Pirates of the Caribbean sails into new waters with Salazar's Revenge

26 May 2017 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

7 mins
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge is the fifth outing for the legendary Captain Jack Sparrow. It sees him return to life on the high seas to do battle with his most fearsome nemesis yet. At the start of the film, Jack is even more down-on-his-luck than usual with his beloved ship, The Black Pearl, seemingly lost forever. When he discovers that he is being pursued by the terrifying Captain Salazar, an undead tyrant intent on ridding the world of all pirates, Jack must form an unlikely alliance with a brilliant astronomer, and a headstrong young sailor to track down the legendary Trident of Poseidon, their only hope of survival. 

When Captain Jack first appeared in 2003, his outrageous antics and cheeky charm immediately made him one of the most popular characters in cinema. Morally ambiguous, manic, and drunken, with a willingness to say things that nobody else would dare (and get away with it!), he was unlike any hero seen in Disney movies before. The character was not written with such eccentricities, though. He was intended to be much more conventional, in the vein of classic cinematic heroes like Errol Flynn. Partly inspired by rock star Keith Richards, Johnny Depp based much of his performance on the physical comedy of genius silent comedians such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Keaton, in particular, became famous for mixing slapstick comedy with action in a manner similar to Captain Jack, as seen in classic titles such as The General and Steamboat Bill Jnr.

Disney were initially confused about Johnny Depp's interpretation of the character, worried that he was even ruining the film! But such was Sparrow's impact on audiences, Depp was Oscar® nominated for the role (very unusual for a blockbuster) and the first film became a global phenomenon that has now spawned four sequels.

It's not just Captain Jack who makes a comeback in Salazar's Revenge. Orlando Bloom briefly returns as Will Turner, while the dastardly Captain Barbossa (who has become one of the great cinematic pirates in his own right, as played by Geoffrey Rush) also pops up, although his character is now extremely wealthy has some surprising twists in store for him. There are also a number of new faces, notably Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites, who represent a new generation for the franchise, with more modern sensibilities.

The most notable new character is, of course, Salazar himself, as played by genius Spanish character actor Javier Bardem, who is perhaps best known for his role in recent James Bond film Skyfall. Salazar, known as "El Matador Del Mar" ("The Killer of the Sea") is a terrifying antagonist - an undead pirate hunter with a grudge against one pirate in particular. Full of rage and menace, the character is also oddly sympathetic. Bardem chose to play the character like a wounded bull - brutal, frightening, and hellbent on revenge - but in a way where the audience can also sort of see his point. To achieve Salazar's ghostly look, Bardem spent three hours a day in makeup. Initially concerned that the layers of prosthetics would inhibit his ability to show emotion and feeling as an actor, the standard of the make-up was so high that Bardem found he was able to use the process to become totally immersed in his character, and implant himself firmly in the vast world of the seven seas.

This is a film on a massive-scale. Largely filmed on the Gold Coast of Australia, there are over 1,800 VFX (visual effects) shots; no less than 13 full ships; some enormously complicated make-up; and some truly extraordinary sharks on show! But directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg were keen to ensure that spectacle never overshadowed the storytelling and characters. Part of the charm of the Pirates movies is their old-fashioned mixture of action, comedy and adventure, harking back to the same kind of serial storytelling that also inspired the likes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg with the Indiana Jones movies. The Pirates movies are unusual in that they are famously based on a theme-park ride at Disneyland (usually the film comes before the ride!). What makes them so successful is that they remain true to the spirit of that concept, combining fun and thrills with jumps and scares, providing a fantastical up-and-down ride that you cant help get swept up in.

Pirates are arguably only rivalled by dinosaurs in terms of their enduring popularity and fascination amongst children and young people. From the earliest days of cinema, film was used to bring these characters to life like never before, through adaptations of classic tales like Treasure Island - a story that has been remade countless times since, including a great version by The Muppets! The fearsome Captain Hook has appeared in many versions of the Peter Pan story, and pirates were given imaginative new spins in the 1980s in films like The GooniesThe Princess Bride and Space Raiders. The geniuses at Aardman Animation added a uniquely British twist to the genre with The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists, while the equally brilliant Studio Ghibli told a story of Japanese air pirates in Porco Rosso. For older audiences, more serious examinations of real-life pirates include the gripping thrillers Captain Phillips and A Hijacking.

However, few have captured audience attentions in quite the same way as Captain Jack and his gang. Although this is the fifth film in the series, and does contain several plot threads that run through from earlier adventures, don't worry if this is your first Pirates movie - all of the characters are reintroduced and the film works straightforwardly as a stand-alone title, providing the same rollercoaster thrills that have made the franchise iconic. As Johnny Depp has commented, there is no character arc to Jack and he never learns any lessons. He just keeps moving and getting himself into more scrapes, so after Salazar's Revenge, its safe to say that Captain Jack Sparrow will be setting sail for a few more adventures yet!

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Film Curator

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has worked with the BFI London Film Festival and on the production of ITV documentary 56 Up.

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