Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
In 2003, at the 75th Academy Awards, Johnny Depp was nominated for best actor for his role in the surprise hit, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film was a mix of swashbuckling fun, action and drama and was the birth of Disney’s next big franchise. However, over the course of the last 14 years, the film series seems to get progressively worse. Dead Man’s Chest was a fun but flawed film, At World’s End was average at best (despite having the best musical score of all the films) and On Stranger Tides was terrible. And now, here we are, with the fifth film in the franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales. The film brings back the original cast (somewhat) from the original trilogy along with fresh new faces. Does it continue the common Pirates trend? No, because this one isn’t nearly as bad as the last one. That doesn’t mean it’s a good film though. Let’s dive in!
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales thrusts viewers into an all new adventure. Set six years after the previous film, Jack Sparrow is on the run from the evil Captain Salazar, who has escaped the Devil’s Triangle after being trapped their by Jack many years ago. Jack’s lone method of survival lies in finding the legendary Trident of Poseidon but to find it, he must forge an uneasy alliance with a beautiful and genius astronomer and the young son of Jack’s old friend, Will Turner who has his own reasons for finding the trident.
What this film mainly tries to do is recapture the magic the first 3 films had. Those films had undeniable chemistry amongst its 3 leads. Now, with this film, Jack is paired with astronomer Carina Smyth and Navy soldier Henry Turner. Everything about this pairing feels extremely forced. The way these characters meet and interact with each other did not give me the same excitement as seeing Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly partner up Johnny Depp and his zany pirate counterpart. Brenton Thwaities (Henry) and Kaya Scodelario (Carina) offer a decent twist on the traditional Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance but none of it feels natural and organic. This isn’t really a spoiler but I have to mention this. Due to Scodelario’s character being super smart, she’s considered a witch in these times. This is hands down the most annoying part of the entire movie as every character has to question whether she is a witch or not. It’s just bad writing.
Performance wise, the film isn’t half bad. The clear standouts are Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbossa and Javier Bardem as Captain Salazar. Rush especially steals every scene he is in. The one-legged pirate captain will make you laugh and cheer and even tear up as the villain turned anti-hero remains as one of the best parts of this franchise. Javier Bardem was a big improvement over the villain of the last Pirates film. There are times where the audience doesn’t even understand what he’s doing because the film just overlooks it but you don’t care because Salazar is so much fun when he’s on screen. He leans more towards a mustache-twirling villain but his scenes with Jack and Henry Turner were some of the bright spots in this film. Johnny Depp is once again back in the protagonist role as Jack Sparrow and he’s… just ok. The biggest weak point of On Stranger Tides was that Jack didn’t have Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann to keep him in check so the film is just Johnny Depp running around doing stupid stuff. That is what’s pretty much happening here, but the supporting characters here aren’t nearly as dull. But, Depp still churns out an admirable performance. The two new young leads are serviceable but nothing special. That’s all I really have to say about them.
The plot has never been the strongest aspect of any Pirates film and this film is no different. This movie has a story that is simple and to the point but it is also a narrative drag. The entire story is held together on flimsy logic, with extremely apparent plot holes that the film glosses over and remain unanswered. Then the film jumps to scenes with a lot of exposition and rushes through them because it has to get to the next big action sequence. The story lacks any sense of urgency as you never feel like the leads are never in any sort of danger. Like I said, the film is an improvement over the last one, demonstrating that the classic feel of Pirates has partially returned, but the pacing and tonal issues of the film drag it all down.
This film has a lot of negatives but, there is one specific negative that I need to get off my chest. Dead Men Tell No Tales boasts the triumphant return of Orlando Bloom as Will Tuner. He’s my favourite character and he wasn’t in Pirates 4 so I was ecstatic to learn that he is returning. Guess who got totally wasted in this film? That’s right. Orlando Bloom. While the main plot of this film is Captain Jack vs. Captain Salazar, the main sub-plot has Henry Turner looking for the Trident to free his father from the curse of Davy Jones. That sub-plot, should have been the main plot. The main positive of this film is the solidly written narrative of Henry’s desire to reunite his family and free his father. I maintain that Brenton Thwaities was a nice addition to the cast and his look and performance just scream “young Will Turner.” If the story had solely focused on Henry, Jack and Carina trying to free Will, the story would have flowed a lot nicer. Salazar could have easily been a background villain and Will could have played a much larger role in the film.
The action sequences of the film are another positive, despite them being so poorly tied to the plot. The CGI is done beautifully, blending well with the practical sets the directors used. There’s a specific sequence involving an undead shark that was just a thrill to watch and had the audience on the edge of their seats. It’s a shame that each action sequence feels shoehorned in despite being exciting.
I thought of this entire paragraph as I was writing everything above. This little portion will be dedicated to Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. It’s apparent now that this character has become the new Terminator. Let me explain. Remember in The Terminator when it was so exciting to see the awesomeness that was Arnold Schwarzenegger? Then in Terminator 2: Judgement Day where Arnold was still an enthralling ass-kicker? But then, in Terminator: Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genysis, Arnold’s character had grown tired and stale? This is what has happened to Jack Sparrow. Pirates 1, he’s fantastic. Pirates 2, he recaptures the magic of the first film. But film’s 3 through 5 display that it may be time to, not only retire the character, but the franchise itself. There’s only so many times that Depp can be the drunk pirate and still excite the audience. Pun intended, it would seem like the ship has sailed on Captain Jack Sparrow being a thrilling character.
Geoff Zanelli, who is a protégé of main Pirates composer Hans Zimmer, takes the reins as composer for this film and he knocks it out of the park. His music transports the audience right back to Tortuga and is an exciting, emotionally driven and action-packed score that only elevated the audience’s excitement during the action sequences.
All in all, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales feels like an over-stuffed, drunk fever dream that no one really asked for but we got anyway. The film has a paper-thin plot that really doesn’t scream “Pirates is back baby!” The film has its strengths, which lie in most of the cast, the music and its action, but the weaknesses outweigh the positives. At least we still have the first one… right?
Nick’s Rating – 5.5/10
Artur’s Rating – 5/10
Mathew’s Rating – 2/10
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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales sails into theatres on May 26, 2017