Back when Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl came out, it was kind of crazy how much fun a movie based on a cheesy theme park ride at Disney World was. And while we can debate the merits of Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, they created a decent action-adventure trilogy. Then came On Stranger Tides, a bloated garbage fire of a movie sans two of Pirates‘ three main stars and all of the magic of the first three films. If it weren’t for foreign box offices, Disney wouldn’t have broken even on that crap. Which made the idea of Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth installment, seem like a not-so-great idea. But, of course, money. Having seen Dead Men Tell No Tales, I can say confidently that Pirates needs to go away for good.
It’s not that Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t have blockbuster appeal. It’s big and bold with its stunts and Geoff Zanelli’s score (which reuses themes from Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer’s previous work). There are cool effects with the ghost pirates and dead sharks, as well as one moment in the climax when the ocean divides to allow the characters to walk on the ocean floor (*cough* Prince of Egypt did it better). And there are plenty of laughs. In fact, the scene with Jack Sparrow in the guillotine had me in tears, which is a first for this franchise. But you can tell even the screenwriters behind these movies are getting tired of writing sequels because it seems like they’re rehashing the same jokes and the same plot points.
Speaking of plot, this film’s story has several elements that will sound familiar to anyone who’s kept up with the Pirates franchise. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) wants to break the curse that binds his father Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) to the Flying Dutchman, and all of his research points him toward the Trident of Poseidon, which controls every curse in the sea. But he needs the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his magical compass to find it. As Turner and Sparrow cross paths, they encounter Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who’s accused of being a witch because of her interest in astronomy—an interest that’s also pointing toward the Trident of Poseidon and her long-lost father. Unfortunately, Turner, Sparrow, Smyth, and crew (which includes Geoffrey Rush’s now-wealthy privateer Barbossa) are being chased by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who was cursed after trying to defeat a young Jack Sparrow in battle many years ago. Although he and his crew cannot set foot on land, Salazar will stop at nothing to get his revenge and take command of the sea.
(If you read that description and thought, “Man, this sounds like The Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest, and At World’s End wrapped up into one poorly-structured movie”…yes.)
So the biggest letdowns in Dead Men Tell No Tales for fans of the franchise? I’d say the most obvious one is Henry Turner and Carina Smyth. Not only are they meant to fill the Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) roles—which they can’t accomplish because there’s no writing to back it up—but their completely unnecessary romance is AWFUL. Remember how you rooted for Will and Elizabeth because they were star-crossed and you watched their relationship develop? Well, Henry and Carina aren’t star-crossed in the least bit, and their onscreen sexual tension is a major [insert whatever sexual organ you prefer] killer.
But the worst offender of the whole movie is Jack Sparrow. I can’t tell if it’s because Johnny Depp is a drunk asshole who literally doesn’t do his job, or if it’s because the concept of Jack Sparrow is better fit when he’s the wildcard of the story and not the leader, but my god Sparrow is embarrassingly bad in this movie. Yes, part of it is that he’s supposed to be down on his luck and a raging drunk who’s lost his “mojo” (Thanks, Austin Powers), but COME ON. This is a character that infiltrated 2000s pop culture because of his oddball sexual “I kind of know what I’m doing but not really” energy. Now? That’s gone. And if you don’t have a Jack Sparrow doing what Jack Sparrow does best, why even continue the franchise?
Oh, but don’t worry. Disney has an out for this Jack Sparrow/Johnny Depp conundrum. Because the final scenes of the movie, along with the post-credits scene, suggest that the series may opt for a Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann story next time. What story would that be? Well, let’s just say I have absolutely no clue how they could bring this particular character back (since they’re deader than dead), but cheers to the person who writes that lazy twist!
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: C+
Listen to my Dead Men Tell No Tales review on “Pat & JT in the Morning” here (at 12:38).