Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”


The fifth installment of the pirate franchise once again stars Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. (COURTESY OF DISNEY)


In 2003, Walt Disney Studios paired with visionary Jerry Bruckheimer to produce something unheard of in the cinematic world—a film based on a beloved theme park attraction. That movie, Gore Verbinski’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” was praised universally for its ability to transport viewers into the pirate’s life. It contained plenty of action, humor and wit to successfully be considered as a blockbuster classic. However, 14 years and three sequels later, the Pirates franchise is sinking quickly. Its alleged final installment, “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” is an attempt to end the saga on a note as refreshing as its original, but the result is mediocre at best.

The film stars Johnny Depp yet again as the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow, a blunderingly flirtatious pirate with a carefree attitude and love of rum. When he finds his luck is waning, he ventures to obtain the Trident of Poseidon—an object that can reverse any curse. His path converges with two fresh faces to the franchise: Henry Turner (Brendon Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), who hopes to use the trident to permanently end his father’s time on the Dutchman and Carina Smyth (Kayla Scodelario), an astronomer who yearns to learn more about her own heritage. However, their rocky alliance is threatened by the villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), an undead pirate hunter who, with the help of his crew, is determined to gain his revenge on Sparrow for causing his death.

Depp’s performance as Sparrow was predictable, his drunken swagger and humor established in previous films suddenly devoid of its usual charm. Standing beside his younger cast mates, he appears more as a waning star attempting to relive his golden days rather than command as a major character. As the new faces of the franchise, Thwaites and Scodelario stood their ground, but their similarities to Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann diminish their individual identities almost completely in an attempt to win back fans. In contrast, Bardem’s performance was top-notch. With a villainous smirk that excellently matched all of his atrocious behaviors throughout the film, he was believably scary yet captivating at the same time.

Just like any other Pirates of the Caribbean film, the plot was complicated.  However, this film’s story resembles more of a two-hour game of water tag than a concrete pirate tale to remember. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg succeeded in the past with their Oscar-nominated  film “Kon-Tiki” (2012), which took almost entirely place on water, but this ocean seemed to drown the characters out in an endless saga of battles. There was also an array of extraneous characters that interfered with the main plotline such as a group of determined redcoats and a Henna-clad witch (Golshifteh Farahani), creating an almost chaotic back-and-forth that distracted from the truly important bits of the movie.

But amidst the chaos also rose some satisfying moments that recalled the success of the first film. Opening with a hysterically literal bank robbery performed by Jack and his crew, there were bits of humor that restored the charm of the franchise that vanished over the years. Unlike the previous film “On Stranger Tides” (2011), “Dead Men Tell No Tales” relates directly to the original storyline developed in the first three movies, and the brief inclusion of both Bloom and Knightley help to tie it together nicely. While the majority of the film appears mediocre in plot, these small references to the original trilogy are extremely enjoyable. However, they also allude to the sheer potential that the film possessed but unfortunately did not live up to.

The greatest aspect of the film by far is its top-notch usage of CGI. It takes a certain amount of skill to convincingly portray an entire ghost crew with portions of their bodies burning away, and the artistic team did an impeccable job bringing the supernatural to life in an incredibly realistic manner. Figures who were merely floating torsos still walked the deck of a ship with convincing realism, and Bardem himself was compellingly terrifying with his burning face and floating hair as if eternally suspended in water.

While “Dead Men Tell No Tales” did not live up to its immense potential, fans of the franchise may not view it as a total loss due to its small references to the previous films. However, if anything, the movie shows that with each sequel or reboot, “Pirates of the Caribbean” will never be nearly as charismatic or inventive as it once was.