Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Writer: Jeff Nathanson, Terri Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario
Jack Sparrow’s fifth sea-caper fails to captivate on all fronts, depending too heavily on recycled story-lines and its audience's loyalty to its characters.
In 2007, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End gave us an emotional conclusion to a fantastically imaginative and exciting trilogy. In 2011, we were provided with On Stranger Tides (2011), a competent but unnecessary continuation which is unmemorable at best compared to the initial three. Now, Disney, seemingly intent on sailing this franchise into increasingly rocky waters (crude sailing metaphor No.1), has provided us with the latest addition; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017).
To understand Dead Men’s failings, it is essential to consider the strengths of its predecessors; the first film, inspired by the world famous Disneyland Ride, is arguably the best in the series. The Curse of the Black Pearl (CoBP) (2003) was wonderfully alluring and mysterious, introducing its many facets slowly and shockingly, and the next two films followed suit, intricately weaving characters and subplots of romance, betrayal and camaraderie together, building magnificently to its unflinchingly cruel conclusion.
Then came On Stranger Tides, which was a tolerable but not entirely welcome continuation, the intricacies of the first three films dumbed down and forced into a plot which could fit in to 137 minutes of footage. It certainly occupies the mind for 2 hours, and as a stand alone film it just about manages to hold its own, but doesn’t possess anything like the magic and the intrigue of the initial trilogy.
Unfortuately, Disney do not appear to have noticed that the tide is going out on their prized pirate franchise (crude sailing metaphor No.2) and have produced its 5th in the series; Dead Men Tell No Tales. In an upsetting contradiction of CoBP, Dead Men practically forces the storyline down your throat within the first 20 minutes, after which very little will surprise the audience. Paradoxically however, the story doesn’t actually get up to speed until more than an hour into the film, as the first 60 minutes are essentially a dragged out attempt to introduce new characters and get us to like them. After this, a series of flashbacks crudely reveals how Salazar and Sparrow are connected, and then, only then, does the adventure really begin. Unfortunately there is so little film left at this point that the resolution is so swift, and it’s conclusion is hugely underwhelming, especially considering the scale of the initial trilogy. Then, once the film is over, it is again obvious how much the formula is the same as previous films; a good(ish) and bad pirate force race to find a hidden magical artifact whilst also being dogged by the British Empire.
Carina Smyth (Scodelario) and Henry Turner (Thwaites) are obviously this generations Elizabeth Swan/Will Turner, nothing more than a weak carbon-copy of the tortured romance which was a major plot line in the first three films. Separately, they both portray their character’s new facets well, particularly Scodelario and her Smyth’s aptitude for science, while Thwaites does a decent job at the handsome lothario driven on his quest by raw emotion (sound familiar?). Together, their chemistry is nothing new and just becomes one the many things the viewer will find themselves wanting to skip over. Javier Bardem is horridly creepy as Captain Salazar, a character who could have made a real impression if situated in a better film, while Geoffrey Rush reprises his role as Captain Barbosa with wonderful ease, continuing as one the the franchises most consistent positive elements.
However, - and I hate to have to say this, believe me I do - but it is Johnny Depp’s beloved character Captain Jack Sparrow who is perhaps the weakest link in the film. It is truly upsetting to see what Depp’s character has evolved into since his selfless act in the final scenes of At World’s End. Jack Sparrow is undoubtedly the driving force of this franchise, its literal poster-boy. During Depp’s first 3 incarnations of the character (and to some degree, his fourth), Sparrow was a multi-faceted character, his eccentricities accompanied by menace, selfishness and a Machiavellian intelligence which enabled him orchestrate many of the trilogy’s most interesting and powerful subplots. However, in Dead Men, these once beloved eccentricities are now over-exaggerated to the point where they become annoying, and he gets almost no chance display any wit or intelligence which gave his character its inescapable allure.
Dead Men is a poor addition to a once great franchise which I will likely forget once this has been written. It possesses none of the intricacy of the original three films, and brings nothing remotely original to the table, crudely re-cycling jokes, ideas and story-lines. And while I am by no means calling for another PotC film to instigate some damage control, it would be a shame for Dead Men Tell No Tales to be the franchise’s end.
In one line: A world away from the excellent original trilogy, Dead Men Tell No Tales lacks the intelligence and the ambition of the franchise that spawned it.