The Pirates of the Caribbean has to be one of the weirdest franchises in the history of cinema. In 2003, a movie about a Disney Theme Park ride was somehow turned into one of the better blockbusters of that decade. Two more sequels were a nice showcase for Gore Verbinski’s fun and energetic directing style (even though Dead Man’s Chest is a much better showcase than At World’s End). All in all, Pirates of the Caribbean was at one point a good adaptation of the hero’s journey. Since the first three films, however, the series has been a case of increasingly diminishing returns. The fourth film is very unmemorable (I honestly can’t remember anything about it other than how badly a genius bit of casting in Ian McShane as Blackbeard was wasted), and now the fifth film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is quite possibly the franchise’s worst installment. While the film is initially able to capture some of the magic of the first films, Dead Men Tell No Talestries to go to the well again and again to the point that it is really hard not to see this as a sad and feeble attempt at capturing what made The Force Awakens so great within the Star Wars canon.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales picks up the franchise with Henry Turner (played through most of the film by a rather bland Brenton Thawaites), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley both return briefly), as he comes to the belief that he must find Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in order to break the curse that forces his father to sail on the Flying Dutchmen for eternity. This all eventually leads to a chase where Turner, Sparrow, Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush returning as Sparrow’s nemesis), a vengeful pirate hunter that has magically risen from the dead (Javier Bardem), and a smart scientist who finds herself constantly ridiculed in a world that believes in fairy tales more than actual science (Kaya Scodelario as one of the very few bright spots of the film) for Poseidon’s Trident, which will apparently solve all of the characters’ problems.
As you can see there are a lot of characters and a lot of plot mambo jumbo that ultimately sink this film. This film really makes you admire how Star Wars: The Force Awakens was able to introduce so many new characters while bringing back the old ones in style. It’s ultimately hard not to compare this film and this series to Star Wars as they essentially both go right back to the hero’s journey, and one is certainly superior than the other at this point. Even worse is that the main components of this series have really aged poorly through this film. The once eccentric and interesting Jack Sparrow is now an annoying idiot that is now trying to hang on by his typical corny one-liners and a completely phoned in performance from Johnny Depp. Former characters and plot lines are brought back into the fray with no real justification other than having the audience remember when this worked much better in other films.
Even the few bright spots come with asterisks. The opening action set piece is really well done, but it too often feels like that directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg are trying to rip off Gore Verbinski’s style. Kaya Scodelario’s Carina is easily the best character in the film, but even she is bogged down by a mystery that comes across as way too obvious and poorly written as well as the fact that the writers clearly tried find a way to insert Rey from The Force Awakens into this film and came up with her.
The summer season has only just begun but it will hard to find a more poorly constructed blockbuster than Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.