Rating: 3.25 of 5
Johnny Depp is nearly delightful as ever, but this movie really lacks a certain life and vitality that the earlier films had. There was just some spark that was missing and I think it was a lack of tension on several fronts.
First of all, Rob Marshall did not handle the material well. I was excited to see a fresh perspective from someone other than Gore Verbinski, but Marshall shot almost everything in close up, eliminating any sense of grandeur. Even in the beginning he focused on close ups of a wheel or a horse instead of showing us a carriage racing across a grand background and thereby creating any energy and movement. (One of my favorite shots of the whole series remains a glimpse in 1 of two ships chasing each other across the screen that still sets my heart racing). The action in this one never really gets exciting or dangerous. Marshall didn’t create great, sweeping, epic sort of tension in the action of the film; things were just a little bit slower and smaller and mostly obvious.
Secondly, Marshall takes some of the fun out of Jack by broadcasting the set up for his escapades. Nothing was surprising or spontaneous and Jack Sparrow is supposed to be both of those things.
Finally, as dashing as Sam Claflin is, he and Astrid Berges-Frisbey can’t compare to Orlando and Kiera. To be fair, they aren’t really given the chance to with such small roles but it was apparent they were the stand in characters for the earlier romantic pair. Claflin is formidable and manages to stand toe to toe with pirates, but like so many other things in this movie the romance lacks tension. And we need it. Jack needs to be offset by strong characters that supply the central plot thread for us. Jack never really was a source of emotional tension in the first three films so it’s unrealistic to expect him to be in this one. He’s much better utilized as a brilliant spark affecting those around him.
But it looks gorgeous and you can’t deny that it’s somewhat fun. The writing is mostly good given the constraints they had in which characters they could and couldn’t use and who had to carry the film. It’s remarkably coherent for a Pirates film. And Ian McShane is an awesome Blackbeard. So, it’s not a bad movie. It’s just not nearly as good as the others or as it could have been.