Yo Ho, Oh No, ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Has No Wind in its Sails

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Back in 2003, there was a general scoffing at the idea of a blockbuster based upon a ride at Disneyland, but director Gore Verbinski was able to find magic in his swashbuckling tale of pirates on the high seas dealing with supernatural elements. It’s hard to overstate just what surprise the first Pirates of the Caribbean was. It transformed Johnny Depp from a beloved oddball in the Hollywood system to a bankable movie star, even garnering the actor’s first Oscar nomination for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow. Even though it was all supposed to end in 2007 with At World’s End, there was just too much money out there to let these characters sail off into the distant horizon. After 2011’s On Stranger Tides kept the money flowing, Depp is back for his fifth turn in his signature role in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The fifth time around for Jack Sparrow and the merry band of pirates only goes to show just how the magic of this franchise has all but completely dissipated.

Scripted by Jeff Nathanson (from a story by Terry Rossio and Nathanson), Dead Men Tell No Tales brings together characters new and old in their search for the Trident of Poseidon, a mythical MacGuffin that can break any curse of the sea. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaits), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley from the original trilogy), seeks the Trident to break the curse of his father who is trapped aboard the cursed ship The Flying Dutchman. In his quests, Henry has sought the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), though the illustrious pirate hasn’t been easy to find. On a voyage at sea with the British Navy, Henry is the lone survivor of an encounter with Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a cursed ghost who leads his ethereal crew on a mission for vengeance against Jack Sparrow.

Elsewhere, the orphan Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) has been searching for the Trident of Poseidon on her own, using the diary left to her from her unknown father. She believes that the clues left in the diary will help her solve the mystery of her parentage. The unlikely trio of Carina, Henry, and Jack Sparrow eventually team up in search of the Trident of Poseidon with Captain Salazar on their tail as well as Captain Hector Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), who has made a deal with the ghostly ship in order to preserve his pirate fleet.

It’s hard to put the onus of Dead Men Tell No Tales entirely on the directing duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the duo making their first mega-budget feature. It’s not their fault that script is overflowing with leaden dialogue and everything that made the series feel fresh and original over a decade ago is now tiresome and exhausting. Rønning and Sandberg do capture some striking moments, such as when Jack Sparrow is tied to a rotating guillotine in a public execution gone wrong. The blade of the guillotine comes perilously close to Sparrow’s neck then slides away again and again. It’s really the one moment of Dead Men Tell No Tales that fully captures what made the Pirates movies so popular.

The rest of the film’s set pieces either run on for far too long or have been cribbed from other, better movies. When we first see Jack Sparrow, he’s drunkenly sleeping in a safe that he and his cohorts are about to steal. Multiple horses take off and pull the safe, along with the building, across the town. This is basically the safe chase from Fast Five with horses and the equine horsepower doesn’t add any new thrills to the borrowed concept. Throughout every one of these set pieces Johnny Depp stumbles about with a series of pratfalls that grow increasingly inane as Depp brings no new dimensions to the character. Simply put, the schtick is tired.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is meant to be a passing of the torch of sorts, with a new young couple taking the mantle from Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley. However, the young cast doesn’t have a fraction of the charisma of the series’ prior stars. It’s hard to say that either Brenton Thwaites or Kaya Scodelario are at fault when the script deems that their characters are to be driven by the same set of daddy issues and provides them with dialogue like, “We’re not so different after all.”

Adding to the fact that there’s just a stale nature to the Pirates of the Caribbean series is the film’s villain, though Javier Bardem is obviously having fun hamming it up. Once again, we have a cursed ship whom Jack Sparrow and company must cross paths with. Elsewhere in the seas are a new group from the British Navy, this time led by Scarfield (David Wenham), though their inclusion adds little or nothing to the film’s dense plotting. The same goes for the woefully underutilized Golshifteh Farahani as Shansa, a witch that appears in a scene or two only to guide the British Navy as to where to locate Jack Sparrow and his crew. The villains of the film, along with everything else, make Dead Men Tell No Tales a movie that seems like it was constructed based upon a formula, one that spent all of its imagination a decade ago.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an entry in a franchise that has lost the wind in its sails. This is a movie that is greenlit by stockholders hoping that this franchise can continue to churn out billion dollar hits. Apparently there’s a post-credits tease at the end of the film for the next entry, though I was so disinterested in what I saw that I couldn’t be bothered to stay. The role of Captain Jack Sparrow was once a daring choice for Johnny Depp but now it’s a crutch for the once formidable actor to lean on like peg leg made of rotting wood. There’s a little bit of buried treasure within Dead Men Tell Not Tales with a couple stunning shots, fantastic production design, and fun sequences, but not enough to spend two hours digging for it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
  • Overall Score
2

Summary

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a sequel in a franchise that exhausted all of its charms, with its formulaic construction, tiresome set pieces, underwhelming villains, and more of the same from Johnny Depp.

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