After six years of blissful peace, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise returns with its fifth installment, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. If only that were true, then we wouldn’t be subjected to this movie and we’d have one fewer bad summer blockbuster to watch. But, alas, here was are, watching the fifth movie in a franchise whose downward trajectory has begun to slow—but only because at this point we’re getting close enough to the bottom of the rum barrel that anything other than a slowdown would lead us into unwatchable territory. We’re not there yet but, at this rate, give it another movie or two and we’ll get there.
One might think that after six years off, the filmmakers behind the franchise would have come up with a new direction to take the audience. We’ve got a new writer in Jeff Nathanson and two new directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, but everything feels the same—and I don’t mean that as a compliment. We’re once again dealing with cursed ghost pirates as our villains and a rag-tag group led by Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) trying to locate a magical MacGuffin to solve all of their troubles.
It’s even worse this time, as the MacGuffin in question is the Trident of Poseidon, which has, and I quote, the power to “break all the curses of the sea.” What that means for the franchise is that it can be reset to status quo, which effectively undoes a lot of the things that happened in earlier movies. How boring and how convenient. At this point, these films only exist to make money for Disney anyway, and we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of something based on a theme park ride—but it might be time to put this thing to bed for a long time.
Jack teams up with not-Will-Turner, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who is looking to break the curse that is forcing his father (Orlando Bloom) to captain the Flying Dutchman, as well as not-Elizabeth-Swann, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who is a female astronomer and gets involved in their quest for reasons that are only somewhat even close to clear. We need a female lead, though, and the franchise’s formula demands a bland romance between a young male and young female, so here she is.
It’s sad to see how far the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has fallen. Each new installment tarnishes its legacy.
The villain is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who wants to kill Jack Sparrow for something that happened a while ago that made him and his crew into ghosts. Dead Men Tell No Tales is so formulaic that you can tell where almost every scene is going right as it starts, as well as the entire path that the film will take. (1) Get random characters to have similar goals and team them up. (2) Establish a villain (however flimsy). (3) Have random characters and villain both race for the MacGuffin, sometimes clashing along the way. (4) Conclusion. It’s so boring that, if you manage to stay awake through it, it’s hard to credit the movie. You deserve a round of applause instead.
Even the previous Pirates of the Caribbean that didn’t quite work still had one element that was enjoyable: Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Jack Sparrow. That ship has now sailed. Depp is barely intelligible, seemingly here just to stumble from scene to scene, spouting nonsense, and looking half asleep. Captain Jack is no longer fun; watching him is just sad. The supporting cast can’t pick up the slack, either. They’re all way too bland when it comes to their characters. There’s little reason to care or watch.
What’s also missing are strong action scenes and solid humor. These have always been action-comedies, but Dead Men Tell No Tales is really weak in both areas. The action is choppy and sometimes too poorly shot to tell what’s going on. A late ship-vs-ship scene is incoherent. And the comedy feels like it’s waiting for a laugh track; it’s written like a bad sitcom. I didn’t laugh once. I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t entertained.
It’s sad to see how far the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has fallen. Each new installment tarnishes its legacy—at this point, even the second and third chapters feel like a slog. This new movie, Dead Men Tell No Tales tells a lazy, convenient plot filled with characters we won’t care about and can’t even entertain us with its action or jokes. What a poor bore. Let’s hope all involved decide that the franchise needs a long rest in Davy Jones’ Locker.
Conclusion: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a poor action-comedy, one that further tarnishes its franchise’s legacy.
Recommendation: At this point, only die-hard fans should still be watching these.