What’s the difference between a sequel and a franchise? A sequel should expand and develop the story, move it forward, expand on the history and deepen it. Some sequels are better than the original – Godfather Part ll for example – whiles some are worse; Jaws 2 anyone? A franchise, though, is normally a cynical attempt to make more money out of a, or a group of, characters.
Pirates of the Caribbean, like Transformers, Batman, Spiderman and Ironman (lots of men there), is a franchise – it’s designed as a money-making machine. Originally developed out of a theme park adventure – who doesn’t love pirates? – and now centred around a supremely popular character – Jack Sparrow played by Johnny Depp. Interestingly, he wasn’t the lead character in the first film but boy, is he now.
And you know what? This fifth incarnation of this franchise ain’t half bad. Except for one thing: Jack Sparrow, played by Johnny Depp. Everyone’s idea of a gorgeous man is now known to be a wife-beating narcissist who is trying to outdo Michael Jackson in his profligate spending. And in this film, he’s irritating and boring.
I had trouble following the story but I’ll do my best.
A young boy tries to commit suicide by tying a heavy rock around his ankle and jumping off his rowing boat. Who is this boy? He is Henry, the son of Will Turner, hero of the first Pirates story. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) has been condemned to live beneath the sea covered in barnacles until the curse on him is lifted by the finding of Poseidon’s Trident. Bloom tells his son that he must choose life. If you’ve seen the earlier films in the franchise this may make sense to you – I hadn’t and it didn’t.
Nine years later.
The boy is now a handsome young man (obviously) and finds himself in jail with a pretty witch – Carina Smith, played by Kaya Scodelario with a nicely heaving bosom. I forget why (why she’s in jail, not why she has a heaving bosom).
The townspeople of St Martin in the West Indies gather to watch the opening of their first bank. The door of the giant safe opens to reveal Captain Jack Sparrow who is drunk and lies amongst the gold. The soldiers shoot at him but (surprise, surprise) they miss. Sparrow’s henchmen then try and steal the safe by dragging it away behind 6 horses but it is so big and heavy that the ropes get snagged and so they drag the whole bank building away down the street. The Directors (Joachim Running and Espen Sandberg) clearly love this scene and it plays well in a Bondian kind of way, but it goes on too long. Anyway by the time they reach Sparrow’s ship which is beached on the sand (not sure why) the vault is empty except for one silver coin. Weirdly, the soldiers chasing them have all disappeared.
Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) is being pursued by the wicked British and escapes into the Devil’s Triangle where he is ‘rescued’ by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) who is dead (pay attention, all will become clear). Salazar (a pirate hunter) and his men have been cursed and are now zombies having been tricked in the past by Sparrow who lured them into the Triangle. Only Sparrow’s magic compass can lift the curse and so Salazar will spare Barbosa (but not most of his men who are swiftly despatched, but oddly not turned into zombies) if he leads him to Sparrow.
Sparrow’s crew have deserted him because he lost all the gold from the vault and so he drowns his sorrows. However he has no money and so trades the compass for a bottle of rum. The compass then ends up with a not very pretty witch (a real one) but I didn’t understand how or why so I’ll move swiftly on. Sparrow is captured and sentenced to death along with the Carina, the pretty witch. She is to hang while he is to be guillotined. But at the last moment young Turner swings into action to rescue the damsel and Sparrow, ably assisted by Sparrow’s crew who of course didn’t really desert him.
Sparrow, young Turner, pretty witch and the stupid crew are united but have no ship. Sparrow has a model of the Black Pearl in a bottle which he throws into the sea and it grows into the full-size Black Pearl. (If you’ve seen the earlier films this may makes sense to you: I hadn’t and it didn’t. In any case if he had the ship all along why wasn’t he using it?)
And so the stage is set for the big showdown – Salazar, Barbosa, Sparrow, Turner, pretty witch, magic compass and the search for the Trident of Poseidon.
It turns out that the pretty witch is not a witch after all; she is an astronomer and horologist (cue some witty banter with the crew who misunderstand what she says), who has a secret map which will reveal the location of Poseidon’s Trident. This is beneath the sea and a furious battle ensues with Salazar to grasp the trident which the pretty witch wins, not before lots of grappling between Sparrow, Turner and the others.
Sparrow’s crew are sailing the Black Pearl above the battle and drop their anchor which Turner, Sparrow, Barbosa and the pretty witch grab onto, followed by Salazar. Barbosa then reveals that he is the pretty witch’s father (me neither) before diving off the anchor and taking Salazar with him to a watery grave, along with all of Salazar’s rather unfortunate crew.
Turner and the pretty witch stand together on an island and kiss, when who should appear striding up the greensward but Will Turner? Turner pere et fils embrace and then Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) appears from nowhere to embrace Turner and the film ends.
I may have missed out some bits or mixed up their position in the story, for which I apologise, but as I am unfamiliar with the franchise much of this didn’t make a lot of sense. But…it doesn’t really matter because the film was enjoyable, exciting, fun to watch and I wasn’t bored. Kaya Scodelario as Carina is very good – a modern, feminist, feisty, independent-minded, clever (a scientist!), strong-willed intelligent woman with a nice bosom who nonetheless falls in love with Turner junior. Javier Bardem does his best to look animated in front of a green screen and equips himself manfully, Geoffrey Rush as Barbosa acts his part with relish and laughs all the way to the bank, newcomer Brenton Thwaites as young Turner is pleasant and good-looking enough for the teenage audience to want to see him again while Bloom and Knightley no doubt banked a hefty wedge for appearing for a few minutes each. The action sequences are exciting and well-filmed, the green screen is not too obvious, the music is stirring and some of the dialogue is witty and sharp. As with all 12A films, lots of people are killed but no-one gets hurt. There are nods to the earlier films and it probably helps to understand the plot if you’ve seen them.
Johnny Depp as Sparrow is tiresome; his once sexy drawl is now the slurring of a drunkard, his gorgeous face and dreadlocks now look lined, tired and old, the Sparrow charm is all gone and the once witty quips are neither clever nor funny. Originally a peripheral character who took centre stage, he may now be the reason for the film franchise continuing but he is no longer needed. His story arc has run its course and if there is to be another outing for this franchise, and pray God this is the last, he shouldn’t be in it.