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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

You know, I remember a time when the idea of a new Pirates of the Caribbean movie was an exciting proposition. The original film, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl remains one of the most fun movies of the past couple decades. Fifteen years later, here we are at the fifth movie, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and after this, one can only hope there is finally no more wind in this franchise’s sails.
On the surface, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales does a lot of things right. It’s much more grounded and less anchored by the series’ convoluted mythos than the past three films, and it finally sticks Jack Sparrow back where he belongs, in the background. Sadly, it doesn’t do enough, especially in recapturing the wit and swashbuckling adventure of the first movies, or even the zaniness of the first trilogy.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales follows the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, Henry Turner, who is seeking a way to break the Dutchman’s curse placed upon his father. This quest puts him on an encounter with the ghost of the pirate hunter Captain Salazar, seeking to break a curse of his own, who directs young Turner to the one man who can break both curses: Captain Jack Sparrow. The resulting quest will have him cross paths with everyone from the Royal Navy to a woman accused of witchcraft, as he seeks the legendary Trident of Poseidon.

One of the biggest issues with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an odd one for the franchises – whereas the sequels suffered for having too much story, this one suffers for having too little, while still focusing too much on a handful of subplots that really go nowhere. These range from yet another plot revolving around Jack Sparrow’s magical compass, a running gag involving people thinking our lead heroine is a witch because she’s literate that never really sticks, and a couple interested parties that the movie could have cut out entirely. All that time and attention could have been better spent fleshing out the fetch quest main plot, especially since it still tends to be forced and exposition heavy.
Johnny Depp is once again on autopilot phoning it in as Captain Jack Sparrow, and given the character spends half the movie drunk, I wonder if he only showed up because there was an open bar on set. That said, one of the best things I have to say about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it puts Depp and Sparrow in the background, letting new characters take center stage.
Sadly, those new characters are rather unforgettably played by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, who lack the chemistry, charisma or acting ability to carry the film, with Scodelario being an especially weak point of the movie. The two make a good case for why the first Pirates movie owed as much of its appeal to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, who both show up here for all too brief cameos. Geoffrey Rush almost makes up for it with another scenery-chewing turn as Captain Barbossa. Javier Bardem is for the most part wasted as the ghostly villain Salazar, though he does get a few standout moments, though one wishes he might have gotten a few more to give him some more menace.
I have to say the thing that disappoints me the most about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales though is that directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandburg, the men who helmed the fantastic Kon-Tiki, have delivered yet another CGI heavy mostly unexceptional film. One of the reasons that Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl has aged as well as it has is that so much of the effects and action in the movie were practical – in the sequels meanwhile, even the skies are digital. That’s not to say there aren’t bits that standout – there is a great flashback sequence with some great naval combat, and I will never be too upset with a movie that has undead sharks. The fact remains though: I wanted more, and I expected more.

That in the end, may be the big issue with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, not that it’s terrible, but that it’s flat and forgettable. It’s probably the best Pirates of the Caribbean movie in at least a decade, but that’s a bar so low at this point it’s practically underwater. The movie has its moments, but just once, I’d like to see another Pirates movie that has much swashbuckling and energy as the first movie. A movie that could do that would be a treasure – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is just fool’s gold.

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