Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Six years after the last entry in the franchise On Stranger Tides, the swashbuckling adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) continue in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Positioned to be the final tale in this series that began in the summer of 2003, the film concerns Jack having to deal with an old nemesis Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghost captain seeking revenge, as well as helping young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) reunite with his father Will (Orlando Bloom) - still commandeering the Flying Dutchman like his father before him. They are assisted by Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman accused of witchcraft who holds the key to finding the lost trident of Poseidon (with the power to break any and all curses across the sea), and returning to the franchise, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his faithful monkey.
The Pirates franchise is obviously an important one to Disney, one which has been celebrated by audiences around the world and racked up an impressive number of fans and box office dollars. It's no surprise that, even with the less-than-stellar reception to On Stranger Tides, that another journey would be made...but unfortunately its a shame that what we've given is the worst of the entire series. Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to these films, in fact, it mercilessly cherry picks from past instalments and ends up feeling like a collection of bits we've already seen before. On top of that, it lacks the sense of enthusiasm that director Gore Verbinski brought to the films with his initial trilogy. The decision to not have Verbinski back may have a lot to do with his last Depp collaboration The Lone Ranger and its performance, which is a shame because this series was made especially good by his work, and the fact that he doesn't get to continue it feels like a major loss. Instead, the directing team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, behind 2013's similar seafaring adventure Kon-Tiki take on the directorial reins, but they aren't able to make the series feel alive again, or inject any semblance of style.
What was once an Oscar-nominated performance is now a weak, lazy portrayal in Depp's Sparrow, of course we've heard the stories about him using an earpiece on set to feed lines instead of memorizing them, but just watching him it feels like he's just there to collect a paycheque. Thwaites and Scodelario, while new additions to the cast, can't help but feel like stand-ins for Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley's characters from the original, and they come off as annoying more than anything else. It seems like Hollywood has been trying to make Thwaites happen for a while now, and aside from being a cute face, he doesn't have much more screen presence than a wooden plank. Conversely, Scoledario's Carina is given a lot of agency as she stands to oppose the sense of gender inequality surrounding the film's setting, but this aspect is almost entirely dropped in the second half after being laboriously set up. And while its fun to watch Rush's Barbossa again, his presence only feels like its there to help send the series off by having the whole gang back, and doesn't add much. As villain Captain Salazar, Bardem is not as greatly interesting compared to his other antagonistic performances like No Country for Old Men and Skyfall, perhaps because he does most of his acting via motion capture. It's a shame to see such a great actor as him get squandered, but perhaps it's more the film's fault for trying to do so much at once.
The use of visual effects and the numerous action-driven set pieces have been a hallmark of these films. Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn't have the CGI wonderment of say, Davy Jones in Dead Man's Chest or the epic maelstrom battle at the end of At World's End, but the action itself is still well made. We get a humorous foiled bank heist at the start, more than a few ship battles, and my personal favorite - an attack by a band of ghost sharks. Honestly, if the film's creative team had taken the plunge to feature more wacky ideas such as that, it certainly would have made for a more memorable experience.
It's sad to say but the Pirates franchise feels completely washed up at this point, and while the ending of Dead Men Tell No Tales brings one story thread to a conclusion, it's a shame that it had to happen with the most boring entry to date. This has never been a franchise with a lot of deep substance, but it has always managed to entertain in some way, shape, or form. Dead Men Tell No Tales is none of that, more or less a forgettable exercise for Disney to squeeze out whatever interest remains of these movies for an audience that still cares. With all the time spent making this entry, its a shame that it did not result in a better, more committed entry. Die-hard fans are going to see it no matter what, and they may possibly look at this entry's weaknesses more forgivably, but ultimately this is a sad tedious continuation for one of Hollywood's once biggest properties.
P.S.: stay tuned for a post-credit sequence that ostensibly sets up a sixth film, which seems like a guarantee as long as Depp is on board.