Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

Contains spoilers.

When the Pirates of the Caribbean ride was first built, I doubt anyone could've imagined it would spawn a multi-billion dollar franchise. But that's what it is now, and for better or worse, it's effectively turning into The Fast and the Furious: Pirates, with the same nostalgia and pitfalls.

Dead Men Tell No Tales brings us back to our beloved pirates, except now Henry, Will and Elizabeth's son, is our main character, and now he's practically an adult. Henry is desperately searching for a way to break the curse of The Flying Dutchman and free his father. When his Royal Navy ship happens upon The Devil's Triangle, his fellow crew is quickly dispatched by ghostly pirates. Their undead leader, Captain Salazar, gives Henry a message to deliver to Captain Jack Sparrow, a message Henry intends to deliver as he needs Jack's help. He ends up in Saint Martin, imprisoned as a traitor, where Jack and his crew happen to be in the middle of a heist. A learned woman named Carina Smyth helps free him in exchange for his help. After the two reunite and gather with Jack, what follows is their desperate, ragged excursion to find the trident of Poseidon before Salazar.

Let's be honest for a moment, if you expected a great continuation of the franchise then you'd be doing yourself a disservice. In the first 10 minutes of the film, Javier Bardem's undead Salazar delivers the line, "Will you say that to him, please? I wish I could do it, but dead men tells no tales." Then the title card comes up: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. It's in moments like this that the Pirate franchise shows how utterly bereft of originality, passion, or quality it really is.

One cited source of inspiration for this latest sequel is the original Pirates film, The Curse of the Black Pearl. That inspiration becomes increasingly questionable as Dead Men Tell No Tales runs, becoming ever more a carbon copy of the original, just dialed up to 11 and with younger characters. I mean really, Will's son is Jack Sparrow's new, plucky companion and there's even a young Elizabeth named Carina to be his love interest.

 

It's sad, really. As the movie continues the story gets more and more convoluted, trying to follow the strengths of Curse, with it's wildly adventurous seafaring and daring characters and organic camaraderie. But in every one of these aspects, Dead Men absolutely fails. The major plot points make basic sense but it's all lumped together in the end by a typical beat-the-bad-guys-to-the-destination, a daring fight against the odds, and some random mumbling about curses and destiny.

It's so apparent what Disney's trying to do. The original hope was to create a fun, family-friendly adventure trilogy but everything about Dead Men screams to the desire of creating a new, massive franchise, a la Marvel's Cinematic Universe or The Fast and the Furious. The ingredients just don't work for Pirates.

Dead Men Tell No Tales feels forced, in every sense of the word. There's a shitty, Fast-and-Furious-esque chase scene where ~10 horses pull an entire building through a town, even drifting around corners; there's the commonplace, daring rescue to save Jack and Carina from the gallows; there's the curse that needs to be broken... None of it feels natural because we've seen all of this in different variations in every other franchise entry. The story moves in ways specifically to work in these same plot points from previous movies because [I'm guessing the producers felt] if they worked in those movies they've gotta work here.

The acting is alright, as far as the characters go, but the characters already feel so outlandish and abnormal. Bardem can only act as well as his character fits into the film, but his character is forced, almost cartoonish. Depp tries mightily to carry the film on his back but there's only so much he can do while trying to build up Henry and Carina, who all-too-often experience bouts of exposition vomit... which, to be fair, is expected given they're entirely new to the franchise. The problem is that they're not even subtle about it.

The photography is damn decent, as it to be expected, but it just never feels special. The undead pirates are some of the best graphics but the CG feels overdone and vastly unnecessary, a result or a cause of the overwritten script.

 

There are a few fun moments sprinkled throughout but Dead Men Tell No Tales feels more like The Fast and the Pirates than a supernatural, pirate adventure with fun, witty characters. The franchise is turning into a parody of itself. They even decided to throw in a cameo featuring Paul McCartney as Sparrow's uncle in a brief, 1-minute interchange... At least Keith Richards' Captain Teague served a purpose.

The fact is... the Pirates franchise feels dead in the water. There isn't enough good in this installment to offset how boring the movie feels, and Sparrow's witty, lovable shtick gets old pretty quickly. The characters don't share enough chemistry. The story isn't interesting or fun enough, just more mushy nonsense about curses. It feels like Disney was trying to reboot the franchise without actually rebooting because they wanted to hold onto Johnny Depp.

 

TL;DR: It's been a damn long time since I've been in a theater and so desperately wanted to leave, fidgeting and changing positions from sheer boredom and the ridiculousness of the writing. And that's how I felt in the first 20 minutes. There's some fun to be found but it's like a needle in the haystack

  • Acting – 10 / 20
  • Story – 2 / 20
  • Cinematography – 8 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 1 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 5 / 10
  • Fantasy/Action – 5 / 10
  • Other – 0 / 10
 

Grade F = 31 / 100