Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Review by Jordan Collier
A few weeks ago, I got a curious itch to watch the original Pirates of the Caribbean. Why? I couldn’t tell you, but this launched an entire rewatch of the series and coming out of the other end of it I discovered I’m actually a fan of Gore Verbinski’s original trilogy despite hating it for years for reasons that now escape me. The fourth film, Rob Marshall’s On Stranger Tides, which feels much more like a spinoff, not so much.
So here we are. Number 5.
This time the duo of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg are taking up the directorial helm and though in some ways it is a return to the Verbinski glory days, it is weighed down by an inescapable overall sense of “Haven’t I seen this before?”
This time we follow Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of the original trilogy’s Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Kiera Knightly), who is searching for the Trident of Poseidon to break the curse that was placed on his father at the end of the third movie. Joining him on his quest are newcomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer accused of witchcraft for her smarts, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) who is sitting pretty since we last saw him, and everyone’s favorite nasty pirate boy, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
From its opening scenes, you can tell that the filmmakers want to win you back after the disjointed On Stranger Tides that may have alienated any fans of the series. After all, it featured only a few familiar faces, laughable set pieces, and a tragically underutilized villain. Right out of the gates we see Orlando Bloom again, followed by an incredible series of set pieces involving a building drug throughout a town and a great execution scene involving a guillotine.
But by the time we meet our villain, the ghostly Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), that feeling of “maybe everything will be okay after all. Pirates is saved!” starts to wear off and the sense of deja vu starts to crash over you.
Ghosts! Pirates! Waifs! Rum! Quips! Curses! Curses! Curses!
Pirates definitely has a formula, and it’s back on full display. Though not quite as cut-and-dry as, say, the Marvel formula, it feels all too apparent and thus, just gives you that “here we go again” feeling. Granted, it is a baby step in the right direction, but at this point the series might be sunk.
Something that made Verbinski’s trilogy so endearing and such a blast to watch is largely his sense of bombast and the fact that, though arguably convoluted, plot was motivated entirely by characters. You knew what they wanted, you knew they were willing to do anything to get it and you knew ol' Verbinski was going to make that journey a helluva ride.
Sure, the plot is still driven by characters, but almost all of the dialogue is delivered incredibly unenthusiastically. Several times dialogue amounts to nothing more to “I/you/we are going to do the thing!” then after that’s done they will remind you “I/you/we have done the thing!” Though Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly both show up they feel both underused and forced. Bloom looks like he feels incredibly awkward to even be here and Knightly doesn’t even have a single line. This dry screenwriting, coupled with plot points, that in my opinion, feel unnecessary and come out of nowhere don’t really help you get all that excited to see this adventure reach its conclusion.
Which sucks, because the finale is actually pretty cool and is a laudable attempt to give us that sense of spectacle and awe that were in the first three films. I mean, where else but the Pirates franchise can you see people battle ghost pirates on the ocean floor flanked on either side by gargantuan walls of ocean water?
The movie does look great though. Pirates has always done great with the CGI available at the time, and this is no different. And though I personally did not see it in 3D, apparently the 3D effects are some of the best out there. Be warned though, there is a CGI version of a young Jack Sparrow guaranteed to give you a one-way ticket to the uncanny valley.
Though Dead Men Tell No Tales is a small step back in the right direction, it’s hard to get excited about the future of the franchise. This was apparently supposed to be a finale, awkwardly wrapped up as it was, but the presence of a really dumb after credits scene leaves just enough room to leave room for another sequel. At the end of the day, Dead Men is a functional, big, dumb summer adventure blockbuster that is entirely devoid of capes and sky-beams, but mired in the trappings of its own franchise. Take that for what it’s worth.