “can you believe I am doing and getting away with it?” That is gone, the sense of fun he had playing the part is gone, and the franchise with this latest film should be gone.
Directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, the gifted directors behind the Oscar nominated foreign language film Kon Tiki (2012 which also filmed on the ocean. I have to say I expected more. But given the franchise, the screenplay and the fact the story is just done, it is difficult to blame the directors. That said the obvious CGI effects are tiresome, giving the film the look of a video game, and a poor one at that.