Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
★ / ★★★★
Released six years after the fourth installment swan song that is “On Stranger Tides,” Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is barely a much-needed electric shock to the rotting “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. The action sequences are familiar and formulaic, the jokes are obvious and dead dull, even the performances come across as though the returning actors are merely cashing in. It is depressing how far this series has fallen.
There are two new faces in this unimaginative entry: a suspected witch named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) whose made it her life’s work to find Poseidon’s trident using her father’s diary as a guide and a young sailor for the Royal Navy named Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) whose mission is to set his father free from a curse that tethers him to the bottom of the ocean. Although Scodelario and Thwaites possess promising movie star faces and they look good together (from the first moment Carina and Henry meet it is hammered to us that a romantic connection will brew between the two), their characters are not written with a sharpness, freshness, or memorability. We never get a chance to measure their intelligence or resourcefulness. They’re just in it for the ride.
Screenwriter Jeff Nathanson makes the mistake of drawing numerous parallels between this new couple and the old pair we’ve come to know, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (played by the effortlessly charming Orlando Bloom and the luminous Keira Knightley). Banters are forced, awkward, and unconvincing because it is assumed that the performers share chemistry. (They don’t.) The picture is so busy either bombarding us with expository dialogue or drowning us with poorly choreographed action sequences that it forgets to approach Carina and Henry’s possible romantic connection with a genuine humanist angle. When they finally share a kiss late in the picture we ask ourselves what they see in one another.
Johnny Depp phones it in yet again as Captain Jack Sparrow. You’d think that throughout the course of five pictures, there would be some growth to the character—not only on paper but also in terms of performance. Depp is given the expected one-liners consisting of puns, dirty jokes, and the freedom that comes with being a barely functioning drunkard—but this had run its course by the second or third film. What makes Jack Sparrow a worthy hero of this storyline? We are not provided a strong answer, but we are handed a flashback with young Depp made possible using CGI. (It’s not as exciting as it sounds.)
Young Sparrow managed to outsmart and outmaneuver Spanish pirates aboard the Silent Mary, whose captain is Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), into the Devil’s Triangle—a cursed place where souls of the shipwrecked remain there for eternity. Salazar wants revenge. Like his co-stars, Bardem is given nothing interesting to do. He glowers and growls yet fails to create convincing menace due to a screenplay so malnourished, it verges on skeletal. I was so bored by Bardem’s villainous character that at some point, I found myself staring at Salazar’s hair, how it moves as if he were constantly underwater. This picture is so recycled from previous entries that not even this visual effect is improved upon.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” should have remained submerged in the deep. Nearly everything about it reeks of exhaustion. It peaks early on when Sparrow’s bank heist goes awry. I chuckled at this scene because it reminded me of Justin Lin’s “Fast Five,” how something so ridiculous is shaped into bona fide entertainment. But when the characters are aboard the ship, the film rocks us to sleep despite the swashbuckling score booming in the background.