It turns out dead men DO indeed tell tales in the newest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The film series based on the popular Disney ride of the same name has had its ups and downs since the critical and box office hit of Curse of the Black Pearl in 2003. It’s been 14 years since Captain Jack Sparrow first sailed onto our screens, does this franchise still have the magic? Avast me hearties! Let’s set sail and discuss! This review will be spoiler free.
Dead Men Tell No Tales is directed by Norwegian filmmakers Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. The story centers on young Henry Turner (Brendan Thwaites) , the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightley). He is looking to free his father from his curse aboard the Flying Dutchman, and sees the Trident of Poseidon as the best way to do so. Accompanying him is Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a woman of science who can read the map to the Trident. Captain Jack Sparrow comes along for the ride as a way to get the treasure and break his bad luck. They are pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate who wants revenge on Sparrow.
Oh, how the mighty franchise has fallen. Granted, this has been a slippery slope since the first film. When The Curse of the Black Pearl came out in 2003, it was a fresh and fun adventure romp. No one had ever seen a character like Captain Jack Sparrow before. There were swords, cannons, curses, the whole nine yards. By 2017, it feels incredibly tired and boring. Not even the promise of returning Will and Elizabeth to the franchise was enough to save this sinking ship. Where did it go wrong?
Dead Men Tells No Tales primarily flounders because of its blatant repetition. Many of the film’s elements are near identical to the others, just tweaked slightly. The similarities to the first film is striking. Just read the plot summary and count the similarities. There is only so much plot you can repeat before an audience becomes bored. The characters are victims of this as well. Johnny Depp is doing the same schtick he’s been doing since 2003, but it now feels like a parody of the iconic Captain. Here, he just shuffles around, tries to be funny (often failing), and contributes nothing to the plot. The newcomers don’t fare much better here. Thwaites and Scodelario do well enough with what they are given, but they feel like discount Will and Elizabeth. Carina does have a trait and that is SCIENCE. That is all that moves her forward. While it’s an interesting direction to go for the series that delves deep into supernatural forces, it becomes a quirk that is a punchline.
Another aspect I found strange was all the lines of action. For example, the beginning shifts between Jack, Carina, and Henry. That’s about normal right? Well they continue to add to the pile with the British that give chase, Jack’s crew, Barbossa, Salazar, and maybe more I’m not sure. Just as I felt myself getting into the main chase to the Trident, the film would abruptly cut into a new scene with a line of action that wasn’t necessary. It could’ve saved room for more character development, or even extended Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann’s roles. It would have provided more pay off to Henry’s goals of saving his father instead of feeling tacked on at the beginning and end.
Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales feels like it’s going through the motions. While a competently made product, the film suffers from repetition and it becomes boring. I did enjoy a few of the action pieces and there were some jokes that landed and made me chuckle. There was an attempt to breathe new life into the franchise, but it ended up feeling like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Next Generation. I would give this chapter of the Pirates saga a C-. If you want to experience Pirates of the Caribbean, get a bottle o’ rum (or juice, for my underage readers) and pop in one of the first three movies.
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