The Pirates of the Caribbean series has spent so many years skating by on the fact it can pass as expensive, sea-faring fun filled with swash-buckling ghosts and whimsical drunkards. For the most part this was true, as I too was swept up the antics of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the gorgeous production values and bonny lasses wearing tightly-applied corsets. But what was once excitement and comedy has turned into full-on tragedy with Pirates of the Caribbean : Dead Men Tell No Tales, the victims of which being not the magnificent ships or visual effects, but the characters we’ve come to so love so dearly.
This is evident particularly in the case of franchise favorites, such as Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, the Errol Flynn-esque staple of the series (with the exception of On Stranger Tides). He was advertised to make a return to the series – and true he does here – as the movie opens with his young son Henry plunging himself into the deep sea with rocks on his ankles, all so he could see his father on the Flying Dutchmen. Though Bloom proves to be the sexiest man alive to be infected with barnacles, this is where the disappointment begins, acting as one of two times we will see the daring swashbuckler. I can’t imagine anyone leaving the theater feeling uncheated.
The plot instead focuses on an adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) who spends his life researching the myths and legends of the ocean in an attempt to free his father from his ocean curse. He’s handsome, tan, and spends most of his time shouting at people that he knows all the legends of the sea, which is about as useful as my running around shouting that I know a lot about UFO crashes. He doesn’t seem to have any marketable skills, but his research is somehow linked with Sparrow, whom Henry claims to need in his quest for Poseidon’s Trident. We find said Sparrow passed out drunk in a massive safe, which leads to one of the many daring, pricey, impossible-looking stunts, this one in particular ripping off a Fast and Furious film. But the tragedy, as said before, involves the drunken pervert who falls out of the safe.
Depp has always been a welcome sight as Sparrow, who has lost his roguish, devil-may-care slyness over the years, resulting in the gross, aimless, boorish mess we see in this film. He’s become a swirly ass who is only good for sex puns and screaming like a childish buffoon in the sight of danger. Never has he been more selfish as he runs from danger or useless as we discover that he has no reason for being around in the many plot strands other than because people say they need him – without reason to back it up. I imagine this scripting technique was ripped straight from Disney board meetings, as the company needs him around to get asses in the seats even though they can’t even bother to give him a reason to participate in the actual story.
Sparrow acts only as fodder for the villain, which in this film comes in the form of Captain Salazar, an ashy, slimy, pirate ghost (played with goo-filled speech by Javier Bardem) who wants to hunt and kill Sparrow for killing him decades ago. Bardem plays him with a twisted vengeance, and was probably forced to wear some sort of CGI suit for the role, and he makes the most of it with a deformed physicality. He does what he can looking like Danny DeVito from Batman Returns, but his villain claim-to-fame will always be in Skyfall. His undead crew is one the movie’s few high points, sometimes making up nothing but ashy wisps holding swords in midair. Of the series’ villains they look the most expensive to create, and I would rather watch more of them than any more Sparrow.
That being said there’s one character who I would love to watch more than any other in the film, and thats the new heroine, Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario). Scodelario is a confident, capable and intelligent as the scientist hunting for the Trident, and is the only character who actually knows how to find it, and therefore seems to be the only one who earns it. The movie spends a lot of time reminding you she’s a woman before she does something a woman wasn’t supposed to do back then, like steer a ship, but her face in noble defiance of the patriarchy is enough to make up for such on-the-nose tactics. In short, she rises where the men mostly flounder, which includes a shoe-horned Geoffrey Rush as the returning Barbossa. But he has a purpose in the end, although I think the producers think you’ll care about what that is than you actually will.
Their quest itself involves the same plotting we’ve seen in all the other movies, which is find a treasure for family and glory, but for some reason to save Jack Sparrow in the process. The Trident is the only thing that can stop Salazar from killing Sparrow, so all the other characters must have him tag along as they hunt for it for all their own reasons. Of course it’s all a mess having all these motivations hanging about, and each one with little to no emotional thread. We know Henry, for one, wants to find it to save his famous father, but that’s about as far as he gets into explaining his actions. Never do he and Carina (who doesn’t know her father) have heart-to-hearts that reveal more about them. It’s all about the quest, and this movie cares more about moving it along no matter the inconsistencies or unnecessity of it all.
Directors Espen Sandberg and Joachim Rønning know how to shoot their films thanks to the adventure film Kon-Tiki, and that knack for filming gorgeous moments on the water translates here. One of the series’ greatest characters is the sea, and these two shoot her with breadth and depth…all before filling it with undead sea sharks that can only aim their teeth at the wood parts of the boat, for some reason. CGI-heavy sequences like that very real one replace the normally engaging ship battles and sword combat, which seem like second fiddle to a ship that eats other ships.
But to reiterate, what this adventure proves more than anything it’s that the characters we’ve come to love seem to be here for money reasons and not story ones. Sparrow has no need to be here and treats everyone like garbage only for babbling fools to say, “That’s our Jack!” He’s like a child who smears goo on the wall only to be met with hipster parents saying, “He’s just expressing himself!” Then there’s the criminal misuse of Bloom and Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swan, who’re treated like Stan Lee cameos in a Marvel movie, even though having them actually act in the movie would’ve made vastly more sense than what we have here. This is an attempt to kick-start some sort of new franchise, even though this outing proves even the filmmakers don’t seem to care what’s at the heart of the series. “Make Sparrow shout a sex joke while drunk and that will put them in the seats” was the pitch for this flick, and by god that’s what we got.