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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The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch, World War II and social segregation, that’s an Oscar recipe right? Plus, it’s a biopic. The Academy loves biopics. Even when the case may be more ‘pic’ than ‘bio’. I’ll get to that issue later, but it’s no secret at least in the UK that ‘The Imitation Game’ has been hailed as an outstanding tribute to the legacy of a man who was practically the father of computing technology that has since defined our entire planet. Exploring the life of Alan Turing, a British cyptanalyst, key figure in breaking the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park, and closeted homosexual, it’s certainly a well-made piece of film, and similar to fellow Oscar contender ‘American Sniper’ it comes with a clear and present agenda; to bring justice to the memory of a man who in his own life endured great injustice. How successfully does it accomplish this? Well, that’s what I’m here to reason out.

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 We all remember Robert Downey Jr.’s devilishly delightful performance in 2008’s ‘Tropic Thunder’, don’t we? Sending up his own past career in the role of an Australian method actor who is entirely immersed in the part of an African-American US Army sergeant? “I’m the dude playing the dude disguised as another dude”? Ok, well even if we all don’t, in that film he lectures another character on the Oscar-baiting secret, ‘never go full retard’. ‘Forrest Gump’, ‘Rainman’, his examples go on, but like much of the value in that film, the point is a tongue-in-cheek jab at the industry and its self-congratulatory biases. Whether Cumberbatch ever saw ‘Tropic Thunder’ we may never know, but he certainly graduated from that school of thought. The fact is, Cumberbatch can do ‘on the spectrum’ characters, or at the very least characters with above average intellects. Sherlock, Khan, Stephen Hawking, I mean he’s even been cast in the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe feature as ‘Doctor Strange’. Really, with this film being made now, who else they gonna call? With much of the film’s critical acclaim directed singularly at his performance, there is no doubting that he is a worthy candidate for the Best Actor Oscar this year. He deserves to be on that line-up without question. My only problem? This just felt far too safe a role for him, far too logical a vehicle for getting his name on that envelope. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, but to my memory the Oscars recognize reliance on a comfort zone.

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Let it not be said that this entire film is just propped up by its lead, as there is plenty about this film justly deserving of its appraisal to date. The set design is immaculate, the colouring and cinematography is beautiful to the point of poetic, and Alexandre Desplat will likely be laughing on Oscar-night regardless of a win, jointly nominated for his score here and for his work on ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (though his game is perhaps slightly stronger here), binding together the emotional narrative as all film scores worth their salt must do. Cumberbatch himself headlines a formidable line-up of talent, from Charles Dance’s imposing Commander Denniston and Mark Strong’s mild-yet-menacing MI6 Agent Menzies to Matthew Goode’s suave fellow cryptographer Hugh and, of course, Keira Knightley’s frankly laughably over-glamourized Joan Clarke. Nonetheless, say what you will about Knightley’s acting range, but she certainly brings her A-Game to the proceedings, mirroring Turing’s social struggles born from his secret homosexuality with her own grappling with wartime Britain’s societal standards for women. Again, hardly a role outside of her comfort zone, but she makes the most out of what we all know she’s good at.

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There is, however, one aspect to this film that proved to be of immensely personal frustration. I ask you, what makes a good tribute? Is it the capturing of a sincere sense of essence as to the subject matter? Is it the encouraging of audience and viewers to go away from what they’ve just seen and learn all they can about it, the raising of awareness? Ultimately, this is the real question as to how successful ‘The Imitation Game’ actually is, for the sole yet fundamental reason that much of what transpires in the film is a distinct departure from the reality. From exaggerating Turing’s social difficulties and the hostile relationship between Turing and Denniston, to representing the entire Bletchley Park program as but a handful of geniuses and, most grievously of all, completely fabricating a suspicion against Turing of being a Soviet spy. I am entirely accepting of the principle that film is first and foremost an art form, and therefore entitled to creative license even when dealing with actual events and people. Creative license was taken with ‘The King’s Speech’, with ‘The Social Network’, and don’t even get me started on ‘Braveheart’. Films never advertise themselves as ‘a true story’ anymore, simply ‘based on a true story’, and that’s perfectly ok. Oftentimes, the true story isn’t as interesting so a little creativity is injected to spice things up, it happens. My issue is not with the creative license itself taken with ‘The Imitation Game’, it’s the fact that in a substantial way, the extent to which it departs from the reality could be said to undermine the film’s primary agenda. This is a film that strives to shed light on the history of a man without whom much of today’s world would be vastly different, and retroactively redeem his memory. I completely admire this endeavour, and this is the biggest personal reason for why ‘The Imitation Game’ deserves its Best Picture nomination. What I do not admire, and am even baffled by to be honest, is the fact that clearly it was felt that a great deal of Turing’s life was considered ‘not interesting enough’, when in my opinion the facts themselves could hardly have been more engrossing! When a man is not only struggling to crack the most unbreakable code in history, but also against a fundamental part of who he is that his society has deemed to be criminal, is there really any need for additional drama and conflict? If you take out the ‘is Turing a Soviet spy’ subplot, is the film remotely worse off in consequence? To seek a cultural commemoration for a man such as Turing is a noble enterprise, but what value is there in a commemoration that fails to adhere to the man himself?

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‘The Imitation Game’ is a deeply engrossing, heartfelt character study of a man who changed the world. It’s a film that made me feel deeply disappointed that the facts differed as much from the film as they did, but at the same time I applaud the film for making me seek out those facts in the first place. Perhaps then, so long as the idea of Turing and what he endured is remembered, it’s by no means an ill-fitting tribute. I chastised ‘American Sniper’ for overly-lionizing Chris Kyle, but I cannot do the same for ‘The Imitation Game’s veneration for Alan Turing. Take that as subjective and socio-political bias if you will.

Quality: 4/5

Entertainment: 4/5

Averaged Out: 4/5

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