Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is an interesting example of how the opinion of the critics and audiences can diverge in the modern era. On one hand, the critics blew it to smithereens on . On the other, audiences have regarded this movie as a passable popcorn flick. With this in mind, it is time to take a look at the film, the state of the franchise, and why the flick sort of works until you start to think about it in any meaningful way.
And by the way, it is going to be impossible to discuss the story without getting into spoilers. You’ve been warned.
The Cast Is There, I Guess.
Just to start things off, Pirates 5 mixes reasonably well thought out performances with wasted talent. Johnny Depp returns as the reasonably interesting Captain Jack Sparrow. Depp’s eccentric pirate is still a lot of fun to watch after 14 years, but his performance does not carry this movie on its’ own. The main reason why I say that is because he is the instigator of the story, but a part of the charm of his character is in how others react to his antics.
Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t really back that up unless we talk about Javier Bardem’s turn as Captain Armando Salazar. The undead Spaniard may be on a quest for revenge, but Bardem infuses the role with just enough menace and humanity to make things memorable. His flashback scenes are a welcome addition that helps to drive the story, lending a bit of desperately needed gravitas to the plot.
Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario deliver reasonably interesting performances as Henry Turner and Carina Smyth, but their part of the story is dragged down by the writing. It is almost impossible to see why these two are supposed to be in love by the end of it all. Henry simply mutters that he is attracted to the wayward astronomer (and accused witch), has an “unscratchable itch,” and they get together for no other reason than plot.
Geoffrey Rush and David Wenham are almost criminally wasted in this movie. While Rush turns in a fantastically hammy performance as Captain Barbossa, he isn’t given enough to do. As for Wenham’s Lieutenant Scarfield, it is possible to completely cut him out of the movie without changing a single thing about it, which is a spectacular misuse of a remarkable talent.
And just to nitpick things, why is Scarfield a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy? David Wenham is 51 years old. His character could have been easily rewritten to be a Captain, Commodore, or Admiral.
Anyway, moving on…
The Jokes Are Fun, But The Story Is A Mess.
As mentioned above, the biggest flaw in this movie has to be the story and plot development. It starts with the very first scenes of the movie. When Henry Turner visits his father, Will (Orlando Bloom), he begins his search for the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact that can supposedly break all of the curses of the sea. Rather than taking an extreme interest in a weapon that could kill or save him, Will just shoos his son away from The Flying Dutchman for no apparent reason other than that the plot needs him to do that.
It is also important to note that a character dies during the final battle of the film. While this may have been an interesting twist in any other story, it turns out to be completely meaningless in this one. Since this person was claimed by the sea, the writers of the next film could just use Davy Jones’ Locker until it’s convenient to bring the character back. While that is good for the merchandising department, it shows that there is no real reason to get emotionally involved in the franchise.
After all, why should we care if there are no stakes?
The Technicals Are Fine.
On a positive note, Dead Men Tell No Tales is a competently made movie… for the most part. As one might expect from Disney, the film is shot in a way that allows the audience to see the action unfold and the production design is great. One bright spot that exemplifies this point is the final island. It is said that the area is a reflection of the stars above it, but the sequence combines natural and otherworldly elements into one gorgeous whole.
With that said, there are two exceptions to the rule that command attention.
The guillotine scene is a memorable sequence, but it is so over-the-top that it distracts from the overall tone of the movie. In this case, Henry and the pirates try to rescue Jack and blow out the supports underneath the structure, which causes Jack to swing around like a spinning top. It doesn’t add much of anything to the story and it didn’t make anyone laugh all that much, so why is it in there?
On another note, the opening bank robbery snaps the suspension of disbelief. That may sound like an absurd criticism of a franchise that has gods and mythical sea creatures in it, but it is important to keep the “real world” at least a little bit grounded because it offers contrast. We know that a short line of horses can’t pull an entire bank through city streets, so why didn’t the writers come up with something more thoughtful than that?
By now, most people have made up their minds about this movie. If you absolutely have to see it, it may be best to wait until it comes out on Blu-Ray and Digital Distribution before you watch it. Otherwise, it may be best to skip it and whip out your copy of The Curse of the Black Pearl.
You’ll probably get a lot more entertainment value out of that one.
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