There’s too little magic in this fifth POTC tale
Johnny Depp returns as Jack Sparrow, but again without compelling sidekicks
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
* ½ out of 5 | 128 min. | PG-13
This amusement-park ride has gone on long enough. Audiences adored the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy: they were smart, fun, popcorn flicks that cleverly updated the classic Hollywood swashbuckler. We tolerated 2011’s On Stranger Tides because it still had hints of what made the original trilogy great.
No such luck with this, the fifth chapter in the franchise. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a cacophony of CGI spectacle that assails the senses but gives us no reason to care about the people caught in the middle of it. It’s pandemonium, yet incredibly boring. It’s full of the supernatural, but has no magic.
POTC5 does craft something new when it comes to tossing people and things around in ways meant to be exciting. A lot of the action here isn’t like anything we’ve seen before. Yet almost none of it actually entertains. It’s like a joke with a great setup but an unfunny punchline.
One early sequence involves a bank robbery by Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his crew that goes badly wrong. It should be hilarious; it falls completely flat. It’s loud, kinetic and crashy, but has no pizzazz. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg aren’t only new to the Pirates series, they’re new to big-budget FX extravaganzas, and it shows.
Problem wise, lackluster action takes a backseat to lackluster characters. One big flaw of On Stranger Tides was that Jack Sparrow was missing the Bones and Spock to his Kirk, the Ron and Hermione to his Harry, which he’d previously had in Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swan. The new sidekicks in Dead Men Tell No Tales are incredibly dull both separately and together. Brenton Thwaites, as Will’s son Henry, and Kaya Scodelario, as woman of science Carina, share one expression between them: slack-jawed befuddlement. They also share cringe-worthy banter, a painful lack of chemistry, and one of the least convincing onscreen romances ever.
POTC5 cannot escape another problem of modern blockbusters: too much plot. The story’s attempt to find footing is confusing, convoluted, and crammed with too many characters.
Jack, Henry, and Carina are seeking a mythical object called the Trident of Poseidon, which is said to break all curses of the sea. Henry needs it to free his father, cursed in POTC 3 to endless service on the Flying Dutchman. Jack needs it because the villain here, ghost pirate captain Salazar (Javier Bardem)—whom Jack long-ago condemned to zombie-sailorhood—has vowed revenge. And Carina needs it because… well, that’s never clear, but it has something to do with “Galileo’s diary,” which she inherited from her unknown scientist father. Jack’s old frenemy Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is also hanging around for a ridiculously contrived reason.
Abuse passes as wit and coincidence as fate. The story doesn’t even appreciate the balancing act the previous films pulled off, in making pirates romantic and heroic. It’s difficult to accept Salazar as a villain: He’s portrayed as an honorable Spanish naval captain whose mission was to clear the seas of the scourge of pirates. And it’s difficult to feel sympathy for Jack, who’s cruel to his friends, comes across as stupid rather, and lacks all the crafty charm he once had. I was mostly rooting for Salazar.