Sorry, Pirates fans: the fifth installment in this titanic franchise does little to put the ship back on course. Like 2011’s On Stranger Tides, Dead Men Tell No Tales is dead in the water.
Back in 2003, the half-baked marketing scheme of developing a theme park ride at Disneyland into a movie turned out to be a massive success. It featured thinly written characters and an uninvolving storyline, but its clever script, quirky style, and saturation of grime combined to deliver a refreshingly original blockbuster.
The Curse of the Black Pearl ushered in a new era for Disney, and it earned Johnny Depp his first Oscar nomination for his daring, nuanced performance as the shifty, enigmatic Jack Sparrow. The box office hit led to a slew of sequels, and a gradual decline of the wit and originality that made the first film a treasure.
By the third film, the series was forced so full of cartoonish gags, special effects, and fantastical elements, that something had to give. The fourth film attempted to pull back on the reigns by reducing characters and scale, but it failed to offer any inspired new content. Unfortunately, by not going far enough back to the basics, and regurgitating elements from movies like Indiana Jones, the franchise hit a new low.
After a six-year break, the trailers for Dead Man Tell No Tales accompanied buzz that the series was going back to its roots with a straightforward swashbuckling adventure. That is not the case. The latest installment fails to abandon the buffoonery that made On Stranger Tides such a disaster, exhibiting clunky action sequences, lifeless characters, and inane attempts at humor.
Pirates of the Caribbean five aims to bring new life by bringing some fresh blood. The little-known Norwegian directing duo Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg get a shot at the franchise due to their Oscar-nominated sea-faring foreign film Kon-Tiki. DMTNT also features the Oscar-winning Javier Bardem as an undead new bad guy, bringing plenty of potential after his spectacular work as the villain in Skyfall. Unfortunately, as On Stranger Tides proved, not even an Oscar-winning auteur like director Rob Marshall had what it takes to rejuvenate these studio-dominated productions, and our newest film is no exception.
Like On Stranger Tides, DMTNT puts the spotlight mainly on Jack Sparrow. Since the first film, the character has been on a downward spiral of being reduced to a lumbering clown with an infinite supply of luck. The complexity and intrigue is gone, leaving nothing but a clumsy alcoholic. Depp’s latest performance follows up recent media coverage unearthing his personal and financial issues. It’s only fitting the worst rendition of his most famous character is coming from the lowest point of his career.
Any hopes that the latest film would take things back to the basics will vanish when you learn that this is one of the most expensive film production of all time. Keeping in tradition with past sequels, Tell No Tales features outlandish special effects that fail to impress in the midst of such awful ideas. The forgettable cleric and mermaid of the last film are replaced here with Will Turner’s son and a girl who escapes being tried as a witch. It turns out, Brenton Thwaites’ Henry Turner is just as bland as his father’s character. Kaya Scodelario seems to do everything she can to channel a dull Kristen Stewart into her performance as a scientist, an odd writing choice for a character in a series in which Calypso exists and the world is flat.
The talented Javier Bardem does what he can while delivering some terrifically rolled r’s, but is nothing more than another one-note, zombiefied, angry sea captain with a beef against Jack Sparrow. However, the character heralds the only interesting scene in the movie, in which we get a glimpse of a young and ambitious Jack Sparrow in an explosive pirate battle.
Similar to the last film, DMTNT rushes through its derivative plot with the characters chasing after the Trident of Poseidon, the franchise’s latest McGuffin. Along the way, Sparrow has to deal with another ghostly sea captain with a score to settle, a character that seems like nothing more than an undead Barbossa and Davy Jones slapped together. Just when the ludicrous antics couldn’t get any worse for this series, the coup de grace arrives: zombie sharks.
If it wasn’t clear in 2011, it’s unmistakable now. This series has to end. It’s gotten so bad that any affection for the moderately favorable first few installments has been hopelessly soured. It is time to stop trying to raise this shipwreck, and to just let it sink.