Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales | Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning | May 26, 2017
There are some minor spoilers in this review. I have fond memories of the very first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It was a classic old school adventure made for modern day audiences. It was genuinely thrilling, funny and fairly entertaining. Then the sequels happened. I wouldn’t say they were bad, but they definitely felt similar to the second and third Matrix films. Both franchises filmed their sequel films back to back, with diminishing returns. By the time the bloated At Worlds End was over, I figured the franchise was finished. In 2011, they released another sequel On Stranger Tides, which I honestly skipped. I still haven’t seen it.
Watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I don’t really feel like I missed much. Johnny Depp once again returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, and he’s as ludicrous as ever. There came a point in the second and third Pirates movies where Jack Sparrow certainly wore out his welcome. Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning, the co-directors of Kon-Tiki, are at the helm of this new Pirates film, and they seem to have a hard time finding a groove here. I wish I could say that Jack Sparrow still has some tricks up his sleeve, but Sparrow and this new movie don’t add anything truly new to the franchise. There are a few twists here and there, but they feel so shoehorned in and clunky that it really distracts from the rest of the film.
The movie opens with our main character Henry (Brenton Thwaites) trying to find his father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). I was genuinely surprised that Bloom returned for this movie. While his presence gives the movie an exciting forward momentum, don’t go expecting a huge Pirates reunion. He’s barely in this thing. While looking for his father, Henry is unfortunately aboard a ship that crosses paths with Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). Salazar and his crew are trapped in a cursed cave called the Devil’s Triangle. Coincidentally, Jack Sparrow and Salazar have a history, and Jack is the key to releasing Salazar and his crew. Sparrow, conveniently, is also who Henry has been looking for as well.
Jack and Henry end up on the island of St. Martin and end up running into each other. During the chaos of a botched bank robbery, Jack also crosses paths with a young girl Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who has been accused of being a witch. Carina just happens to have a map that locates the mythical Trident of Poseidon. Its powers can apparently control the ocean and break any curse. Henry wants this power to help his father, and everyone else wants the trident for the former. Put Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and Salazar in the picture, and we have our Pirates adventure.
The film opens strongly, with Jack robbing a bank vault and running all over St. Martin causing destruction. There are some moments of humor, and there’s an almost execution of Jack and Carina that turns out to be a pretty entertaining set piece. Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of the fun ends in this movie. I am dumbfounded because there is not a single sword fight in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Not one. The swashbuckling and sense of danger is pretty much neutered here. Jack Sparrow comes across as more of a sad drunk. His pining over Carina comes off as creepy, considering she’s supposedly a teenager. The timeline is also a strange thing to note about this one. Henry is clearly more than 16 years old, but Jack doesn’t look much older, and neither does Orlando Bloom. If this movie came out 10 years from now, the parental lineage subplot would make a lot more sense. There are also some other family connections between characters that just come out of nowhere.
The McGuffin isn’t all that interesting either. In fact, the final 20 minutes that involve the trident are pretty underwhelming, apart from the special effects. I have to give credit to the visual effects crew. This movie looks amazing, and the effects are sometimes seamless. They added CGI hair to Javier Bardem, and it looks fantastic in all its underwater flowing glory. That’s a strange sentence, but it’s true. Javier Bardem seems to be having fun here, but his villain Salazar just isn’t that interesting or memorable. Geoffrey Rush does a great job yet again as Captain Barbossa. If anything, he’s the most consistent character of this entire franchise, and this movie really belongs to him.
Brenton Thwaites does a fine job, but he has very little chemistry with Kaya Scodelario. The script just doesn’t give them time to believably connect. It tries the same formula that worked for Bloom and Keira Knightly, and it doesn’t quite gel. Scodelario is a fine actress, and I actually enjoyed her as Carina more than Thwaites’ Henry. Maybe the two of them will have more to do if they ever make a 6th Pirates film (there is a post-credits setup for one). The action is great, and the sets look amazing, but a lot of the humor doesn’t land. There’s one random scene where Jack is captured and is then forced to marry some woman to repay a debt, and I was genuinely perplexed as to why this was happening. There are just a lot of odd script and story choices here. I’m all for making things strange and weird, but there are a few moments of absolute nonsense.
Overall, there were just too few genuine character moments. There’s really only one big character choice that has any lasting effect on the Pirates franchise here. Jack doesn’t learn anything. For a little bit, the script makes you think that he’s going to have some type of redemption arc. That doesn’t happen. Jack is Jack, and it’s unfortunate because there’s so much more that can be done with his character. I didn’t hate or love Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. It was about what I expected it to be. It has some fun moments and it tries to be a grand adventure, but it just never quite adds up to one. It follows the Pirates formula too closely. I would see the next one if they fully brought back Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly, although it’ll be pretty awkward since their son looks to be the same age as them.