BRIAN VINER: Walk the plank, Johnny! After 14 years as Cap'n Jack Sparrow, Depp's swash has well and truly buckled in the new Pirates of the Caribbean film

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge (12A)?

Verdict: Here's Johnny... unfortunately?

Rating:

It Was Fifty Years Ago Today (12A)

Verdict: Flawed documentary?

Rating:

Johnny Depp has extracted five movies and a great deal of booty from his performances as Captain Jack Sparrow, the louche, rum-sodden pirate famously modelled on Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones.

That’s fair enough; Sparrow is one of modern popcorn cinema’s finer creations. Or rather, was. While old Richards might still be able to strike the right chord, Depp no longer does.

Sparrow is one of modern popcorn cinema’s finer creations, but?Depp no longer strikes the right chord

Sparrow is one of modern popcorn cinema’s finer creations, but?Depp no longer strikes the right chord

He has much the same effect on this film, the fifth in the 14-year-old Disney franchise, as an anchor accidentally dropped mid-ocean. Every time the movie has the wind in its sails, up lurches Captain Jack with another unfunny wisecrack or pratfall, and you are reminded that all the swaggering on-screen charm Depp once had — and in fairness, he had oodles — has now disappeared over the yardarm.

I don’t think that’s entirely a consequence of unseemly revelations about his private life, or his bloated, mumbling appearances on TV chat shows. With or without a sword, he just doesn’t really cut it any more as an action hero, even one as sozzled and disreputable as Captain Jack.

An arresting flashback sequence in which he is digitally de-aged (rather as Kurt Russell was in Guardians Of The Galaxy 2), has the unhelpful effect of reminding us of Sparrow in his swashbuckling pomp, when his many quirks were engaging rather than tiresome.

So Norwegian directors Joachim Ranning and Espen Sandberg are caught, you might say, between the devil and the Depp blue sea.

He’s the star, yet his presence drags the movie down. Tricorn hats off to them, therefore, for still managing to construct a watchable picture, even reminiscent here and there of when the franchise still felt fresh and original.

Having Javier Bardem as a villain certainly helps. There have been few screen baddies more charismatically unpleasant than him in recent years (No Country For Old Men, Skyfall) and he is marvellously menacing as the titular Salazar.

The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and Pirate Captain Barbosa (Geoffery Rush, pictured) pursue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon

The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and Pirate Captain Barbosa (Geoffery Rush, pictured) pursue Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) as he searches for the trident used by Poseidon

Once the Spanish navy’s scourge of pirates, Salazar made the mistake of crossing swords with Cap’n Jack, who led him into the Devil’s Triangle (a stretch of water even more dangerous than its Bermuda namesake) and condemned him to roam the Seven Seas as a ghost. Naturally, the Spaniard is more than a little miffed about this, and wants dashing young mariner Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) to help him find Jack so he can exact terrible revenge.

But Henry has his own agenda. His father Will (Orlando Bloom, briefly glimpsed at the beginning with a barnacle-encrusted face) has also been cursed, in his case to spend eternity at the bottom of the ocean (hence the problem with the barnacles) on the wreck of the Flying Dutchman.

So Henry needs Jack, too, to lead him to the legendary Poseidon’s trident, which, as we all know, can unlock any watery curse.

His partner in this mission is a fragrant young miss called Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who, while they’re at it, wouldn’t mind finding the father she never knew.

She’s not just a pretty face, but also a brilliant astronomer, and the film has fun sending up the rampant sexism of all the pompous British navy types who can’t believe a woman has a brain, and assume she must perforce be a witch.

The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).?Having Javier Bardem as a villain certainly helps, says Brian Viner

The villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).?Having Javier Bardem as a villain certainly helps, says Brian Viner

With or without a sword, he just doesn’t really cut it any more as an action hero, even one as sozzled and disreputable as Captain Jack

With or without a sword, he just doesn’t really cut it any more as an action hero, even one as sozzled and disreputable as Captain Jack

This would be an admirable show of flag-waving political correctness were it not undermined by the peculiar scarcity of black people on the Caribbean island where much of the action takes place. There is more multi-ethnicity in the Outer Hebrides.

Anyway, that just about covers the plot, or at least that of it I was able to fathom. It’s nice to see Geoffrey Rush back as sly Captain Barbossa. And I should add that the special effects are, at times, dazzling.

Sometimes, a film can be CGI-ed almost to death, like last week’s release King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword. But the spectacle here is enhanced by all the digital bells and whistles, not skewered by them. Incidentally, King Arthur had a widely derided cameo by David Beckham. Salazar’s Revenge goes one better, with a walk-on for Paul McCartney. I’m pleased to report that he does it rather well, which brings us neatly to the thing he did best.

■ It Was Fifty Years Ago Today is a documentary about the making of the iconic Beatles album, Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was released half a century ago next week.

It arrives in the wake of Ron Howard’s rightly acclaimed film Eight Days A Week, about the band’s touring years, which contained great footage, wonderful music and contributions from all four Beatles, living and dead.

This film, by Alan G. Parker (the middle initial to distinguish him from his more illustrious namesake, director of Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning), has none of the above.

McCartney and Ringo Starr do not pop up with any fresh recollections and, more damaging still, he hasn’t secured the rights to play any Beatles songs.

With a two-hour bombardment of talking heads of varying relevance, Parker tries gamely, but fails resoundingly, to overcome his documentary’s glaring paradox — that it’s a film about music containing no music. Or at least, not the music that matters.

That rather elephant-sized caveat aside, Beatles enthusiasts might find some interesting material here.

For example, one of the band’s biographers, Philip Norman, explodes the myth that John Lennon was the driving force behind the avant-garde experimentalism that led to Sgt Pepper. It wasn’t Lennon but McCartney, who even as a schoolboy had been fascinated by modern art. Best of all, though, is the revelation that Sgt Pepper wouldn’t have happened without this newspaper. Or certainly, wouldn’t have been the same. It was from a succession of stories in the Mail that Lennon and McCartney got the inspiration for some of the album’s most memorable lines.

The Mail’s report about the Guinness heir Tara Browne, who ‘blew his mind out in a car’, inspired the famous lyric in A Day In The Life. And a Mail report on potholes yielded the line about ‘4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire’.

Maybe we should send someone back, to see how many there are now.

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A long haul that's not for wimps

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (U)

Verdict: Hammy comedy

Rating:

Kidding around: Jason Drucker as Greg, in the green and grey striped top, and Charlie Wright, left

Kidding around: Jason Drucker as Greg, in the green and grey striped top, and Charlie Wright, left

This is the fourth of the series of films based on Jeff Kinney’s best-selling children’s books, which are close to my heart because my youngest son loved them.

But the sub-title, though it relates to an incident-strewn, 47-hour road trip across the United States, rather sums up what it felt like to sit through to the movie’s end. It is a long old haul.

The last film in the series was five years ago, so the cast is a new one, though the director, Dave Bowers, is a Wimpy Kid veteran.

Unfortunately, neither he nor his co-writer, Kinney himself, manage to imbue this story with either surprises or charm.

Crass, heavy-handed and predictable comedy attend every tribulation suffered by the hapless Heffley family, and above all the spectacularly accident-prone Greg (the engaging Jason Drucker).

So, on the long journey to visit the Heffley grandmother (rather annoyingly referred to as ‘Mee-Maw’), there are lavatorial and vomit jokes aplenty, many of them extracted from the inevitable stay in a ghastly motel.

Still, a young half-term audience will probably find it all a hoot, and the performances are strong. Also, as a father of three, I can’t pretend that some of the running jokes didn’t ring true.

And my own children would smile in recognition when, at a rather better motel, the Heffley dad (Tom Everett Scott), decrees that ‘nobody touches the mini-bar … I’m not paying $7 for a cookie’.

That could have been me.

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From Russia without love at Cannes?

Few of the films I saw at Cannes this year sent me away reaching for superlatives. Two that did make an impression, though, were the controversial Netflix films: Okja, and The Meyerowitz Stories.

From next year, Netflix movies not due a cinema release won’t be eligible for the Festival’s coveted Palme D’Or, but in the meantime, these two are valid contenders for prizes.

It is a poignant but funny study of an unhappy New York family, less obviously a comedy than Baumbach’s other films, but still a minor masterpiece of observational wit

It is a poignant but funny study of an unhappy New York family, less obviously a comedy than Baumbach’s other films, but still a minor masterpiece of observational wit

Okja is a satire about the food industry fused with a Disney-style story about a 13-year-old South Korean girl’s attachment to the gigantic pig-like creature she has raised, which a U.S. conglomerate wants to turn into pork chops.

It stars Tilda Swinton (who has said her villainous character was inspired by Ivanka Trump), Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins and Paul Dano. It’s smart, thought-provoking and fun. Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories is blessed with a great cast (Dustin Hoffman, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Emma Thompson, Rebecca Miller) and a terrific script.

It is a poignant but funny study of an unhappy New York family, less obviously a comedy than Baumbach’s other films, but still a minor masterpiece of observational wit.

I liked the Todd Haynes film Wonderstruck, starring Julianne Moore, rather less than some of my colleagues. A story of two deaf children connected across a 50-year divide, it is beautifully made, but somewhat twee and corny.

Probably the best picture I saw was the Russian-language Loveless, by Andrey Zvyagintsev, who made the brilliant 2014 film Leviathan.

It is a gripping drama about a teenage boy whose parents are divorcing acrimoniously, but must team up when he goes missing.

The title refers not only to their relationship with each other, but also with him; neither of them wants custody, which is why he scarpers. It is riveting and heartrending, and probably my tip for the Palme D’Or.

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