[THERE WILL BE NO MAJOR-PLOT DETAILS SPOILED IN THIS REVIEW. ONLY WHAT WAS SHOWN IN TRAILERS]
So they FINALLY decided to name one of their movies after the line that’s been dropped in the theme park ride forever?
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the 5th (yes…5th…I know, I tried to forget about “Stranger Tides” too) installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series and once again stars Johnny Depp as the pirate heartthrob of the 2000’s, Captain Jack Sparrow. Geoffrey Rush also reprises his role of Hector Barbossa, and Javier Bardem joins the cast as the evil Captain Salazar.
As far as how much I care about the Pirates franchise: I, like many, saw the first one and to this day it stands as one of my favorite adventure movies. That first time we saw Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swann do their whole thing and we saw the Black Pearl, Port Royal, Tortuga, the curse of the Aztec gold, etc…that movie was nothing short of epic. I remember being pumped for the second one and even though that got super weird with tentacle/fish monsters, I was still really in to it and had hype for the 3rd one! That’s when it got TOO weird for me with all the sea magic, Calypso, the odd Pirate version of the UN they had, etc. Still, I felt like everything got resolved and maybe the 3rd one was just hard to stick the landing, so I was fine with it. Then they made a fourth…which I couldn’t even sit through without groaning. I wasn’t really going out of my mind to see this fifth one, but I figured “hey, Orlando Bloom is back as Will Turner, Javier Bardem as the villain, and Kaya Scodelario is gorgeous, so why not?”
While I don’t think that anyone took a really hard “L” for making “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, at the same time I can’t say that this movie is…well…that good. Maybe I missed something, but lets get into details to explain myself.
First off, this is a really pretty movie. The effects are cool, the shots of the sea and sailing ships are pretty satisfying, and the animation for Javier Bardem’s character works pretty well. As much as I love Bardem’s acting, I will say that he becomes somewhat comical in this…like he’s about to drop a deuce every time he says “Jack Sparrow”. He has his moments where you see “classic Javier Bardem”, but this definitely isn’t a performance I would remember over “Skyfall”. The two newcomers that fill the trope of “we’re young and pretty and we’re not pirates but we need pirates for this thing” actually shine and their characters, Henry and Carina, get their own arcs that don’t deviate too far away from the main story…which brings me to my main point.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this is an unwatchable movie, but there is nothing spectacular or unique about the story, writing, or directing. The storyline is really simple to follow, nothing seems consequential or urgent at all, and the direction is aggressively mediocre. I’m glad they’re not doing the typical pirates thing where every character has to double-cross everyone else a billion times, but regardless it just felt like nothing was fully fleshed out. Despite being on the shorter end for runtime nowadays, the movie felt long and really dragged until the last half of the 3rd act.
There are two sequences I really liked in this. The one I can’t really talk about is the last 20 minutes, because that was where all the fun was and there’s a treat at the end for fans of this franchise. The ending we got in “Dead Men Tell No Tales” was the ending to the Pirates series that we deserved, and it was really oddly satisfying (probably because I felt nostalgic).
The other sequence I enjoyed was the flashback where a young (cgi) Jack Sparrow outsmarts and defeats Captain Salazar, because it reminded me of the kind of Pirates movie I would enjoy. It was a fun little battle between two ships, the pirates seemed ready to be conquered, Jack shows his famous wit, and there was no insane ocean-magic that took me out of it. But even with this enjoyable scene, they dug a massive plot-hole (which I’m surprised I actually remembered) and it made me a little disappointed.
In the flashback scene, Jack inherits his special compass from the previous captain (now killed by Salazar). We find out that should Jack ever part from this compass, Salazar’s crazy undead army will rise and rule the seas. That’s fine and all…but remember “Dead Man’s Chest” and Tia Dalma? In the first act of that particular movie, Tia Dalma asks Jack why the compass he bartered from her can’t lead him to the dead man’s chest. So Jack inheriting the compass from his old captain doesn’t match up with him trading for it, and it kinda poops on the Pirate lore we loved from the first three.
Speaking of Jack, he might be my biggest disappointment for this movie. Not only does he seem kind of unnecessary for the story in general, but Johnny Depp here is almost a parody of himself. This movie is Henry and Carina’s story, with Barbossa as a supporting character, and Jack as a drunk plot-device so that there could be a villain. They do mention that Jack is supposed to be washed-up…but dear lord this just didn’t even feel like him anymore. There is no charm or wit to go along with this Jack Sparrow, there is only stupidity and “ha ha, look at what Jack is doing now! Silly Jack, stop putting our lives in danger!”
Again, I didn’t hate “Dead Men Tell No Tales”, because I do like the Pirates movies and I liked some choices that were made (which I couldn’t really disclose because of spoilers). However, I think this should be it. There were some good swan-songs, the crew fought the THIRD undead army of its series, people got some closure…and I think this is the best place to end it. Obviously the only way to guarantee that it will end is if people stop seeing it (currently projected to do just under its goal of an $80 million opening weekend), but as far as being a series of movies go..probably a good place to quit while you’re slightly ahead.
Edit: oh wait, they aren’t stopping…because there’s an after-credit scene setting something up.
I’m recommending “Dead Men Tell No Tales” to anyone who liked the first 3 Pirates movies and cares enough to see some cool callbacks to those. As for being a movie on its own, I’m giving the fifth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean a 6/10.