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Captain Jack Sparrow is back yet again, in Pirates of the Caribbean Salazar’s Revenge, a surprisingly enjoyable pirate adventure that stars a mix of old and new faces, that somehow manages to keep the franchise afloat.

Not many film series make it to five mainline entries. Even fewer do so while retaining what made them appealing in the first place (I’m looking at you, Transformers: The Last Knight). Pirates of the Caribbean Salazar’s Revenge (or Dead Men Tell No Tales depending on where you see it) bucks the trend and manages to bring aboard much of what made the series so entertaining in the first place.

Johnny Depp’s stumbling, mumbling, drunken pirate Captain Jack Sparrow is back, caught up in yet another quest for a mythical artifact thhat he needs to save his neck from a supernatural foe. This time the McGuffin is Poseidon’s Trident, which holds the power to remove “all” sea curses. This would be very valuable to the very cursed Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and the crew of his ship, the Monarch. Doomed to a watery half-life aboard a ship that eats other ships after a previous encounter with a young Sparrow, Salazar seeks the trident to remove his curse and wreak his revenge on Sparrow.

The Next Generation

Also seeking the trident are a young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who both need it to resolve some daddy issues. Henry wants to use it to free his father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) from the captaincy of the Flying Dutchman (after the events of Pirates of the Caribbean At Worlds End) while Carina strives to find the Trident in order to explore the only link she has to the father who abandoned her as a baby; the only known map to the trident, a map “no man can read”.

Throw in the always entertaining Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa, now the head of a pirate fleet and some English troops led by David Wenham and you’ve all the ingredients of a stirring pirate adventure: Jack, a dashing hero, a “feisty” heroine, a crew of pirate reprobates, a supernatural enemy and a powerful magical treasure to be found. After five previous outings is that still enough?

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A journey too far?

On paper On Stranger Tides, the previous film, also had all the necessary ingredients but ended up as mostly forgettable. Seriously, without looking at IMDB or Wikipedia, can you remember that film’s cast and plot? Salazar’s Revenge manages to be a far more successful “soft” reboot of the series by embracing the plot and characters of the first three films, rather than distancing itself from them. I never thought I’d care so much about Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly’s characters, particularly as they are off screen for the majority of the movie!

This latest adventure also recaptures much of the fun of the originals. In part this is due to the slight rehabilitation of Depp’s Sparrow. He’s still an untrustworthy, selfish, blundering, lucky pirate, but some of his more despicable traits have been scaled back . He seems less likely to double cross and betray his so-called-friends at the drop of a hat. His comedy pratfalls also appear to have been toned down, remaining funny rather than annoying.

New directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg seem to have taken a lesson or two from the Fast and the Furious series on keeping your anti-hero’s likeable. They also seem to have studied a certain sequence with a safe from Fast 5 very closely.

Dead Men Tell No Tales

As a villain Javier Bardem’s Salazar delivers the required menace, overcoming any concerns raised by the trailers about his dialogue delivery. The rotting underwater effect used on him and his crew is well realised but has some difficulty overcoming the high watermark left by Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones and his crew of half-man half-sea creatures.

Brenton Thwaites fills Blooms’s pirate boots so well that he may as well be playing the same character, while Scodelario’s scientist Carina manages to be different enough from Knightley’s role to stand out. Geoffrey Rush is as solid as ever, with the added bonus of a much more interesting character arc this time around.

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While it takes a some time to get it’s sea legs (the cast seem confined to shore for a very long time at the start) once the adventure is underway it delivers plenty of fun, excitement and laughs.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some dud moments. A shotgun wedding (musket wedding?) with some redneck “oirish” pirates fails to hit it’s mark and the concept that pirates would scoff at using the stars to navigate seems a bit off for the time period. Some characters also come and go with little or no explanation, but none of these sink the adventure.

Hello darkness my old friend.

I do wish that filmmakers would stop setting scenes at night in IMAX 3D releases, however. Combined with the darkening effect of the 3D glasses it can be difficult, if not impossible, to make out what’s going on in some scenes, obscuring much of the good work done by the effects team

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge may feature some zombie sharks but thankfully the series hasn’t quite jumped the proverbial shark. With a post credits sequence setting up possible sequels there may be life in this old sea dog yet.

Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally (No relation).

Directed by: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg

Official Site here.