Director Kim Jeong-hoon throws absolutely everything at the wall in his swashbuckling pseudo-sequel.
“He lived a spiritless life and died without achievement.”
What is it about the pirate genre that encourages filmmakers to just go balls to the wall crazy with their ideas? There must be something in the rich mariner’s mythology and the innate unknown of the sea that brings out the wildest parts of our imaginations. They don’t all have to be Pirates of the Caribbean-levels of supernatural either. Squids, whales, storms and huge waves are more than enough adventure for one film, and 2014’s The Pirates capitalised quite nicely on that. I’ll admit to not remembering much of that film, save for the basic premise that a whale ate a seal (the empirical kind) and now everyone wants to hunt it, but I do remember quite strongly that if nothing else it was big. So naturally, the 2022 spiritual-sequel, also set in the period between the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties, had to go bigger.
The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure stars Kang Ha-neul as Wu Mu-chi, the leader of a group of bandits who have fled to the ocean to avoid capture. Close to death, they are rescued by pirate captain Hae-rang (Han Hyo-joo) and her crew, where they’re put to work. They learn of a vast fortune that went missing at the end of the Goryeo dynasty, and team up to find it. Naturally both pirate and bandits conflict in their personalities and opinions, and plenty of high-seas shenanigans ensue as the crews face off against each other, the elements and the villainous Heung-soo (Kwon Sang-woo), with whom Mu-chi once clashed swords during the old dynasty.
Needing to up the ante from the previous film, The Last Royal Treasure takes a lot of the energy from the 2014 original and cranks everything way up, throwing everything that can be realistically put into a historical (and technically grounded) film before they have to resort to supernatural things, and for the most part it comes together surprisingly well. The story is straightforward, though it often gets to its points in a bit of a roundabout fashion, and most of the action and character scenes are well made and engaging. It’s also just so much movie, and so the bits that don’t need to be in there or actively harm it are much more evident.
Mu-chi is a small example of this. Kang Ha-neul does a good job for the most part, playing his character about as typical a carefree bandit as you can get, but then throws in moments of unbelievably cartoonish camera mugging, hamming it up as much as possible as if concerned he isn’t getting any laughs. Those moments end up hurting great scenes where he faces off against Heung-soo or flirts with Hae-rang. Similarly, despite a cast of interesting and likeable personalities, everything with the character Mak-yi (Lee Kwang-soo), is crap. He’s a coward and hypocrite who gets way too much screen time and around whom way too much of the plot revolves.
But those broad comedy scenes aren’t massive dealbreakers. The film moves at a quick enough pace that by the time you’re complaining you’ll be watching a big sea battle or something else equally exciting. The ending especially feels epic in the way a pirate movie should be (again, where are all the smaller, quiet ones?), even if its Uncharted-esque story starts to lose any sense of reality. Hiding a mask, supposedly the key to locating the treasure, in an elaborate contraption after solving a complex puzzle map, only to reveal that the treasure is in the biggest, most obvious place in the island is bananas, and not in a good way. That penguins also play a vital role in that is equally stupid. Yet despite its occasionally bloated and ridiculous moments, it’s still loaded with rousing, exciting moments of action, some relatively decent CGI effects (I do expect better from a big budget production in 2022, but none of them were distractingly awful), top notch art direction and a mostly great crew of characters. If you’re looking for some fun, dumb pirate action, this one’s still much better than At World’s End.
Verdict: Punctuated by moments of idiocy, The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure is nevertheless a pretty good brain-off kind of blockbuster
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Violence: Distractingly bloodless/10
Buckles Swashed: 6/10
Sequel: They’re gonna have to throw zombies in soon
Whales: That’s not how they work at all
The Pirates: The Last Royal Treasure (2022)
Also known as: The Pirates: Goblin Flag
Director: Kim Jeong-hoon
Writer: Chun Sung-il
Kang Ha-neul – Wu Mu-chi
Han Hyo-joo – Hae-rang
Lee Kwang-soo – Mak-yi
Kim Sung-oh – Kang-seop
Park Ji-hwan – Akwi
Kwon Sang-woo – Bu Heung-su
Chae Soo-bin – Hae-geum
Oh Se-hun – Han-goong
Park Hoon – Mangcho
Kim Ki-doo – Gomchi