Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale (2017) Review

AT LEAST IT’S BETTER THAN

ON STRANGER TIDES


 

Swashbuckling adventure on the high seas, villainous pirates, courageous young people, and the comedic misadventures of the infamous pirate Jack Sparrow. Yes, I’m talking about the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. Beginning back in 2003 with The Curse of the Black Pearl, this franchise, which was based off of the famous Disney ride, kicked off the adventure, introducing viewers to the characters of Will Tuner, Elizabeth Swan, and “Captain” Jack Sparrow and their adventures against murderous pirates and a cursed treasure. The Curse of the Black Pearl was met with popularity from its viewers and critics, spawning two more installments with 2006’s Dead Man’s Chest and 2007’s World’s End. After World’s End, many believe that the franchise would end, capping off its third installment as a planned trilogy and wrapping up the adventures of Elizabeth and Will Turner. However, the film series returned several years later with 2011’s On Stranger Tides and further continuing the adventure with Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately, while it made an adsorbent amount of money at the box office, On Stranger Tides was met with harsh criticism from critics and moviegoers, being criticized as the weakest installment in the franchise. Now, after six years since On Stranger Tides, Walt Disney Pictures and directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg present the next chapter in this cinematic saga with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale. Does this fifth installment in the Pirates franchise “rule the seas” or is it time to retire the character of Jack Sparrow and this film saga?

THE STORY


The legendary Trident of Poseidon is a powerful relic of myth, able to control the seas and gives its handler the power to break any curse within its aquatic dominion. However, the whereabouts of this ancient object is a mystery, even amongst the pirate legends and lore. Ever since a young lad, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) seeks of a way to free his father’s curse of captaining the Flying Dutchman, seeing the fabled Trident as possible solution of breaking the curse’s hold on Will’s life. Teaming up with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoddelario), a feisty young woman who uses here skills of astronomy, Henry sets out to find the Trident of Poseidon. However, before their adventure begins, the pair run across Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who’s also looking for treasure and opportunity to prove his worth contempt captain of the seas. As the trio sets out, along with some other familiar faces, they cross paths with Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a driven, undead man with a ghost ship of undead men, on the hunt for Sparrow, who took his corporeal freedom long ago, creating an insatiable desire for revenge, killing all who stands in his way. On top of that, Captain Hector Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush), is thrown into the mix, trying to reclaim his grip on the sea as Salazar’s ship wreaks havoc upon the open waters.

 

THE GOOD / THE BAD


As a whole, I’ve enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Maybe it’s because they’re a swashbuckling action movies (somewhat common in this era of films) or maybe they’re a somewhat period piece (I’m always a sucker for period piece features) or maybe it was new light to see actor Johnny Depp in a sort of theatrical resurgence. Like many, my favorite entry in the series would have to be the would the one that started it all…2003’s Curse of the Black Pearl. It had everything: swashbuckling adventure, humorous comedy bits, dashing romance, and a flavor of a supernatural fantasy to create a very entertaining and memorable pirate film that has (to this day) as endured and still beloved by many. While it many have mixed feelings about them, I found that the two follow-up sequels (Dead Men’s Chest and World’s End) were actually pretty good, further continuing the adventures of Will, Elizabeth, and Jack and wrapping it all up in very satiable way to send off this trio of characters. Unfortunately, Disney wasn’t satisfied with saying goodbye to its very lucrative franchise and saw fit to produce a new movie with On Stranger Tides, the fourth installment in the Pirates saga. Unfortunately, On Stranger Tides, to me, just felt lifeless, boring, and just another “cash in” for the studio to bank on the popularity of the series. I even own the Blu-ray version of the movie (I skipped the movie in theaters) and I’ve only watched the movie only a few times, choosing to prefer watching any one of the original trilogy entries. As I said above, On Stranger Tides is the weakest link in Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

This, of course, bring me back around to my current review for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale. With On Stranger Tides leaving a somewhat sour taste in my mouth, I was a bit leery when I heard the news that Disney was going to make a fifth movie in the Pirate series. Although, despite that fact (and being a fan of franchise), I was bit curious to see where the next installment would ultimately lead to. Naturally, I saw the trailers (well, maybe minus the teaser trailer which was more like a scene from the film rather than a highlight preview) and my interest to see Dead Men Tell No Tale was growing, hoping for a good (and proper) Pirates sequel. So, what did I think of the movie? Well, despite being better than On Stranger Tides, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale is just an adequate entry in the franchise. It definitely feels like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but it just fails to make its own memorable mark on its viewers.

Directing Dead Men Tell No Tale is Norwegian directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, who previous works include Kon-Tiki and Max Manus: Man of War. In terms of directing, both Rønning and Espen handle the movie well, proving their entry in the popular franchise to be better than On Stranger Tides, delivering plenty action and spectacle to the feature’s proceedings. In truth, due to a part of the film’s story, the movie does have more of connection to the original trilogy (more so than On Stranger Tides did). As a whole (both pros and yes…even the cons), the film does feel like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. So, this being the fifth movie, a certain type of excitement still guaranteed and does have that style of child-ish wonder of moviemaking. Expect sword fights, daring rescues, ship battles, ghoulish undead pirates, and humorous bits that may or may not land properly. Despite its flaws (I’ll get to them below), the movie is a bit of refresher from the recent movie lineups of superhero flicks, raunchy comedies, and horror features.

Production-wise, Dead Men Tell No Tale looks gorgeous and fits the bill for a large budgeted blockbuster endeavor. Set-pieces are big and elaborate, costume designs are detailed and layered, hair and make-up are intricately woven and applied appropriately. The visuals effect also feel correct for a large scale such as this, with highlights include undead sharks and the various ghost-like pirates of Salazar’s crew. Speaking of Salazar, I do like how they made his effects of making his body (mostly his hair) appear as if he’s underwater (kind of cool). Lastly, for the first time in the series, legendary music compose Hans Zimmer did not compose the music for Dead Men Tell No Tale (and yes, I do know that Klaus Badelt co-wrote the score for Curse of the Black Pearl with Zimmer). Instead, his protegee composer, Geoff Zanelli score the music for the film and does a pretty good job at, creating his own melodies and suites as wells as incorporating several iconic Pirates melodies from past entries. I loved hearing the sweeping score (I don’t know the name of the song) from World’s End again.

Unfortunately, despite feeling like a Pirates of the Caribbean film and being slightly better than On Strange Tides, Dead Men Tell No Tale just doesn’t resonate as strong as the first three entries in the franchise. For starters, the film’s script, which is penned by Jeff Nathanson, is pretty weak and a bit haphazard. Some say that the film’s story is more focused and as more heart, but I found it out to be a bit more confusing and a tad lackluster. The reason I think that is because script isn’t as cohesive and the main narrative is a bit wonky. All these characters are searching for the Trident (for different reasons), but we (the viewers) never really get a sense of who to follow. Example: Will and Elizabeth were obviously the main thread in the original trilogy and Sparrow was the main thread in On Stranger Tides. In this movie, however, it’s hard to determine. I assume, it’s supposed to be Henry and Carina, but they’re the least impactful characters in the entire movie (more on that below). Even Jack Sparrow, the main constant in the series, seems to be more “in the background” in the second and third act. Thus, the narrative, which is a bit overstuffed, doesn’t know how to “land its own plane”. Coinciding with that, the film feels sluggish and becomes hampered with various “filler” parts and sequences that are placed in-between the film’s action scenes. So, despite the movie having only a runtime of two hours and nine minutes (making Dead Men Tell No Tale the shortest Pirates movie in the series), the movie just feels super long. In addition, the first act, which sets up events, takes way too long to get started, finding their characters to finally go in search of the Trident of Poseidon roughly 50 minutes into the feature.

Then there’s all the ridiculousness sequences. True, these sequencers were present in Dead Men’s Chest and World’s End, but this entry (as well as On Stranger Tides) just amps it up to being too cartoon-ish and actually took me out of the movie experience in those various points. A prime example of this is during the film’s first act when Sparrow and crew steal a bank vault (taking a page from Dominic Toretto’s crew from Fast Five) as well as Guillotine scene at the end of the first act; both of which had my eyes rolling and me groaning “oh, come on!”. Also, there’s a wedding scene, which is completely thrown in (out of the blue) and feels weird. As I stated the visual effects are good in the movie, there are few scenes that are a bit shoddy (oblivious sensing it’s a green screen behind its characters). Additionally, Rønning and Sandberg overindulge in the usage of the film’s visual effect shots. This means that the feature has more CG usage and computer generated constructs to keep a viewer’s attention rather than a engaging story or fleshed out characters that populated the screen. Naturally, a film’s visual effects (for the most part) should only be used as cinematic tool rather than a necessary crutch.

Lastly, speaking in general terms, the movie (along with On Stranger Tides) feels really unnecessary. As I said, I’m fan of the original Pirates trilogy, which told an engaging and entertaining story, and did close the adventure with its 2007 film. On Stranger Tides and this movie just feel superfluous and really don’t need to be made. To be truthfully, I think they’re actually hurting the franchise rather than strengthening it. However, the Pirates films to make money, so I don’t expect this cinematic saga to stop anytime soon.

The cast of Dead Men Tell No Tale are a talented bunch, but only a few standout and make an impression on their respective characters. As one can expect, the notorious pirate captain character of Jack Sparrow (the franchise’s reoccurring reluctant hero) returns, with actor Johnny Depp also returning to reprise his iconic role. Depp, widely known for works in Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Black Mass, has proven his character of Sparrow to be a very debonair and comical one and, with this being the fifth Pirates film, Depp seems extremely comfortable in playing Jack Sparrow once again. Unfortunately, this brings a sense of repetitiveness to the film’s proceedings, making the character of Sparrow a bit redundant. Yes, it’s somewhat fun to see to see Depp playing Sparrow again (I personally think it’s my favorite Depp film character), but the character, much like in On Stranger Tides, has become more of a cartoon-ish caricature of sorts. In Dead Men Tell No Tale, the whole persona of Jack Sparrow has become that more stale, playing up his more bumbling and comedic quirks and traits and disregarding his more swashbuckling wit and seafaring charm. I do understand that the whole Jack Sparrow shtick has always been a bit over-the-top, but, at this point, it’s become a part of pop culture parodies (like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator or Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa) and Dead Men Tell No Tale just reconfirms that notion. Thus, to wrap this up, while Depp’s Jack Sparrow is indeed iconic and memorable, his character’s reappearance in the fifth Pirates movie has lost his endearing charm.

Depp’s Sparrow return also means that the film finds a pair of two courageous youths to tagalong with the infamous pirate captain, finding its selection in Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scoddelario as the respective characters of sailor Henry Turner and astronomer (and Horologist) Carina Smyth. Thwaites, known for his roles in Gods of Egypt and Maleficent, and Scoddelario, known for her roles in Moon and the Maze Runner movies, deliver okay performances in their respective roles, but their screen presence in the film is bland and lack the natural palpability, especially since the story kind of revolves around their character’s backstory and series underlining theme of family. Their acting is fine, but it’s just hard to buy into the characters of Henry and Carina, who are basically spin-off versions of William Tuner (headstrong and determined) and Elizabeth Swann (confident and strong-minded) for this movie. In addition, the film also tries to make a romance of these two characters and, much like their characters, it’s hard to buy into their love relationship. Although, I do have to admit that they are more likeable and more intriguing than On Stranger Tides’s love interest of Philip and Syrena.

Moving to the more supporting characters of the movie is actor Javier Bardem, who plays the film’s main villain Captain Salazar. Bardem, famous roles in Skyfall, Biutiful, and No Country for Old Men, is a perfect fit to play such antagonistic characters and does “sink his teeth” into his portrayal of Salazar, projecting a servable amount of creepiness and menace into this ghoulish undead pirate. Unfortunately, while the film gives him a backstory into his character, Bardem’s Salazar is a tad weaker than other Pirates baddies. Yes, Bardem has fun with the character and has the screen presence, but we (the viewers) never really get to see him relish in his “evil ways” much like past villains like Rush’s Barbosa, Hollander’s Beckett, and Nighy’s Davey Jones (although he is more memorable than Ian McShane’s Blackbeard from On Stranger Tides). All in all, despite him being a true fearless villain, Bardem does elevate his character of Salazar to be probably the most memorable character in all of Dead Men Tell No Tale.

Along with Depp’s Sparrow, franchise veteran Geoffrey Rush returns as well as the Captain Hector Barbosa. Known for his character roles in Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech, and Elizabeth, Rush easily slides back into his role of the notorious pirate, chewing through his lines with delightful ease. However, unlike Jack Sparrow, the character of Barbosa does get a new layer added to him in this new movie, which is a bit of refresh. Other veterans Pirate side characters also return, including Kevin McNally as Mr. Gibbs, Martin Klebba as Marty, Stephan Graham as Scrum (the only On Stranger Tides character to be brought back), and, of course, following the various movie buzz and promos spots, Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly do reprise their Pirates roles of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann in Dead Men Tell No Tale (and I’ll just leave at that). Also, Giles New and Angus Barnett, the two bumbling British soldiers from Curse of the Black Pearl (as well as World’s End), return in reprising their roles as Murtogg and Mullory. Other noteworthy performances in the movie include David Wenham as the British officer Scarfield and Golshifteh Farahani as the sea witch Shansa; both of which could’ve been expanded upon. Also, in a somewhat cameo appearance, Beatle legend Paul McCartney plays Jack Sparrow’s uncle (aka Uncle Jack). Much like Keith Richards’s Teague, McCartney’s appearance is just to be a fun cameo and nothing more.

Lastly, much like all the other previous installments in the franchise, there’s a secret ending at the very end credits of the movie. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a pretty interesting one that I like, teasing possible sixth installment in the Pirate saga. However, giving the events on what’s happens at the ending’s climax piece, this secret ending sequence seems a bit wonky on how it could happen. Maybe I’m just over analyzing this a bit too much.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Salazar seeks revenge and the search for the Trident of Poseidon begins as Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow (and company) return in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg newest film charts a course back to the world of pirates, monsters, and adventure for fifth go-around of this well-known blockbuster franchise. From start to finish, the movie has its visual “pirate” flair and other nuances and does succeed in being a cinematic blockbuster experience as well as creating a more engaging story than its On Stranger Tides predecessor. Unfortunately, the movie can’t reclaim its past glory, feeling derivate from past entries, sluggish (and ridiculous) at times, narratively overstuffed, and, much like the last film, feels generally superfluous. Personally, I thought this movie was just okay. It still wasn’t as good as the first Pirates (let alone the second or third films), but it was still more entertaining than On Stranger Tides. So, my recommendation for this movie is probably going to be a “iffy-choice” as it’s not really terrible to be mark as a “skip it”, but neither does it warrant a recommended approval from me (unless your huge fan of the Pirates series). As I stated above, the movie’s ending does hint at a possible continuation for another film, but, unless a real “game changer” can shake jump the status quo of the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale should be the final chapter of this high seas saga as well as letting go of Depp’s infamous Captain Jack Sparrow character.

3.1 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)

 

Released On: May 26th, 2017
Reviewed On: May 27th, 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tale  is 129 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for of adventure violence, and some suggestive content

7 comments

  • Nice review! Honestly I’m sure I’ll enjoy this film. I even enjoyed At World’s End, quite a lot in fact. I think I have a nostalgia filter over the Pirates of the Caribbean films, unless they’re just all brilliant guilty pleasures. I’ll definitely try and get to seeing this one.
    Reuben

    • Thanks for reading and for the comment, Reuben. As I said, I did enjoy it (to some degree) as I have a lot of nostalgia with he Pirates films, especially the first three. So, in a sense, part of me liked it….I just wish it was a bit better.

  • I quite enjoyed Dead Men, much more than part 3 and 4 anyway. I felt it returns a little to form. On the other hand, Jack Sparrow definitely felt a bit old, in the sense the whole flamboyant pirate captain thing has long gotten tiring. Salazar wasn’t as memorable a villain as Davy Jones too.

    • I kind of agree with you. Dead Men did return to form (a bit), but the villain of the movie wasn’t memorable and the whole Jack Sparrow character is getting tired. It will be interesting to see where the next one goes (if it gets made).

  • I thought it was quite a lot of forced humor but I did love the cast and Salazar. Pretty dull story but the ending was quite something. Brilliant review as always Jason!

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