Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an adequate series sequel, but fails to leave any lasting impression on the audience.
Many years into his pirating career, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is past his prime and has encountered a string of bad luck. When an elaborate bank robbery goes south and leaves Jack’s crew with nothing, the once great pirate is abandoned by his old shipmates and Sparrow spends his days drowning his troubles in alcohol. As if things couldn’t get worse for Jack, one of his old foes – Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) – re-emerges from the Devil’s Triangle and is ready to embark on a quest to extract revenge on Jack for cursing him and his men a long time ago. Salazar’s group is a ruthless bunch, keeping only one man from each boat they destroy alive to tell their tale.
Meanwhile, British Royal Navy member Henry (Brenton Thwaites) has taken a keen interest in myths and stories of the ocean for personal reasons and wants to go on a journey of his own. Knowing Jack can help him, Henry springs Sparrow from prison, and along with astronomer and horologist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), sets sail with the pirate in search of the Trident of Poseidon – an object with the power to break all curses of the sea – so they can stop Salazar from his reign of terror on the waters.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth installment of Disney’s lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean franchise that began in 2003. The first film, Curse of the Black Pearl, was a pleasant surprise, but the sequels have largely failed to capture the same magic. This one has had quite the road to the big screen, seeing numerous release date changes due to various production issues, but the hope going into this entry was that it could return the Pirates property back to its former glory and perhaps be a new beginning for the series. Unfortunately, that isn’t really the case. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an adequate series sequel, but fails to leave any lasting impression on the audience.
Like many of its predecessors, Dead Men Tell No Tales is hampered by an uninspired script (written by Jeff Nathanson) that never really crafts an engaging narrative. Things aren’t quite as convoluted as they have been in previous Pirates films and are easy to follow, but the real problem lies with the characters. None of the main players in the film are particularly interesting, even if some of them have the best intentions. Henry and Carina are serviceable enough as the leads, there just isn’t much on the page for Thwaites and Scodelario to elevate. Additionally, the narrative is poorly structured as it meanders through a tiring first act before picking up. This leads to some severe pacing woes, making the final product feel much longer than it actually is. Ironically, Dead Men Tell No Tales has the shortest running time out of the five movies in the franchise, but drags on for stretches and leaves viewers bored.
In terms of performances, Depp is very comfortable as Jack Sparrow – which is both a pro and a con. It’s undeniably fun to see the actor back in his iconic role, but here it feels like Depp has completed his turn into pure caricature. Several of Sparrow’s more comedic traits (like his penchant for being drunk) are played up, leaving the clever wit and sea savviness he’s demonstrated before behind. The character has always been over-the-top, but most of the heart and underlying humanity that made Jack endearing is gone. As stated above, Thwaites and Scodelario are okay as the latest “regular” folk to get swept on a swashbuckling adventure with Captain Jack, but they lack the magnetic screen presence needed to truly carry a film of this nature. That’s not to say the two are necessarily bad in the film, it’s just they’re somewhat forgettable and don’t really work as this installment’s version of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Dead Men Tell No Tales also tries to force a romance between the two that never pays off in a meaningful way.
The supporting players fare somewhat better, particularly Bardem as Salazar. The Oscar-winner is no stranger to antagonistic characters, and he’s fittingly creepy and menacing playing an undead pirate. There’s not nearly as much depth for Bardem to explore as there was with something like Silva in Skyfall, but the actor rises above the script (and the exposition heavy scenes he’s ladened with) to make a somewhat fascinating villain that certain viewers could feel sympathy for. Franchise veteran Geoffrey Rush is back as Captain Hector Barbosa, shedding some new light and layers on the old character. Not all of the directions the filmmakers take Barbosa feel earned or rewarding, but his subplot is interesting enough. Rush gives it his all here, hamming it up as the pirate one more time.
Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki) step into the directors’ chairs for this installment, and it’s safe to say they do a decent job helming a studio tentpole. Dead Men Tell No Tales features plenty of the action spectacle that the series is known for, but there are times when the set pieces stretch the limits of credulity and come across as overly fantastical (in contrast from the more grounded ship battles of the earlier entries). Some of the set pieces, especially in the first half, go on for far too long to the point where even the most devoted fans might lose interest in what’s happening. This is tied back to the flaws of the script; the screenplay depends more on CGI wizardry to keep audiences engaged instead of fun character interactions and moments. It all feels hollow and empty instead of rousing and exciting.
In the end, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is probably what people thought it would be when it was first announced (especially after all the delays). It sadly is par for the course now in this particular franchise, providing more of the same and never surprising viewers with something unexpected. If this is the best Disney can come up with 14 years after they first launched Pirates in theaters, it’s worth wondering if they’d be better off letting Jack Sparrow rest in Davy Jones’ locker and close the book on this particular cash cow of theirs. Longtime viewers of the series know if they’ll be interested in this fifth installment, but those on the fence can skip making the trip to the theater.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is now playing in U.S. theaters. It runs 129 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence and some suggestive content.
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