Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Film Review
It was certainly dead men who told this boring tale.
Sitting through the fifth instalment of this multi-billion dollar, 14-year spanning franchise is a unique experience. It’s clear that Pirates of the Caribbean, one of cinema’s most incorrigible franchises, is unconcerned with character development, cohesive storytelling and world-building across the series. Despite these aspects playing important roles in other popular franchises, Pirates stands alone, even when compared with the increasingly ludicrous Fast and Furious franchise, as a series of films most accurately reflecting its roots as a rollercoaster experience. Each instalment is a new ride assembled from the same parts as the old one. Dead Men Tell No Tales sees its designers at their least inspired—it’s a contract job, the crew of which wants to get things over with as quickly as possible, collect their exorbitant pay packets and go home.
Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow to do his drunken, holding-up-an-invisible-dress-hem-run (which, let’s face it, might be the only reason audiences keep coming back at this point). Even though Depp is given the most screen time, his character hardly serves the film’s gratingly familiar plot. Serving as stand-ins for the bland Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightly) and even blander Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) are Henry Turner (Will’s son, played by Brenton Thwaites) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, of Skins fame). Henry wants to rescue his father from the Dutchman’s curse so he has to get a hold of Poseidon’s trident. A series of happenstances lump the two of them together with Jack Sparrow who’s being pursued by black-bile spewing, rotted Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem).
The plot is mostly an excuse for a few mildly entertaining set pieces, one in which Sparrow appears asleep in a vault full of money with somebody else’s wife (representative of the rewards Depp receives versus his level of effort) and he and his crew drag the entire bank through the town, destroying everything in its path. If Depp were any kind of capable physical performer, this set piece could demonstrate why the series is intent on revolving every film around its increasingly mumbling, slovenly star. It’d be unfair to pin all of the film’s failings on Depp, but at this point he appears like a washed-up Johnny Depp impersonator doing a half-arsed rendition of Captain Jack Sparrow, and the whole movie hinges on that.
It certainly doesn’t help that Sparrow, as a character, is impervious to growth or development. Like a sitcom character, he remains exactly the same, just a little less enthused this time around. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg are content to rely on the Pirates rulebook when it comes to the character: he likes rum, he runs like a senile drunkard trying to escape the retirement village without his walker and, inexplicably, everyone keeps hiring him to commandeer their ships.
Of course, none of this should matter as long as audiences are getting what they’ve paid for, right?
A bit of comedy, some of swashbuckling action and a little romance. Well, in my screening I counted three smatterings of tepid laughter. As for the action, DMTNT seems to have done away with the energetic swordfighting that characterised previous instalments; Sandberg and Rønning are more content in action scenes to focus on Depp’s incredulous facial expressions. The romance between Henry and Carina is characterised by its total lack of romantic chemistry, in fact it’s Sparrow who’s creepily lusting after Carina for most of the film, until, right at the end, with no build up whatsoever, Henry kisses her.
It’s about as thrilling as watching Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly kiss, actually.
Studio executives have been blaming the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score for its poor returns, given that it didn’t crack $90 million on its opening weekend like On Stranger Tides did. This suggests either a) audiences are listening to critics telling them they don’t need to go see a movie that treats them like popcorn-guzzling imbeciles or b) you can’t make a movie that doesn’t learn from its mistakes five times in a row.
Either way, appreciate the breathing space before Pirates of the Caribbean 6 drunkenly stumbles its way into theatres.