Movie Review: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (PG-13)
Here’s the truth where it pertains to the fifth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. It was only needed insomuch that the powers that be probably felt like they had to make up for the forgettable fourth installment. Does that make this a great movie? Not really. Quite frankly, I’m of the humble opinion that “Pirates” shouldn’t even be a franchise. It should have been a “one and done.” But then, the first movie did make an A-list superstar out of Johnny Depp, paving the way for the cash cows that were the second and third fun but convoluted chapters, so what the hell do I know?
In “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) hopes to break a curse that might free his father. During his search, he crosses paths with the villainous Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghostly monster of a pirate who has an ax to grind with the infamous Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp.) Meanwhile, a forever scheming Sparrow continues to do what he does best: wreak havoc and con folks with the help of his merry crew of pirate misfits. It isn’t long before Sparrow is losing the trust of his own men and sent on a mission of his own, one that will bring him face to face with ghosts from his past, Salazar and Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) among them.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” was directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, and from a visual standpoint, it’s quite beautiful. This film is big in scope and certainly feels of the time period. The visual effects are great, too! A sequence involving a ship in a bottle is pretty spectacular. Furthermore, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” offers up a handful of elements that made the first movie such a hit, and it also answers a few questions left unanswered by the lazy fourth chapter. Some answers, such as the whereabouts of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), feel appropriate while others, including an out-of-left-field revelation involving Barbossa, feel unnecessary and overreaching.
Depp is back in the role that launched him into superstardom. True, he was the face of “21 Jump Street” and had plenty of memorable roles leading up to “The Curse of the Black Pearl” (i.e. “Edward Scissorhands,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “Ed Wood,” etc.), but it was Jack Sparrow that would turn him into a major box-office draw. As expected, Depp is fun in “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” but this is simply a case of more of the same. The most interesting aspect to his character this time is a bit of backstory in which we are witness to a more youthful Jack Sparrow.
Thwaites certainly has movie-star looks, but his Henry Turner is a bit of a dullard here, and the “Oculus” co-star is unable to create the kind of natural appeal that Orlando Bloom brought to the earlier pictures. Likewise, love interest Kaya Scodelario is certainly a lovely actress, but there isn’t a whole lot of meat to her character. As a pair, Thwaites and Scodelario are unable to generate the kind of chemistry that Bloom and Keira Knightley brought to “The Curse of the Black Pearl.”
As for other noteworthy supporting players in this ensemble, returning Rush has some bright moments as Barbossa, but he and the rest of the cast take a backseat to the creepy force of nature that is Javier Bardem. This accomplished actor has proven himself to be quite the thespian many times before, but with his stellar work in “No Country For Old Men” and “Skyfall,” he’s proven to be particularly adept at playing bad guys. You can add his vengeful Captain Salazar to that list. Of course, state-of-the-art visuals and stunning makeup also add to the overall effectiveness of Bardem’s menacing portrayal of Sparrow’s adversary. But in the end, it’s really about his expert line delivery.
There is a sense of playfulness in “Dead Men Tell No Tales” that was sorely lacking in “On Stranger Tides.” There is also a big dose of pure swashbuckling adventure punctuated by goofy humor and even a few solid scares. But in the end, is any of this really necessary? “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a good-looking movie to be sure, and it isn’t without its simple pleasures, but the fact remains: It doesn’t do anything that the first film didn’t do in stronger fashion. Its primary purpose, aside from making money, appears to be making up for the last movie. In that regard, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a rousing success, but this isn’t necessarily a good enough reason to justify its existence. During one moment in this picture, one character even jumps a shark, literally! How fitting is that? Let’s hope “Pirates” ends here, because this is a franchise that has certainly run its course.