Pirates of the Caribbean 5 Review

How convenient it is that one of the last lines of dialogue uttered in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, courtesy of Captain Jack Sparrow, sums up the experience of watching the film: “What a truly revolting sight.” Indeed. What was once the flagship franchise for Walt Disney Pictures has now become an unavoidable anchor weighing the studio down. This Pirates is perhaps not the most exhausting entry in the series, but it is easily the most visually and narratively incoherent.

This time around, the plot hinges on a magical MacGuffin called the Trident of Poseidon; whoever wields it can break any curse placed on a man at sea, thus making it particularly valuable to Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). With Will still chained to the Flying Dutchman, Henry strives to find the Trident with the help of the ever-soused Captain Jack (Johnny Depp, natch) as well as Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a mysterious young woman with an astronomical key to unlocking the Trident’s whereabouts. Jack, meanwhile, is looking to avoid the evil, ghostly clutches of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who wishes to exact revenge on our hero for offenses committed years ago.

All things considered, it’s almost remarkable – almost – that Dead Men Tell No Tales uses this basic structure to tell one of the most bafflingly, unintentionally illogical stories in recent cinematic memory. Example: Carina (one of three female characters with a speaking role here) is first branded as a witch by the denizens of St. Martin because she’s a budding astronomer. There is, however, an actual witch in the film, who aids both Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, chewing the scenery until he gets seasick as usual) as well as the British Navy in finding Jack. (The British Navy are those who first brand Carina as a witch and wish to kill her, making their decision to work with the real witch notably confusing.) You may well wonder what other function the witch, played by Golshifteh Farahani, has in this film. Should you see Dead Men Tell No Tales, you will continue wondering long after the film is over.

Such is the state of affairs in the script, credited to Jeff Nathanson (series stalwart Terry Rossio shares credit for the story). From scene to scene, moment to moment, character allegiances and choices are less shifty than they are nonsensical. Early in the film, Jack’s longtime crew of pirates abandons him because they feel he’s lost his luck; not 20 minutes later, they return because Henry has paid them to help break him out. If only we ever learned how it is that Henry a) knew who Jack’s crew was and b) knew where to find them. Such random, inexplicable decisions are sprinkled throughout this film, allowing it to feel as interminable as the 2007 threequel At World’s End, which managed to be roughly 50 minutes longer.

Despite the new directors at the helm, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, Dead Men Tell No Tales is also as visually incoherent as possible, with few exceptions such as an early bank-heist scene that’s essentially the Fast Five climax, but with horses. In IMAX 3D, the rest of the film feels as if it was filmed behind a hazy veil (especially in the nighttime scenes, of which there are quite a few). Even those moments that may seem striking, such as when the sea parts a la The Ten Commandments and characters try desperately to hang onto an anchor being hoisted up to the surface before time runs out, are muddy at best.

More than anything else, Dead Men Tell No Tales is lazy. By this point, anyone who has seen the other Pirates of the Caribbean movies knows what to expect from these films: there will be a nefarious supernatural villain aided by supposedly cutting-edge special effects; there will be a bland romantic story typified by veddy British, veddy personality-free actors; there will be icky moments; and there will be hammy performances, none hammier than that of Johnny Depp. (Javier Bardem comes close, inspiring what would be a deathly drinking game, where you take a shot every time he says “Jack Sparrow”.) In 2003, Captain Jack Sparrow was an instantly iconic breath of fresh air; in 2017, Captain Jack Sparrow is akin to watching a once-beloved comedian trot out their oldest, hoariest catchphrase in the hopes of getting pity laughs. This is a film of sweaty desperation, best represented by Depp’s frantic attempts to be funny or wicked or anything remotely approaching enjoyable.

Unfortunately, nothing about this movie remotely approaches the enjoyable. The attraction on which this franchise is based remains the pinnacle of the Disney theme parks; it should be noted, too, that the original film is still a delightful, thrilling action film that balances the dark and the light very well. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, sadly, is so visually and narratively misguided film that it inspires a longing to watch the fourth film, which previously held the title of worst entry of the series. Now, that dubious honor goes to Dead Men Tell No Tales. With any luck, it will be the end of this franchise.

/Film Rating: 2 out of 10

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About the Author

Josh Spiegel is a Phoenix-based critic & writer. He's one of the hosts of Mousterpiece Cinema, a podcast about Disney films. He's also written a book of criticism on Pixar, titled Yesterday is Forever: Nostalgia and Pixar Animation Studios.