'Pirates 5' Review Round-Up: The Early Buzz May Have Been Premature

Disney is practically overrun with film franchises these days, but since Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides made over a billion dollars worldwide back in 2011, another sequel was inevitable. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales arrives in theaters this Friday, but what are the early reviews saying?

The consensus: maybe this film isn't quite as good as the early buzz coming out of CinemaCon a few months ago seemed to indicate.

Find out more in our Pirates 5 reviews round-up below.

Andrew Barker at Variety doesn't mince words in his review:

Containing only the faintest traces of the spark that turned this once unpromising idea into a nearly four billion-dollar enterprise, Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg's "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" is a mercenary, visually unappealing exercise in brand maintenance. The franchise has lost a bit of its luster with every successive installment, but never has a "Pirates" film felt this inessential, this depressingly pro forma. It will surely make money, and the estimated wait times for its namesake ride will spike in Disney parks worldwide. But considering the quality of some of the other big-money franchises in Disney's fleet, "Pirates" needs to make a far better case for its seaworthiness if it expects to see future voyages.

Caroline Preece at Den of Geek wasn't thrilled with Javier Bardem's new villain, Captain Salazar:

Salazar is thus the weakest part of the film despite the nice visual juxtaposition between Bardem's physical heft and the weightless character design. He suffers from being far too similar to previous bad guys, and motivations get lost along with the various macguffins that are tossed around across the generous 129-minute running time (although that still makes it the shortest in the series to date!).

Following great villains like Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, whose role is beefed up here) and good ones like Davy Jones, it's disappointing that we don't get slightly more from Salazar.

Jack Shepherd at The Independent echoed those thoughts:

As you would expect from a movie with a $230 million budget, the CGI is wholly impressive (particularly Salazar's ship that creeps along the ocean as a haunted carcass) but ends up dominating the final set-piece, taking away the threat as the screen becomes overwhelmed by effects.

Unfortunately, like Salazar's ship, the fifth Pirates feels a little empty, haunted by the spectre of what came before. There are fun, inconsequential moments but nothing particularly memorable, the film running out of steam midway through as the aforementioned flashbacks take over.

Mike McCahill at The Guardian thinks there's a lot of style over substance:

Viewer value-for-money proves more debatable. The Pirates series hasn't delivered a memorable set piece since Dead Man's Chest's oversized waterwheel, and time and again this plumps for distraction over consequence, flooding the screen with images that attain scale – like the ship that rears up on its haunches in readiness for attack – but not much meaning. The much-trailed zombie shark sequence comes to feel like watching somebody playing a tie-in video game.

And Empire's Dan Jolin seems exhausted by the movie's convoluted narrative:

Then there's the infuriatingly fuzzy mythology. Jack still has his magic compass, which takes you to that which you most desire, but if you lose it you have to face your greatest fear (or something); meaning that when he trades it for a bottle of rum, Bardem's Salazar announces "he's given away the compass! We are free!" Huh? So, he and his ghostly seamen are able to escape the cave Jack trapped them in decades earlier and board and destroy other ships... But they're destroyed if they ever set foot on land. What? Why? Well, because an incoming double-cross wouldn't work if they could go on land, even though the treacherous character in question had no knowledge of the information on which said double-cross is dependent.

But things aren't all bad. Michael Nordine at Indiewire thinks the film was a pleasant surprise:

Almost in spite of itself, however, "Dead Men Tell No Tales" rights the ship. Maybe it's nostalgia or the fact that nautical adventures remain far less common in the multiplex than superhero fare, but the series' central charm is precious cargo whose returns have yet to entirely diminish. (At the very least, this is a far more compelling jaunt than 2011's "On Stranger Tides," which couldn't even make worthwhile use of Ian McShane.)

At The Hollywood Reporter, John DeFore seemed impressed with the movie's climactic action sequence:

Things proceed noisily from here, as the pursuit of the Trident attracts the attention of old Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who was practically choking on riches before Salazar escaped the Devil's Triangle and started killing all the pirates he found. Whether he's on Sparrow's side or not is always in question. But Rush will wind up the focus of one of the picture's more satisfying set-pieces, a fantastical escape evoking everything from The Ten Commandments to the endearingly cheesy blacklight decorations that turn cheap amusement-park attractions into spooky realms of mystery. However manipulative this climactic sequence may be, you can see how it might convince a better-than-this thespian to believe he can have some fun while earning that gigantic paycheck. As for what might draw Bloom and, briefly, Knightley back to the screen, doing nothing other than linking the first few movies to the ones Disney hopes will come? See the aforementioned paycheck.

Robert Abele at The Wrap has nice things to say about some of the set-pieces and the film's visual style:

The appeal of any "Pirates" movie is in the aggregate gleam of its many working parts, and this time around, thanks to the energetic direction of Rønning and Sandberg, the shine feels freshly buffed. There's a dual guillotine/hanging rescue that's as humorously staged as any in the series' history; it calls to mind the inventive dash of silent comedy. The elaborate location trappings (ships at sea, island shores, bustling cities) veer between baroquely beautiful and picturesquely lush thanks to Paul Cameron's colorful cinematography, and unlike the relentlessly dreary night in "On Stranger Tides," it's all mostly daytime-set this time around.

Robbie Collin at The Telegraph goes as far as to praise Depp's performance:

Depp's shtick is fresher than you might expect, particularly during these bits, the surprisingly un-dreadful Paul McCartney cameo, and some spiky, double-entendre-laced back-and-forths. It's a pity that some later set-pieces, including the messy and overlong climax, just look like mirages of pixels. Swashbuckling is so much more fun when something's actually there to buckle the swash to.

Scott Mendelson at Forbes had a mixed reaction, but says that overall the film works as a fitting finale should Disney choose to end the series here:

There is a timely subtext about an educated woman facing persecution and then having to manage stupid men whose gender gives them authority and the presumption of competence. Aside from that, and the emotional pull of tying up loose ends in the Pirates of the Caribbean mythology, there isn't much here beyond superficial pleasures. The pleasures are genuine, and those merely seeking a full-throated pirate adventure with good company will walk away satisfied. The film looks gorgeous, and the action (save for the somewhat murky and chaotic finale) is well-staged and coherent. Alas, I found the chases-to-wordplay ratios to be tilted in the wrong direction.


Personally, I found the film's message about a smart woman navigating a sea of male morons to be a pitiful attempt for the film to have its cake and eat it too. It feels as if the movie is so proud of including a capable, intelligent female lead (which really should just be the bare minimum for huge Hollywood productions like this), but when that character is surrounded by misogynistic jokes, it doesn't quite have the same sheen to it.

For me, the whole film feels like the script (by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio) was written by just checking off a series of formulaic boxes, recycling and rehashing elements we've seen dozens of times in other films – including ones in this franchise. The scale is grand and some of the VFX look impressive, but the heart, charm, and fun of the original movie remains a treasure these sequels have yet to unearth.