Review: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ Starring Brenton Thwaites, Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem
If the fifth installment of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ series has proven anything, it’s that this dead franchise should tell no more tales.
It all should have ended with At World’s End. Back in 2007, the third Pirates movie brought each of its central storylines to a seeming conclusion: multicultural pirates reclaimed the seas from their evil British adversaries, romantic couple Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley) tied the knot, and Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) sailed off into the sunset with a bottle of rum. Sure, the trilogy often felt bloated and overly complicated in its plotting, but its strengths lay in its performances, jaw-dropping visual effects achievements, rousing musical scores, and overall originality. As far as trilogies go, this was one of the better ones.
Alas, the desire to pillage more gold from audiences proved too great for studio buccaneers, and thus we have been saddled with 2011’s insufferable On Stranger Tides and now this summer’s Dead Men Tell No Tales.
While Pirates 5 is a hair better than its predecessor in terms of its visual effects budget, its script still reeks of the same desperation to reignite a story that burned out ten years ago. Every worn trope from the original trilogy is pulled out of Disney’s closet and tossed at the screen to the tune of “been there, done that.” An object of unspeakable power. A naïve, straight-laced boy. An intelligent girl ahead of her time. A cursed computer-generated pirate crew. A smarmy British officer. A random witch whose plot goes nowhere. A classic rocker cameo. Save for the cameo, none of this is nearly as interesting as the first go-round.
Perhaps most disheartening of all is Johnny Depp’s characterization of Jack Sparrow. A far cry from the scheming swindler of the first film, here Depp plays Sparrow as a constant buffoon. There is no subtlety, poignancy, or seriousness in this portrayal – just a ham-handed attempt at slapstick that quickly wears thin. This is not the same level of acting that earned Depp a Best Actor nomination in 2003. No, this is an actor phoning it in for a paycheck, plain and simple.
Not faring much better is Javier Bardem as the ghost Captain Armando Salazar. While his quirky mannerisms are intriguing to watch, Bardem’s acting talents are otherwise wasted with little for him to do but wheeze, shout, and kill people. His motivation primarily consists of lifting the curse upon him and exacting revenge on Sparrow. However, when the two finally meet, there is little interaction between them that isn’t frenzied swordfighting. A missed opportunity really, since one of the joys of the previous Pirates films is watching Jack match wits with the villains in tense conversations.
Speaking of missed opportunities, look no further than the highly publicized but severely underwhelming return of Bloom and Knightley (the latter having about as much to do as Luke Skywalker in The Force Awakens). Young actors Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario provide needed balance to Sparrow’s lunacy, but leave it to series veteran Geoffrey Rush (Hector Barbossa) to instill the film with its most consistent and effortful performance.
At 129 minutes, Dead Men Tell No Tales is the shortest Pirates film, but extraneous subplots and a tedious third act drag the movie far past its welcome. Lest you think you’ve finally reached the end of the slog, an ominous post-credits scene portends further series desecration on the horizon. At this point, scurvy sounds more entertaining.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales gets a D-