Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Dead Men Tell No Tales)

The tide has never turned so against Captain Jack (Johnny Depp). With no ship, a bare bones crew (the ‘a few men short’ kind, not the seabed-marching undead kind), and by his own unwitting actions are the infamous pirate-hunter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew of wraiths released from their unearthly prison. His only hope lies with finding the fabled Trident of Poseidon, the source of ultimate power over the sea, a relic also sought after by not only horologist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), but the son of Jack’s old pirate comrade Will – Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites).

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Let’s parlay for a moment to get the question out that quite literally everyone is asking regarding this film: how on earth did we ever get from a theme park ride to a five-film franchise spawned by that ride? How is it possible for ten minutes of sitting in a boat watching animatronic figures firing cannons and drinking rum to fuel roughly eleven hours of cinema to date? Disney, you truly are the magic kingdom. Take that how you will, but with Pirates 5 it’s a reality the film constantly struggles to escape from. Like a broken compass or a sword without a wielder, there really is no purpose to its being, and yet what surprises most about the film is just how double-edged a sword it turns out to be. What makes for the largest crack in its hull is also, curiously, what keeps it afloat – its sense of resignation.

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Effectively a remix of Pirates 1 and 2, with occasional lashings of 3, Pirates 5 cherry-picks the strongest ingredients of its predecessors and blends them into a concoction which, whilst by no means surpassing or even equalling its ancestry, at least makes for a satisfying and memorable experience. Somewhat worryingly, it’s when the film tries to throw in something of entirely its own ingenuity that things get either weird or tedious. An irrelevant and random wedding ceremony. A pointless Paul McCartney cameo. Steering away from the series’ more melodramatic leanings and favouring a course of rapid-fire wit, the onus for carrying it all ends up resting once again with its characterisations, to varying effect.

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Depp’s Sparrow, who’s eccentricities belying a cunning and daring miscreant we all fell in love with, now seems to have been largely consumed by his own idiosyncrasies. From Han Solo to Jar Jar Binks, saved only by the occasional, faintly recognizable trace of former charismatic glory. Geoffrey Rush, conversely, is perhaps the franchise’s ultimate unsung hero for his relentlessly enthusiastic performances as Jack’s intermittent ally and enemy Hector Barbossa, and his presence here doesn’t disappoint for a second. Javier Bardem delivers a solid antagonist to the proceedings, but Salazar as a basic concept is so anchored to recycled Pirates villainy – half-Rush’s Barbossa debut, half-Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones – that he remains a shadow within the shadows of his precursors. Thwaites and Scodelario, almost shamelessly pushed on the audience as Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley 2.0, make for lacklustre companions. Scodelario’s Carina is at least a decent attempt at a more than two-dimensional character, but between the script’s faux feminism and a general overreliance on expository dialogue, both she and Henry tend to fade into the background amidst their fellow cast members.

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For all its flotsam and jetsam however, there’s no denying that Pirates 5 manages to capture something of an echo of what made the original such a success and so endearing to fans. It’s straightforward, visually impressive, decently paced with a series-high sense of humour and boasting several standout set-pieces, but above all there’s a certain heart to these seafaring tales that it at least pays honest tribute to. It’s been an oddity of the Pirates franchise from the very beginning: taking characters that aren’t necessarily all that interesting or substantial, and working just hard enough to make you feel a little something for them by the end. With the future of this franchise uncertain, Pirates 5 works as an adequate and fond farewell to the Caribbean and all its curses and cutthroats, like a short story or epilogue that revisits a familiar world and its inhabitants years later. At least, better it end like this than continue charting a course into undead franchise waters.

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Quality: 3/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Final Score: 3/5

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Transcendence

If Christopher Nolan’s greatest shortfall in ‘Inception’ was over-reliance on exposition, the central misfire of Wally Pfister’s directorial debut is just the opposite. Awash with ambiguities less the product of attempted philosophical debates too great for a two-hour running time and more a storytelling smokescreen shielding its ultimately insubstantial depth, Pfister struggles to redirect his energies away from understandably cinematographic-centric instincts (having been director of cinematography for every Nolan-helmed production since 2000’s ‘Memento’), and towards fleshing out a fully engrossing storyline.

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Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is at the forefront of developing artificial intelligence, until an attack by ‘anti-machine’ extremists leaves many of his colleagues dead, decades of research lost, and Will himself induced with radiation poisoning. His body wasting away, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) resolves to attempt uploading his consciousness into the fruit of their work, a quantum computer. As apparent a success her efforts may initially be, whether the mind within the software is truly and completely her husband becomes increasingly uncertain, and as its ambition grows so does her desperation to keep faith.

 

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Evelyn: “Where are you going?”

Will: “Everywhere”.

It’s always refreshing to see Depp away from his trademark performances of heroic eccentricity, and while there’s little sense of self-challenging on his part, he’s a fitting choice for a character so exteriorly understated yet brimming with intellect, the ambiguity over the verisimilitude of his cyber-spatial reincarnation maintained to great effect by his nuanced performance. Hall continues to balance mainstream roles with niche cinema, finding something of a middle ground here with Evelyn’s Faustian descent from ambition to desperation, and Paul Bettany complements his every scene as the close friend to the Casters helpless to protect them from themselves. The Nolan Factor sees to the rest, with Pfister recruiting regular Nolan heavyweights Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy for their reliable supporting talents.

 

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Agent Buchanan: “You think it’s really him?”

Joseph Tagger: “At any rate, his mind is evolving erratically. I’m not sure it matters anymore”.

“So you’re trying to create a god”, a lecture attendee asks Will prior to his ‘transcendence’. “Isn’t that what man has always tried to do?”, Will responds thoughtfully, a loaded exchange of views on the surface that amidst alternative contexts would likely garner praise as meaty food for thought, yet here impacts little more than had he simply said “let me answer your question with another question”. High-concept films rarely provide answers to their ponderings, and rarer still actively seek to do so, preferring generally to establish a dialogue and facilitate discussion. ‘Transcendence’ does not provide answers, nor indicate any such inclination, but neither does it allow for much exploration into its own premise. A brush with collective intelligence conflicting with individualism here, an understated flirtation with power and obsession there. Scenes are frequently bookended by languid shots of scene minutiae, informative and illustrative but rarely progressive or instrumental, leaving an underlying sensation of yearning for depth out of reach.

 

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“Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology; in a short time, its analytic power will become greater than the collective intelligence of every person born in the history of the world. Some scientists refer to this as the Singularity. I call it Transcendence”.

Enjoyable and silly for all it’s lofty conceptual aims, distinctly influenced by the secrets to Nolan’s success just as much as his failures, as debuts go ‘Transcendence’ no disaster, and Pfister can expect an interesting career in the chair if he can endeavour to stay outside his comfort zone for a while.

Quality: 2/5

Entertainment: 3/5

Averaged Out: 3/5

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