By Choi Hoe Chang (18S07A)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg; with Jerry Bruckheimer as Producer) is the 5th installation in the 14-year-old Pirates of the Caribbean (PotC) franchise.
Many reviews before this one have already dissected the movie and discussed its many flaws. The storyline was convoluted, many of the characters were underdeveloped or underused, the visual effects were tacky and even irritating at times, and the jokes were either unfunny or overused. The movie had some redeeming factors, such as the tense moments between Captain Salazar and Captain Barbossa (portrayed by Javier Bardem and Geoffrey Rush respectively). Nevertheless, the film was filled with disappointments and flaws.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this film was how Captain Jack Sparrow played out in the movie. The witty and charming swashbuckler is the crown jewel of the PotC franchise, and arguably Johnny Depp’s most memorable and beloved role (outside Tim Burton’s universe, that is). In this film, we saw only a bad parody of Jack Sparrow. Every aspect of the iconic pirate we love was exaggerated to the point that it let the audience down instead: his undying affinity for rum became outright miserable alcoholism, his ability to banter his way out of any situation degenerated into inappropriate and distasteful humor, and his “plans”, usually a clever mixture of luck and ingenuity, were reduced to being completely reliant on chance.
Granted, the movie attempted to explore Captain Jack Sparrow as a washed up, out-of-luck captain struggling to relive his past glory. While these attempts had much potential, they were buried under multiple sub-plots: the romance between the two young characters Henry and Carina Smyth, the relentless vengeance of Captain Salazar, and the fatherly love of Captain Barbossa for his illegitimate daughter. These sub-plots also had potential to enrich the movie, but were all criminally underdeveloped, and thus failed to deliver emotional resonation as intended.
Obviously, we could blame the ambition of the filmmakers in trying to deliver too many things at once and their failure to juggle the multiple aspects of their story. But why do such things happen? Perhaps franchise fatigue is the root cause of the problem.
Lately, the term has become increasingly common in film reviews and discussions, as the box office and big-budget project lineups are increasingly dominated by sequels and remakes of iconic characters (Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC Extended Universe, Dark Cinematic Universe, etc). The term was coined to explain how certain franchises seem to get increasingly intensified backlash with every sequel they release.
To be clear, the phenomenon itself is not really new in the context of blockbusters. We can point back to the 90s, when Batman Forever (1995) and Batman and Robin (1997) convinced the general public to give up on live-action Batman movies. We can even look at the slasher films (Friday the 13th, Halloween, Child’s Play, etc.), where many beloved horror icons became increasingly laughable, even unbearable. In a slightly more contemporary context, one could possibly name Michael Bay’s Transformers series as an example of a franchise being milked to the last drop. One may go on to name Rocky, Rambo, Alien, Lethal Weapon, Planet of the Apes, and Final Destination as some of many other examples.
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All these examples have one thing in common: the beloved characters that were featured in these franchises were overused to the point where they became a ridiculous parody of themselves, eventually pushing the film critics and the general public away. In some cases, they manage to retain some loyal fan base. The filmmakers and producers then respond by resorting to appease these fanbase, often exacerbating the vicious cycle of self-parody. In some rare cases, franchises are resurrected by successful remakes or sequels, while others remain in the vicious cycle.
Perhaps this is indeed the issue that was observed in PotC 5. We realise that every single aspect of the movie was reused from the previous installations: from the character dynamics (two lovers with Jack Sparrow as a friend in their adventures, while the other pirates take a supporting role), to the villains (supernatural pirates with a history with Jack Sparrow), to the MacGuffin (an ancient mythological treasure that will empower its owner to rule the seas), to the music (the soundtrack composed by Geoff Zanelli – while it made positive contribution to the movie, it was mostly a remix of the music of Hans Zimmer from the previous installations).
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The movie’s only original contribution to the franchise was the story of Captain Jack Sparrow’s past. This, however, only resulted in controversies regarding continuity error. In addition, the opening sequence, ending, and the post credits scene even resorted to appeasing the fans by showing us the characters from past films, despite the fact that they had barely any contribution to the film.
So what is the verdict on Salazar’s Revenge? Was it a satisfying and adrenaline-pumping swashbuckler adventure like the previous PotC movies? Not really. Was it a failed attempt to outdo its predecessors while appeasing its loyal fans? Most certainly. Is it an example of the recurring phenomenon of disappointing sequels that Hollywood cannot seem to cure? Absolutely.
We are still unsure of whether the PotC franchise will have yet another sequel, but in light of what the producers have offered us, perhaps it is best if this is not the case. Captain Jack had his time, and it’s time to let him go.