The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has been going for 14 years. It started out as a fun popcorn flick trying to capture the joy of the ride at Walt Disney World, and it succeeded initially. That success was mainly due to Johnny Depp’s whacked-out turn as Captain Jack Sparrow, but as the years progressed the plots got more entangled, with periphery characters all given moments in the spotlight. In the fourth film, 2011’s On Stranger Tides, the franchise lost Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley and tried to overcompensate with two stand-in characters (a watered-down preacher and a mermaid) that didn’t quite have the chemistry or the chutzpah. While not great, it still had some fun matinee moments and was worth the price of a bucket of popcorn.
We now come to the fifth entry, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a film that pays homage to the law of diminishing returns.
While Dead Men does provide some reasoning for bringing in a new generation of characters in Henry Turner, son of Will and Elizabeth (Brenton Thwaites), and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), parentage unknown, it doesn’t give us time to fully invest in them as new people before we’re off to one big CGI scene after another. Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa and actually plays the heartstrings a little more than he’s been able to do in the past, and of course this wouldn’t be a Pirates of the Caribbean film if there weren’t multiple reasons for characters to backstab and betray one other. However, some of the plot points weren’t thought through as much as they seemed to have been in previous installments, and there are huge holes in characters’ reasoning and motivations—they make decisions based on plot points, not on character choices. Meanwhile, there are also a few characters who don’t progress the plot but instead just sit there to pad the running time (I hope I didn’t just dis a Beatle).
I will say that Javier Bardem as the “big bad,” Salazar, brings in a quirky turn—there’s a slight whistle every time he breaths, among other idiosyncrasies—and chews the scenery as much as Depp used to do. However, it feels like Depp himself is strictly in it for the paycheck. There are adequate amounts of rum to be rushed down the gullet, but a spark of the old Jack Sparrow we fell in love with is in a watery grave. Luckily, Thwaites and Scodelerio do the majority of the heavy lifting, and Scodelario in particular gives us just enough that I hope there are more films focusing on her character.
All in all, it’s an entertaining two and a half hours, but largely forgettable. I sorely missed the fun sword fights from the original films, and the only scene that comes close is Jack jumping around on cannons between two fighting pirate ships. The CGI is admittedly gorgeous (would you expect anything less from Disney?), and the film features an interesting take on the dead coming back to life, but contrary to the title, Salazar tells a few too many tales.