Published on May 26th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Hey! Wow! They made another Pirates of the Caribbean movie! Grab your Jack Sparrow outfit from the bargain bin next to the Austin Powers costumes.

The latest adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, feels like a fencing tournament without any real risks or threat of danger. Instead of dashing heroics and selfless risks of altruism there’s gobbledygook hokum about curses and death and fate and stars. These dull topics abound in this fifth film in a franchise that started on the big screen 14 years ago. Ghost pirates are one thing but leaning as hard into a supernatural side as Dead Men does takes away the thrill that should be inherent with swashbuckling on the high seas. Even though it isn’t quite as bad as you might expect, this fifth chapter doesn’t exactly aim its sights on anything groundbreaking or rejuvenating.

There are multiple instances in Dead Men Tell No Tales where you can visually separate the men from the boys (at least, in terms of professional effort). Geoffrey Rush puts his all into every single syllable he speaks as the returning Captain Barbossa even though what he’s saying and doing is the same shit he’s said and done in the movies that came before. Compare that to Johnny Depp, who might have been in a coma during some scenes, and you can see the difference between an Actor with a capital ‘A’ and a “movie star” on the downward slope to obscurity. Watch even a scene or two from The Curse of the Black Pearl and line it up with Dead Men Tell No Tales — it’s like two different performers doing the same role. Depp has lost it in a big way. Can you believe he got an Oscar nomination for this part once?

There are a lot of questionable character choices and some really flat arches that barely register and yet Captain Jack Sparrow is somehow still the least interesting aspect of the whole movie. Depp’s pitiful performance this go-round only highlights the biggest glaring problem with this movie; it’s sad to say but Captain Jack needs to be put to rest. In only 14 years he’s gone from a sensation to a bore. Who knows what factors contributed to this downfall, but family audiences hoping to bask in some of that good ol’ Pirates magic are going to leave feeling let down by their hero.

The plot, for what it is, concerns Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of the original films’ Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, making a cameo appearance) as he tries to find Jack Sparrow so Sparrow can lead him to the fabled Trident of Poseidon. It’s believed that the Trident has the power to destroy all curses on the sea and its damned sailors, which would be useful for Henry to get his father, Will, off the Flying Dutchman and back on dry land (do you remember how he ended up as a barnacle-faced ghoul on the Dutchman in the first place? Neither do I.)

So once Henry and Jack have teamed up they cross paths with a woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who’s also on a quest for the Trident in order to bring closure to a complicated inner relationship with the father she never knew. If you’re savvy to modern Hollywood’s insistence that every grouping of three or more characters has to be defined as a “Family” then you can take a wild guess where Dead Men Tell No Tales is steering all these daddy issues.

Just like the Fast & Furious movies, no one gives a damn about character continuity so long as all the pretty stars get to keep making movies together. People forget that Barbossa (Rush) was the villain of the first movie but by the end of Dead Men Tell No Tales he’s turned into Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I won’t divulge the specifics but it’s sort of eerie how these two back-to-back blockbuster spectacles from Disney follow an incredibly similar path.

Despite everything piling up against it, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is still a mildly entertaining sequel that’s leaps and bounds better than the previous entry in the series, On Stranger Tides. Whereas Tides was a complete disaster, Dead Men is actually competent enough to see its story and its themes through in a coherent manner. Sure there’s lots of random bullshit that doesn’t make sense and characters show up out of nowhere to do things they were never previously capable of doing, but you can feel the filmmakers’ dedication to getting a story together that isn’t a mess (At World’s End, the third Pirates film, showcases the most maddening storytelling of the bunch).

There are some solid laughs to be plundered and at least a handful of VFX-heavy scenes that truly work well both in spite of and because of their outlandishness. I’m talking ghost sharks here, people. Fucking ghost sharks. And they’re in the best scene of the whole movie – go figure. When these movies do it right they do it fucking right.

Directing duo Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg keep the pace moving swiftly enough and they certainly appear to relish some of the juicier action and character moments (notably involving Javier Bardem as the film’s ghastly villain). They’re journeymen hired guns placed in the middle of a preset machine and as a result they don’t get to put their own stamp on anything in any way. So maybe the highest praise one could bestow upon them is, “they finished the job and it wasn’t a total disaster”. Perhaps some autueristic blood is what this series could use to rejuvenate itself, but that’s a large leap of faith for a studio that needs to make a billion dollars worldwide just to start seeing a profit.

Is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales worth seeing? Ultimately it depends on your tolerance for CGI bloat and mindless spectacle, not to mention one’s acceptance of an increasingly cloying Johnny Depp. It isn’t The Curse of the Black Pearl but it isn’t On Stranger Tides either. Dead Men Tell No Tales is simply one last dying gasp of a franchise driven into the ground by its own greed and overpowering self-confidence.

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is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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