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

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

Directed by: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg

Premise: The fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) joins with the son of Will Turner (Brenton Thwaites) and an astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) to search for the Trident of Poseidon.

What Works: Longtime fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean series will find that Dead Men Tell No Tales delivers a cross section of what they have enjoyed in the other films. The story is another supernatural treasure hunt with Johnny Depp back as Captain Jack Sparrow and the film has a steady stream of action set pieces that match stunts with physical comedy. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a more direct sequel to the first three Pirates films than On Stranger Tides was and the filmmakers attempt to engineer a course correction for the series. The original Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t really about Captain Sparrow; it was the story of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his unrequited love for Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightly). The whole joke of Sparrow is that he’s a boozy train wreck who has cultivated a legendary reputation through a mix of luck and deception. Those elements were lost as the series wore on and Sparrow became the centerpiece of the franchise. The filmmakers of Dead Men Tell No Tales attempt to correct this and they partially succeed. Dead Men Tell No Tales also sports some visual flair; the villains of this installment are the reanimated corpses of a drowned crew and the movie includes some grotesque imagery. It is also a bit more coherent than other Pirates movies. The plotting is more straightforward and the action benefits from some restraint.

What Doesn’t: The problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it adds virtually nothing to the Pirates of the Caribbean oeuvre. The movie is generic and it feels fashioned from repurposed parts of earlier Pirates films, which were not all that different from one another to begin with. The new film replaces Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly with Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario and the two young actors have clearly been cast because they recall the actors of the earlier Pirates films. Neither Thwaites nor Scodelario prove to be a particularly impressive screen presence but the fault for that may be the screenplay which does little to characterize these people. They are barely one-dimensional characters and their romance does not have any of the passion that made the love story work in the first film. The villain of Dead Men Tell No Tales is an undead captain played by Javier Bardem; he and his crew seek revenge on Jack Sparrow for trapping them in a limbo between life and death. Despite the digitally enhanced make up effects and Bardem’s performance, which is effectively threatening, the character comes across as indistinguishable from the villains of the earlier Pirates movies. Bardem’s captain lacks the charisma that made Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) so watchable in the first movie or the tragic elements that made Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) interesting in the second film. Johnny Depp returns to play Captain Jack Sparrow but he is just going through the motions here. Depp has done nothing with this character in at least the last two installments and the bumbling drunkard act is tired. The action sequences of Dead Men Tell No Tales do not have the style and showmanship of the earlier films; the first three pictures were directed by Gore Verbinski and even though At World’s End was a clunky misfire that got away from him, Verbinski’s Pirates movies had style and energy. The action of Dead Men Tell No Tales is a hollow imitation of the other films. Overall, this movie has the feeling of trying to recapture the original picture but it does so in a way that is calculated and joyless.

Bottom Line: The Pirates of the Caribbean has been an uneven series. Dead Men Tell No Tales certainly isn’t the worst of the series and it ranks firmly in the middle of the franchise. But it’s rote and never justifies its own existence.  

Episode: #651 (June 11, 2017)