Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Director: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scorelario
Synopsis: Captain Jack Sparrow searches for the trident of Poseidon while being pursued by an undead sea captain and his crew.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content)
Release Date: May 26, 2017
It's been 14 years since Captain Jack Sparrow first set sail and reclaimed his beloved Pearl in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Disney's first installment of a monstrous franchise that has grossed over $4.2 billion worldwide. The series has seen 3 more sequels since The Curse of the Black Pearl, with each film receiving mixed reviews from critics but still largely praised by audiences. The fourth sequel and fifth installment overall, Dead Men Tell No Tales, follows Jack as he seeks the trident of Poseidon, an artifact that he intends to use to defend himself against Captain Salazar, an undead captain from Jack's past that seeks revenge on him for cursing him with immortality.
After Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), I will admit I was getting a bit weary with this franchise. Many will tell you (and be right in saying) that the franchise should have ended with At World's End (2007), a film that wrapped up the character arcs of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) while also sending Captain Jack off properly sailing off into the sunset looking for his next adventure (a quest to find the Fountain of Youth). The fourth film (On Stranger Tides) simply couldn't capture the magic of the original trilogy--the villain (Blackbeard, played by Ian McShane) was weaker than the previous films, the new characters weren't interesting or dynamic enough to attach yourself to, the story wasn't up to par of previous entries, and the action sequences weren't as enthralling as they were in Gore Verbinski's trilogy.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales recaptures the magic and spirit of Verbinski's trilogy, and feels much more connected to the franchise than On Stranger Tides. The new characters are actually interesting, have some depth, and have connections to previous beloved characters of the franchise. Hans Zimmer's sweeping score (which was largely missing from On Stranger Tides) is back in full form, and there are many references to the original trilogy, particularly The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film as a whole is much more entertaining and fun than On Stranger Tides and the comedic elements are better as well.
The film, however, is far from perfect. To start, Jack Sparrow's character is frustratingly dumbed down to the point where he has lost nearly all the wit and savviness that defined his character in Verbinski's films. What made Jack so appealing and entertaining to watch in Verbinski's films, particularly in The Curse of the Black Pearl, was how he managed to get himself out of situations and turn on anyone in order to get what he wanted. Think of the line Barbossa says to him while on the Isle de Muerta in the first film: "I must admit Jack, I thought I had you fixed. Turns out you're a hard man to predict." In the first film, Jack makes an agreement with Will to help free Elizabeth, only to later reveal that he was using Will as leverage against Barbossa in his quest to reclaim the Black Pearl. He tricks the Royal Navy into thinking he's commandeering the Dauntless by having them pursue him in the Interceptor, (the second--as it turns out--fastest ship in the Caribbean next to the Black Pearl) only to swap ships as the Navy soldiers are searching for him and Will in the Dauntless. In his very best scheme, he lies to the Royal Navy, telling them he'll lure Barbossa's now-mortal crew out for the Navy to "blast the bejesus out of them" with the Dauntless, only to proceed to tell Barbossa to "wait to lift the curse until the opportune moment", telling him to row out and seize the Dauntless to start his own fleet. So he effectively double-crosses two groups of people back-to-back, and wins in the end by murdering his first mate with the well-timed single bullet he carried for a decade.
That's the Jack Dead Men Tell No Tales needed. And didn't get.
Instead, Jack bumbles around for most of the film, looking and acting as drunk as he did when he was marooned on the island with Elizabeth in the first film. That isn't to say there aren't at least some serious moments--the film does have a dramatic ending--but the character has essentially reversed qualities in that instead of being 75% witty and 25% the rum-drinking, bumbling pirate, he's 75% bumbling pirate and 25% the witty pirate. And even that percentage seems a bit high. Part of this is on the writing, but part is also on Depp, who seems to be going through the motions rather than putting forth the same effort that earned him an Oscar nomination in 2003.
The other major issue with Dead Men Tell No Tales is the action sequences. Though they are entertaining, the vast majority are no longer grounded in reality. Horses pulling an entire townhouse several blocks, sharks leaping out of the water attacking a rowboat for what seemed like 10 minutes of screen time, and the final act involving a parting of the Red Sea scenario was too long and cluttered and lacked any kind of physicality. Even the maelstrom sequence in At World's End felt more real than the final battle in Dead Men Tell No Tales. Nevertheless, these sequences will entertain, though they won't go down as being as memorable as action scenes from Verbinski's films.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the best installment in the Pirates franchise since At World's End in 2007. It recaptures the spirit of Verbinski's films while also delivering fresh and interesting characters. Though the action sequences are over-the-top and Sparrow seems to have all but lost his savviness from the first film, Dead Men Tell No Tales still passes as an entertaining and nostalgic Pirates film that will please fans of the franchise.