Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Shiver me timbers! It’s hard to believe that Johnny Depp was nominated for an Oscar back in 2003, when he first stepped into the boots of the irreverent trickster Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. With its playful tone and wildly imaginative story, it’s no wonder the thrilling high seas adventure went on to become one of the biggest films of that year, winning the hearts of moviegoers around the world.
The series sailed through some choppy waters in 2006 and ’07 with its back-to-back sequels Dead Man’s Chest and the over-bloated At World’s End (2007), the latter almost drowning the property entirely. By the time the fourth entry, On Stranger Tides, hit screens in 2011, audiences had grown tired of Sparrow’s drunken shtick as everything that once seemed fresh and innovative was now tired and monotonous, the flick flailing almost immediately in the U.S. (but hey, I liked it). Six years and a whopping $3.7 billion dollars later and the mega successful franchise — originally based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland — is back, with producer Jerry Bruckheimer taking viewers on one last voyage through the Seven Seas, this fifth (and supposed final) outing tying up many of the series’ loose ends.
Dead Men Tell No Tales opens with an eerie prologue that picks up several years after the events of the last entry, with a young boy named Henry (Lewis McGowan) jumping onto the Flying Dutchman as it rises from the ocean. There, he sees his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who’s still bound to the ship, slowly turning into a barnacle. While Henry informs his dad that he’s found a way to break his curse, Will believes that it’s impossible, urging his son to simply let him be. Some nine years later and Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is working on a British Royal Navy warship that finds itself in the treacherous Devil’s Triangle, where it’s attacked by an army of ghoulish Spanish sailors who’ve lived there for years; the assault lead by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem). The dead heads slay the entire crew bar one, Henry, after Salazar realizes that the boy had been searching for his father’s old mate, Jack Sparrow. The skipper allows Henry to live for two reasons, the first, to deliver a message to Sparrow — whose magic compass is the key to breaking Salazar’s curse — and the second, to pass along the tale of the ghost ship because, well, ‘dead men tell not tales.’
Not long after, we’re reacquainted with Captain Jack, who’s been hiding out with his pose — including First Mate Joshamee Gibbs (Kevin McNally) and Marty the dwarf (Martin Klebba) — on the isle of Saint Martin, in a dodgy, marooned vessel named the Dying Gull — and yes, if you can remember, his beloved Black Pearl is still a bite-sized ‘ship in a bottle,’ which he carries around wherever he goes. When a bank robbery goes awry — the bandits stealing an entire building and not just a safe, then dragging the structure through the township like a gigantic, wobbly sleigh — Jack’s gang leave him high and dry, just like the safe’s riches, which have been emptied out onto the streets.
After narrowly escaping his public execution (for, like, the hundredth time), Sparrow joins forces with the young Henry, who’s after the trident of Poseidon — a mythical relic that’s said to have the power to break any curse at sea — and fiery, self-taught astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who knows how to find it, her intellect (which generally gets her pegged as a witch) making her the only person who can decipher the map that’ll reveal its whereabouts, a map that ‘no man can read.’
Rambunctiously directed by Norwegian duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Kon-Tiki (2012), Dead Men Tell No Tales hits enough high-flying notes to keep the swashbuckling adventure afloat, this fifth Pirates outing delivering some of the most satisfying stunts and set pieces of the year (so far). There’s a audacious first-act escape that features one of the wildest uses of a guillotine to date, and a show-stopping sequence where Salazar and his (wonderfully realized) army run on water as they attempt to catch our protagonists who, by the way, are being tailed by a bunch of decaying zombie sharks. And this is before the VFX heavy finale, in which the ocean parts like the Red Sea in 1956’s The Ten Commandments, with our heroes fighting for the trident amongst the exposed Styrofoam-looking rocks and coral underneath. Heck, we’re also treated to a young Jack Sparrow, thanks to some nifty CGI work similar to that used in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), where we saw a de-aged Kurt Russell up on screen. Moreover, cinematographer Paul Cameron, HBO’s Westworld (2016), does a wonderful job capturing several parts of Queensland, Australia, and the Whitsunday Islands, where the bulk of the movie was shot.
Written by Jeff Nathanson, Catch Me If You Can (2002), and series regular Terry Rossio, Dead Men Tell No Tales feels more than a smidgen bloated. For one, there are way too many parties chasing after the McGuffin, their separate motivations getting lost along the way. Then there’s Jack Sparrow, who (similar to the other four films) doesn’t drive the story whatsoever, the pratfall-laden adventurer simply there to spice things up a little, Depp’s antics much more tolerable this time around. An amusing running gag that sees several dimwitted pirates misinterpret the term ‘horologist,’ harking back to the fun of the Black Pearl, stands as an apex, while a poorly timed ‘I do,’ that almost gets Jack hitched to an obese blob named Beatrice (Hannah Walters), feels like a pointless waste of screen-time. Dead Men Tell No Tales also manages to tie up a lot of dangling plot threads, plot threads that (let’s face it) most have probably forgotten about. With that in mind, Geoffrey Rush’s peg leg Captain Barbossa gets the most rounded character arc in the movie, his journey coming to a fitting, heartfelt conclusion, the 65-year-old thespian clearly having a rip-roaring time on set.
In terms of its fresh new faces, Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites, Gods of Egypt (2016), is kinda one-note as Henry Turner, the grown-up son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann — both of whom appear in small roles. British babe Kaya Scodelario, Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), fares much better as the orphaned stargazer Carina Smyth, Scodelario trying her darndest to rise above her slightly underwritten role. The highlight, however, is none other than the menacing Javier Bardem, Skyfall (2012), who portrays maniacal Spanish Navy captain Salazar, a wounded fleet leader intent on eradicating all pirates from the map — Bardem’s only criticism being his heavy accent, which is difficult to interpret under composer Geoff Zanelli’s thunderous, pulsating score.
Elsewhere, David Wenham, 300 (2006), is completely forgettable as the antagonistic no-nonsense Lieutenant Scarfield, while Giles New and Angus Barnett reprise their roles as the bickering comic relief twosome Murtogg and Mullroy. Lastly, keep an eye out for ex-Beatles singer-songwriter Sir. Paul McCartney who has an amusing bit part as a pirate named Uncle Jack.
Staying true to its loud, rickety and sometimes nauseating ‘amusement park ride’ origins, Dead Men Tell No Tales might be a sensory overload but it’s a helluva trip nonetheless, the series wrapping up on a high rather than a whimper. Yes, there’s the obligatory post-credit scene that alludes to the possibility of yet another escapade. Irrespective, I just hope Disney drop the anchor now and let this franchise sail off into the sunset for good.
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by Mr. Movie