Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, 2017.
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Stephen Graham, David Wenham, Keira Knightley, Adam Brown and Paul McCartney.
Captain Jack Sparrow is pursued by an old nemesis, Armando Salazar, who along with his Spanish Navy ghost crew has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle and is determined to kill every pirate at sea. Jack, aided by his new allies Henry and Carina, must seek the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact that grants its possessor total control over the seas, in order to defeat Salazar.
The fact that the Pirates of the Caribbean series hasn’t released an entry in six years despite 2011’s On Stranger Tides grossing a mind-boggling $1.04 billion worldwide is perhaps an indication that even Disney were aware the series had run out of gas creatively. After a smash hit, multi-Oscar-nominated 2003 original and solid sequel, number three spectacularly derailed itself with an unbearably self-indulgent near-three-hour run-time, and On Stranger Tides ended up completely forgettable even with the likes of Penélope Cruz and Ian McShane in the mix.
It’s a mild comfort to report, then, that Dead Men Tell No Tales – rather naffly renamed Salazar’s Revenge in the UK – is, for its many flaws, at least a half-step in the right direction, clocking in at a very reasonable 129 minutes (making it the shortest entry in the series so far) and placing a greater emphasis on the silly fun that felt a little lacking in the last two movies.
Narratively, this is pure business-as-usual for the franchise; there’s another supernatural baddie out for Jack Sparrow’s (Johnny Depp) head, and so Jack needs to hunt down a magical trinket with a few reluctant pals in order to stop him. There’s not much point lingering on the plot, because it’s pretty much as hollow and uninteresting as it was in most of the prior movies. These films are all about the characters and the action.
To that latter end in particular, the fifth Pirates mostly succeeds, smartly hiring Kon-Tiki directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg to steer the ship this time, and their clear panache at helming aquatic action comes through in spades, with set-pieces including a Fast Five-esque bank vault theft, genuinely suspenseful use of a guillotine, a flashback to Sparrow’s first run-in with Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar (including a creepily de-aged young Sparrow) and even, yes, zombie sharks.
However, the ludicrous underwater finale eventually overdoses on distractingly obvious, Vaseline-smeared green screen compositing. Still, from the impeccable production design through to the overall quality of the visual effects, it’s a tremendously handsome film for the most part, even if it struggles to rustle up any digital creations as impressive as Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones.
It’s a shame this strong technical work isn’t supported by a better script, though. Way too many of the gags feel like low-effort first draft material, certain aspects of the plot make no sense or are simply abandoned when they become inconvenient, and it clearly struggles when attempting to be anything more than a simple revenge story, which honestly would’ve been enough.
Where it goes irretrievably wrong, however, is with a needlessly sentimental third-act, which hinges on a laughably contrived revelation that falls totally flat, despite the film’s aggressive last-minute attempt to wring some emotion out of it all.
For many, the cast are just as much an appeal of these movies as the lavish set-pieces, and Dead Men Tell No Tales also fares pretty well here, albeit with some qualifiers. Johnny Depp is basically just part of the furniture at this point but delivers the boozy japes fans will expect, though the returns feel significantly diminished from his more convincingly charming turns in the first two films especially. The script is again in large part to blame, though, with an excess of innuendo-laced dialogue that shoots for cheeky but is often simply cringe-worthy.
And yes, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are both in the film, Bloom for a square three minutes and Knightley even less. Their fan-servicey cameos are pretty leaden, to be honest, feeling totally arbitrary considering how the the last movie survived just fine without them (financially, at least). At the same time, it’s abundantly clear that Disney are again trying to hand the series off to a newer, younger cast, while Depp will stick around as the prize buffoon until the box office grosses go down.
At least one of the new characters, Kaya Scodelario’s plucky astronomer Carina Smyth, is a real asset, though. While almost every shot she appears on-screen shows her ready to bust out of her corset at any errant moment – with some eye-rollingly pervy shot selections to boot – she’s also by far the film’s most resourceful and intelligent character, and a nifty addition to the franchise moving forward. It’d be a major mistake not to keep her around for the next however-many movies.
Javier Bardem is also a great addition as the menacing new baddie, even if his role is pretty limited for the first hour and it doesn’t really ask him to do much more than pull out the Big Baddie Acting he’s mastered over the last decade. As Will Turner’s son Henry, Brenton Thwaites is meanwhile unfortunately left stranded with a fatally underwritten character, making him ironically come off about as bland as his screen father did in the earlier films.
Paul McCartney’s even in the mix too for a quick cameo, and while it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the nature of his role, much like David Beckham’s bizarre recent appearance in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it’s at once extremely distracting and really quite hilarious.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales will please the hardcore lot and serves as a marginal improvement over the last two movies, in large part thanks to an appealing new female lead, but the end result still feels as much exhausting as it is entertaining. The gags don’t hit with enough sass, Depp’s heart doesn’t feel much in it anymore, and it doesn’t at all leave one desiring the inevitable number six.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.