Johnny Depp created one of the most iconic protagonists in cinema history with his off-the-wall portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in 2003 that earned him an Oscar nomination. Sadly, the sequels did little more than rehash the same old shtick ad nauseam. It didn’t help that many of them had plots so convoluted that audiences just gave up trying to figure out what they were about. But great characters are what draw crowds back into movie theaters. With overstuffed 2nd and 3rd entries, and a pointless 4th entry, we now come to the 5th (and final?) entry with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), is all grown up and trying to lift his father’s curse that keeps him at sea for 10 years at a time. And for that, he’ll need Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and a young scientist named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) to find the Trident of Poseidon; the only object that can lift the curse. Meanwhile, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a cursed undead pirate, is hunting for Jack Sparrow, who he blames for said curse, and he’s willing to destroy every ship in the sea in order to exact his revenge.
The movie gets off to a big-budget start when Jack Sparrow and crew steal a bank (yes, the building itself). And it’s the usual, overlong, slapstick-laden chase sequence we’ve come to expect from these movies. I’d say the novelty has worn off, but I find myself wondering how much was there to begin with. This movie reeks of a checklist mentality, with nary a thought towards adding any substance. There is, of course, a forced romance between the two young attractive newcomers, Henry and Carina, who are really just chemistry-free versions of the mostly-absent Will and Elizabeth. There’s a ridiculously-pointless subplot where the British Navy enlists the help of a bald witch to find Jack Sparrow, that just ends very abruptly partway through. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) returns with what is arguably his most involved story arc since the first movie, which is refreshing. And while Salazar’s motivations are clear, he’s so one-dimensional that it’s hard to stay invested in his tale of revenge. Another problem is the time in which this movie is supposed to take place. If Henry Turner was born after 2007’s At World’s End (not including its post-credits scene), and if he’s all grown up here, then that would mean everyone should have aged at least 20 years since then. (That’s when I remember it’s a fantasy movie.) But all those flaws wouldn’t matter so much if any of the countless gags hit home or if the action was the least bit thrilling. For a hugely-budgeted special-effects-heavy fantasy/adventure film, it’s somehow less exciting than the actual Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Johnny Depp is Pirates of the Caribbean. Or at least the filmmakers think so. While he was hands-down the best thing about the first movie, it grew tiresome by the third. But here, parading him around as the same old drunken and clumsy imbecile while all his friends grow and mature over time has made him the least interesting character in a franchise that’s overloaded with faces. The filmmakers seem more interested in throwing him around like a rag doll than giving him a meaningful story arc. With so many characters pursuing the Trident of Poseidon for their own reasons, you find yourself wondering what puts Jack Sparrow first. In the earlier movies, Jack had moments of sincerity and heart that revealed a three-dimensional character under all that odd behavior. But nowadays, it’s all about cashing in on his novelty. There’s nothing new to see and no heart left in Captain Jack Sparrow. Just a caricature of his Oscar-nominated self.
“The Final Adventure.” That’s what the trailer said. And everything before the credits would have you believe that’s true. But like every entry in this franchise, there’s a post-credits scene, hinting that the filmmakers may want to continue these increasingly-mundane swashbuckling adventures. But I for one hope they don’t. At 129 minutes, Dead Men Tell No Tales is by far the shortest entry in the series, which makes the whole thing look like a rival to the Extended Lord of the Rings Trilogy. At least this 5th movie ends the franchise on a (slightly) better note than the previous two would have. But considering how low they’re sailing, it’s better to abandon ship than to sink it.
2 out of 5