Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Posted: May 30, 2017 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

pirates 5Written by Daniel Simpson

I’ve never really cared for the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Even the first film in the franchise strikes me more as “pretty good” rather than “amazing” and the sequels sunk pretty quick. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a deliberate effort to put Pirates of the Caribbean back on the right track, continuing story lines from At World’s End and bringing back a similar three-lead character dynamic. However, like On Stranger Tides, this strikes me as another tired sigh from a franchise which is really on its last legs.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) is a young man who believes that if he retrieves Poseidon’s mythical trident he will break the curse of his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). To do this, he seeks out the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), whom Henry knows once shared adventures with his father. Jack initially has no interest, but he is in something of a rough patch so does eventually set out for the trident. The two are also joined by Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a woman persecuted as a witch due to her scientific knowledge who seeks the trident as well for personal reasons. Their journey is overshadowed however by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead captain out for vengeance on Jack Sparrow for Salazar’s death decades earlier.

In terms of story, we have another tale of an undead dude and his crew seeking vengeance on Jack Sparrow while Jack and co. seek a mystical McGuffin to defeat the threat. Pretty standard stuff, but these plots are mostly just an excuse to hang action, humour, and character on and that’s what really matters, but I don’t think they really hold up either. While the production value here is certainly top-notch, the actual action scenes are at best merely serviceable, and at worst empty and boring. I think a big problem is the fact that the enemies are undead and cannot be killed in battle, which just robs a lot of tension. Beyond that, choreography is basic and the penultimate set-piece in particular stands out for its poor lighting and lack of clarity. The best action scene is probably a sort of escape sequence during the first act which sees much of the heroes incapacitated to an extent and having to creatively overcome their hindrances.

Dead Men Tell No Tales retains the series’ humorous tone, but there isn’t actually much wit to be found here. I found a handful of amusing moments and got maybe a chuckle or two, but the bulk of the comedy is truly grating, at least for me. So, the film rests largely on character, and here too it falls flat. The new folks here are boring. Well, I somewhat take that back. Kaya Scodelario brings some personality as a young, intelligent woman seeking a new truth, and Javier Bardem is always fun even if this villain is kinda weak, but Brenton Thwaites is immensely generic as the young man trying to break his father’s curse. The guy is just really bland, which is unfortunate because he gets a lot of screentime and is largely the driving force of the film’s plot. Really, the only actor here who really stands out is Geoffrey Rush. Rush is, of course, a great actor, and I’ve always enjoyed his presence in these films, and here he’s given an opportunity to bring an added emotional weight. It isn’t much, but it was the only time in the film I really felt anything and it does elevate the film even if it doesn’t save it.

And finally, we come to Jack Sparrow himself. Johnny Depp’s career is at something of a low-point so I almost hesitate to single him out, but his character is front and center in these films and he needs to be addressed.  On that note, I can say I am completely done with this character. Part of this might be fatigue by Depp seeming unable to play just about anything else these days, but more than anything there just isn’t much to Sparrow. He’s a drunken buffoon who scrapes by on luck and personality while largely looking after himself. There’s certainly fun to have with a character like that, but it isn’t enough to sustain five movies, especially when the character seems to be getting more cartoonish as the series as progressed. Gore Verbinski’s films may not have been much more substantial, but I at least got some sense that there was some depth to the person. Not so here. What’s more, these last two films really show how important Elizabeth and Will were to the franchise’s success. Jack Sparrow may be the more colourful character, but he’s too selfish and unambitious to really drive the plot. Elizabeth and Will provided that drive while also bringing greater emotional resonance.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t really aggressively awful so much as it is an underwhelming gasp from a franchise lacking purpose or interest. Then again, as I said upfront, I’ve never really been a fan of these movies and it’s possible those who do see themselves as such will consider Dead Men Tell No Tales yet another fun time with their favourite swashbucklers. If so good for them, and I mean that sincerely. But for me, this ship has long sailed.

D+

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