There’s quite the debate raging right now on two fronts that have become too interlocked in recent years that it’s strange to remember a time when such a conversation wasn’t being had in at least some portion of the film community – between critics and fans and, consequently, reviews (Rotten Tomatoes specifically) and box-office takings, particularly in the US. This past week, some voices have been raised that both of the big releases, Baywatch and Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge were both victims of bad reviews and, as such, their box office suffered – Baywatch opened to $23million for the four-day holiday while Pirates, with a considerably larger fan base, took $78million for the same period, the lowest opening of the series since the first.
But is this argument relative to the films themselves? Had bad reviews really contributed to the downturn in fortunes for the films before they have even had a chance to be seen by an audience? Should critic screenings be abandoned as a small minority have suggested so that they are “review-proof” ahead of release? In the case of the new Pirates, which has now been going for 14 years, it’s proof if nothing else that the franchise machine everywhere is simply running out of gas and that audiences are beginning to crave something new, something fresh and exciting that will re-energise them and make them leave their houses to spend their well-earned money on something that they haven’t seen many times before.
With Pirates 5, you know the premise and even the most casual of fans will know what’s coming – lot’s of Johnny Depp clowning around in search of riches and rum as he continues to chisel away at all the brilliance he brought to the screen in The Curse of the Black Pearl and look more and more disinterested and somewhat regretful at reprising the role again, though the $25million or so probably cushioned such regret. Yes, Jack Sparrow, the jester of the seven seas, is back again and once more he is put slap bang in the middle of something or other that seemingly only he can solve. He’s being hunted by a few different entities: Henry Turner (Thwaites), the son of Sparrow’s old friend Will Turner (Orlando Bloom cameoing here too), who wants his help to free his father from the curse of The Flying Dutchman with the trident of Poseidon; Captain Barbossa (Rush) as ever is on his case once more; and our new villain, Captain Salazar (Bardem) has a long-running feud with Sparrow after he was responsible for sending him and his crew to the world of the undead.
So far, so perfunctory and unoriginal which is the problem that has beset the franchise since probably the third film, At World’s End, where the wheels (or should that be the rudder) began to fall away. It’s not a bad film by any means – the production design, costumes, and CGI are, as ever, exemplary while new helmers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg do their best to pump some new life into its lungs with some energetic direction. Indeed, Rush and Bardem are good value as ever but it’s Kaya Scodelario, fresh from her turns in the Maze Runner series, that is the best value here, delivering the film’s stand-out performance that’s full of heart, soul, and humour.
But when it comes down to “brass tax” it’s the repetition and lack of ideas that is the film’s undoing and it could be argued that is perhaps the biggest sin of all – you’d rather an awful film that a truly frustrating one like this one. Still, it will no doubt fare much better in foreign seas that will help the film cross the $1billion mark once again at the box office, so there may well be more to follow in the coming years but if the producers, and indeed Depp, are smart enough they’ll know that it’s perhaps time to close the treasure chest and lower the sails on a franchise that is taking on too much water, and sinking quickly.