PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN:
DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES ½
2017, PG-13, 129 mins.
Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow / Javier Bardem as Captain Armando Salazar / Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner / Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth / Geoffrey Rush as Captain Hector Barbossa / Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs / Stephen Graham as Scrum / Golshifteh Farahani as Shansa / David Wenham as Scarfield / Orlando Bloom as Will Turner / Martin Klebba as Marty / Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Swann / Paul McCartney as Uncle Jack
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg / Written by Jeff Nathanson
The PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN cinematic universe has always maintained a love/hate relationship with many film critics.
The first one
way, way back in 2013 was infinitely better than any film based on a
popular amusement park ride had any business of being.
THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL was triumphant in overcoming pre-release
negative press and emerging as a genuine original for the swashbuckling
pirate genre. It was followed
by three sequels that were universally panned by many with their respective
and perceived diminishing returns, but I for one appreciated them all, with the
exception of 2011's ON
I don't count
myself among those that dismiss the series as a whole after the franchise
launching original, mostly because I derived great enjoyment from watching
most of the PIRATES films. Having seen DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (a tongue twister of a title if there ever was one), even the series apologist in me would
have to admit that creative
fatigue is starting to taint the seafaring misadventures of Captain Jack
Sparrow. Despite a welcome
injection of new directors at the helm, a finely assembled cast of
newcomers, and a climax that's surprisingly sensational and packs an
unexpected dramatic punch for a few key characters, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
feels far too redundant of a sequel to bare a worthy comparison to the
first three stellar films. Beyond the film's multi-million dollar blockbuster sheen, it
nevertheless feels wholly disposable.
That's not to say
that there aren't some pleasures to be had with revisiting this world and
characters yet again. Like ON STRANGER TIDES, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES opens with a
charmingly inventive action sequence that highlights why Johnny Depp's
Jack Sparrow is one of the more appealingly offbeat and unique characters of
the movies. There's a lavish
unveiling ceremony for a new bank and its
enormous metal safe on the isle of Saint Martin. When
it's opened a rather inebriated Jack is passed out on the inside, napping
on untold amounts of loot. Plans
by his crew to steal the safe right out of the building (via a horse run
carriage tied to it) fails miserably, seeing as they accidentally end up
pulling the entire bank behind them, causing unpardonable damaging along
the way. By the time they
secure the vault back to Jack's ship all of its currency has spilt out
onto the streets during their flee from authorities.
There are a couple of slapstick beats here by Depp and company that
would have made Buster Keaton proud.
From here the
film hones in - with intermittent and inconsistent levels of focus - on
the overall arc of the story, which features the mystical Trident of
Poseidon (or Brick Tamland's favorite weapon from ANCHORMAN),
which contains powers so vast that it gives its wielder control over the
seas and the ability to remove any curse (and a lot of characters in these
films are indeed damned). The
trident is buried somewhere at an undisclosed location at the bottom of
the ocean, but Henry (Brenton Thwaites) seems hell bent of securing it so
that he can remove the curse placed upon his father, Will Turner (Orlando
Bloom, returning to the series after being absent in ON STRANGER TIDES),
who's forever trapped on The Flying Dutchman and can only come on land
every ten years to hook up with his wife (Keira Knightley, also returning,
albeit in a blink-of-you'll-miss-her cameo).
said trident proves to be an impossible task, especially for the bumbling
Jack and his equally insipid crew, but joining them on their quest is the
determined Henry and Carina (the fetching Kaya Scodelario from THE MAZE
RUNNER films), the former being an astronomer that believes that the key to finding
the trident lays with following a map in the stars above.
Competing with Jack and his crew are Barbossa (series regular
Geoffrey Rush) and the evil and undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghost-like corpse that leads a crew of ghouls
and has a very
personal vendetta against the hapless Jack that dates back several
decades. He blames Jack for
his curse...and is among many in this series that blames Jack for
When it comes to
villains, the PIRATES films usually are on solid ground, and DEAD MEN TELL
NO TALES gets a much needed unpredictable jolt of sinister menace with the
addition of Bardem to this cast. The
Spanish actor does a bravura job of making his wronged captain both
hauntingly creepy (the actor is buried under piles of thankless CGI to
give him the appearance of always floating in water even when above it)
and a contradictory figure of sympathy, which makes this antagonist a bit
more compellingly rendered than I was expecting (granted, he does occupy a
few scenes where he serves as a mechanical exposition dispensing machine
to explain who he is, where he came from, and how he relates to Jack).
I also liked the headstrong spunk that Scodelario brings to
her role as a misunderstood scientist (one of the film's more humorous
recurring gags is every man's unwillingness to accept her as a woman of
science and instead naively label her as a heretic and witch).
She's matched nicely with Thwaites, who has matinee idol good
looks and youthful charm, but is laughably too old to be a plausible son
to Knightley and Bloom (the actors are just 4 and 12 years older
DEAD MEN TELL NO
TALES, as mentioned, reaches a fever point during its climax, which
features all of its players convening at the final resting place of
Poseidon's Trident and features a parting of the ocean that would make
Cecile B. DeMille blush with envy. If
anything, the PIRATES films as a whole have always maintained a consistent
level of consummate polish in terms of production design and visual effects, and DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES is certainly no different; it's an
endlessly handsome period fantasy film.
Some individual sequences are sublimely envisioned, such as a nifty
one featuring zombified sharks attacking Jack and crew and a
very clever early scene that showcases Jack very narrowly escaping
beheading via a guillotine. At
just a tad over two hours, the film is also the shortest in the series,
which may be a welcome relief for those that found some of the installments
- like the near three hour AT
WORLD'S END - to be watch checking endurance tests.
DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES is certainly not as self-indulgently bloated
as its prequels, which deserves merit.
I guess the main
issue here is that the Jeff Nathanson's (INDIANA
JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL) script is pretty flat
footed out of the gate and takes an awfully long time to build towards any
sustainable audience interest. This
sequel is high on character introductions and explanations and low of
peppy character dynamics. Sometimes
to its great detriment, the film makes an abrupt stop for some ill
conceived comedic vignettes, such as a tragically unfunny instance of Jack
nearly being married to an obese elderly woman that's suffering from
scabies that could have been excised from the film altogether.
That, and new directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (the duo behind the Oscar nominated KON-TIKI) never really seem to
give their own aesthetic spin to the proceedings and instead just lazily
mime the stylistic approach of what's come before.
In some cases they paint the screen with such dark dreariness
(further covered by the already murky lens of 3D) that making out what's
happening in scenes is next to impossible.
This series is seriously missing Gore Verbinski and the color and
vibrancy he successfully brought to the first three films.
Johnny Depp, who to be fair has single-handedly made the PIRATES franchise
a popular box office dynamo and created such an indelible genre busting
character (that, and far too many forget that he was Oscar nominated for his
first performance in THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL).
For as much giddy fun as it has been to see Depp fuse himself to
his most iconic role over the years, it's hard to ignore that his work in
DEAN MEN TELL NO TALES lacks that ethereal glint of inspiration in his
eyes; his passion for the role seems visibly sullied and,
at this point, he seems to be continuing to play this role more out of
financial and contractual obligation than for purely creative reasons.
Fourteen years ago Captain Jack Sparrow was a revitalizing breath
of fresh air for a genre that was all but dead in the water, but now his
drawing power and on screen magnetism are disappointingly dimmed.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES has been made not because there are worthwhile stories that need to be told in this universe; Disney keeps making them to pad their pocketbooks (the series as a whole has grossed nearly $4 billion worldwide). This fifth film in the improbably successful franchise feels like a theme park ride that was once a massive draw and euphorically cherished, but now continues to chug along without any maintenance, updates, or improvements being made to accommodate for a new generation of riders. May has been a month thus far of big budget and high marquee Hollywood sequels that have greatly disappointed me, and the regrettably inessential and autopilot driven DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES dubiously continues this downward qualitative trend.
My CTV Review: