All franchises have a burn out point; even Police Academy knew that six films was all the hilarity the public could take (yes, I know there are seven Police Academy films. That's the joke). Pirates of the Caribbean reached it's natural end point after the original trilogy and fell very flat with the fourth. So why go again? Is it an attempt to reboot the whole thing? Or just a blind grasping desperation to wring one more golden egg out of a wizened old barren goose? Okay, so I tend to fall on the side of cynicism when it comes to the filthy capitalism of the Hollywood machine, but there has to be a line drawn somewhere.
If I was to sum up this film in one word, it would be “tired”. Everybody just seems so lacklustre, it is an exercise in going through the motions. The two young leads who are brought in for their youthful zeal are just about enough to keep the film moving but the characters just feel like proxies for Elizabeth and Will Turner without the same screen presence. The girl does about as well as she can with a cut-out strong independent female role but the boy is nothing but bright eyes and heartbreak.
Geoffrey Rush, a series regular as the peculiarly popular Barbossa, is still having fun as the now-even-more caricatured pirate but he can't find anything to freshen it up. His emotional subplot has a lot of potential and is indeed the emotional backbone for the entire film and yet it is explored only in very shallow terms. Javier Bardem arrives as the new villain and plays it well with a simmering menace but once again he is just another ghost pirate. This time it's a slightly different type of ghost and he's not even a pirate but it all amounts to the same thing as we've seen in every previous film. Blah blah blah curse, blah blah blah vengeance. And bless him, the man just can't pronounce Sparrow.
So what about that secret ingredient? What about Jack Sparrow? Johnny Depp has been having a bit of a tumultuous time recently. Will he use this opportunity to escape into a character that he is obviously comfortable with? Or will he turn up and do the most basic performance so that it feels like self-parody? What do you think?
Sparrow is supposed to be off the rails by now. He's lost his ship and his crew aren't exactly on his side either. He is a washed up old man who can't cut it. This is perfect, we're setting up the plot for one last shot at glory. You have to start at the bottom to work your way back up. Oh wait, no, they're just going to have him as a washed up, pointless waste of space the whole way through. Well at least that will be funny. Oh, no, Depp has given up as well and is not even trying. Maybe we can salvage this with some grander point about alcoholism? No.
What about young Jack Sparrow? The trailer promised us elements of a prequel, with a digitally manipulated Johnny Depp portraying the up-and-coming pirate king. That could be interesting. How did Sparrow become who he is? Or maybe just funny, like Jack Sparrow but different enough to keep it fresh. Or maybe they could just not explore it in any way and keep it just to the back story of Salazar, with no entertainment value at all.
Let's not be too negative. It is watchable stuff. The big set pieces are still there and there are a few moments that emulate the madcap action adventure tone of the first film. But it just doesn't have the same effect any more.
Are these films getting tired? Or is it just me? Diminishing returns in action.