“… despite it’s shortcomings, manages to recapture the feeling of the original Pirates of the Caribbean films.”
Just a head’s up: this review is going to spoil pretty much every aspect of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. If you want to know my overall thoughts just skip to the end of this review.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and the franchise’s “last chance” for many fans, myself included. The film follows Henry Turner, son of Will Turner, as he attempts to find a way to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman. While trying to find Poseidon’s trident Henry comes across Captain Salazar, a really mad dude who wants to kill Jack Sparrow. So Henry goes to find Jack Sparrow who now also wants to find Poseidon’s trident to bargain with Salazar. But then Captain Barbosa gets in on the action and wants the trident to bargain with Salazar as well, but this time it’s for the safety of his fleet of ships. Oh, and there is also an intelligent woman who everyone thinks is a witch. Did I get everything? So as you can tell the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (or just “Pirates 5”) is a little convoluted, but the way it is laid out in the film makes it a bit easier to follow.
So many people have already offered their reviews of this movie so I figure that it is silly of me to dance around spoilers. I saw the movie, if you’re reading this chances are you’ve seen the movie, so let’s not beat around the bush. The best way for me to start this review is with the beginning of the movie I suppose. Pirates 5 starts of with a little kid who commits suicide by tying some rocks to his feet and jumping into the ocean. Oh wait, he doesn’t commit suicide, but instead is trying to find the flying dutchman. This character is revealed to be Will Turner’s son. This is the first problem I had with the movie. At the end of Pirates 3, we get an after-credits sequence that shows Will Turner visiting Elizabeth and his son after ten years on the Flying Dutchman. Now I’m not mad that the actor who played the kid changed, considering that movie is now ten years old, but I am mad that Pirates 5 chose to portray Will as already “degrading” much like Davy Jones’ crew did. At the end of Pirates 3 Will Turner is still just Will Turner, but in the opening scene of Pirates 5, even though it takes pace at the same time as the post-credits scene of Pirates 3, Will Turner is covered in barnacles and just generally looks like shit. You can now safely assume that the rest of my review will be equally as pedantic, so if you want to jump ship (get it? Because pirates are on ships! I’m hilarious!) now I completely understand. While I’m on the topic I might as well continue talking about things that Pirates 5 got very wrong about the franchise. There is a scene in Pirates 5 that acts as a kind of origin story to Jack Sparrow. In this scene we see Jack Sparrow become Captain Jack Sparrow when the previous captain of the ship gives Jack his famous compass. Now If you remember in Pirates 1, Jack Sparrow believes that his compass is broken. It is only when another character (I believe it was Elizabeth) tells him that the compass shows him what he really wants that he finally understands how to use it. This is fine, and it made sense in the film. What confused me is that when Jack gets the compass in Pirates 5, the man who gave it to him literally says “this compass shows you what you want most”. It’s not like it was a riddle or anything. So either Jack Sparrow suffered a blow to the head which made him forget how his compass worked, or I completely misinterpreted the introduction of the compass in the earlier films (which is entirely possible). While I’m rambling on I might as well discuss another plot element in Pirates 5 that I disliked: the trident. Poseidon’s trident is this film’s MacGuffin, it is there for the characters to chase after. What does it do? Well, whatever you want it to. It can: save Will Tuner, save Jack Sparrow, save Barbossa’s fleet, really it can do anything. Now this issue is solved later in the movie (really late in the movie actually) when it is finally revealed that the trident, when broken, breaks all other curses of the sea. It is only then that it finally makes sense as to how the trident can solve everyone’s problems at once, but it would have been nice if I wasn’t left in the dark about it for so fucking long. God damn, this is going to be a long one.
One thing I want to discuss is the CGI in Pirates 5. Now CGI is something that I have a love/hate relationship with, especially in the Pirates franchise. I’m either in awe of what I’m seeing (like with Davy Jones), or I’m in awe that someone could approve such a monstrosity ( like everything in Pirates 4); Luckily Pirates 5 had a nice mix of the two. Pirates 5 offers some really stellar CGI in the form of Captain Salazar and his crew. Now one can argue that they aren’t much to look at, seeing as they are just people with chunks missing, and while I would agree I’m talking about Salazar himself. The way that Captain Salazar is animated to give him the ghostly feel, and the way that his hair and clothes float around him is fucking beautiful. This villain may not be the best in terms of motive or ability, but he sure is one of the prettiest. I also really liked the design of Salazar’s ship as well, especially when it was totally eating other ships. Now the bad parts of the CGI in Pirates 5 is pretty much everything else. Once again there is a lot of CGI water effects which look like shit, but the big thing that pisses me off is the CGI stunts that are done. I understand that the stunts are getting bigger and more elaborate with every film and you can’t exactly have people do inane shit like that (unless they are Tom Cruise apparently), but then why write them in at all? Why not just keep the stunts small so you can do practical all of the time? I understand that the bigger stunts are more impressive in theory, but the execution of them makes them look like absolute shit which makes me sad. Are you happy? You’ve made me sad now. Congratulations. The last thing I want to talk about on the CGI front is the de-aged Johnny Depp in that origin scene I spoke of earlier. Now we have seen our fair share of de-aging by now (Michael Douglas in Ant Man, and Robert Downey Jr. in Civil War) but unfortunately this one, while good, doesn’t hold a candle to the other ones. Now “young” Johnny Depp looks fucking amazing in this movie, that is until he speaks. As soon as this child Jack Sparrow opens his mouth or attempts to do one of the many famous facial expressions that Johnny Depp uses to bring the character to life, the facade falls apart. Instead of a believable young Jack Sparrow, you have a rubber-faced CGI mess that looks like it belongs in the early 2000’s. Now I know that de-aging is all of the rage right now but maybe, just like with the stunts, work within your means. Maybe just cast someone who looks like young Johnny Depp. Or maybe, if you’re really desperate, just super-impose a pirate hat over some footage of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. How’s that for an origin story? Captain Jack Sparrow buys a cake from a franchise store but then the owner of the local supermarket sees him and gets really sad about it.
Continuing on to the broader strokes of the film, let’s discuss the performances in Pirates 5. Now It would be a waste to mention the series regulars because their performances were exactly the same as the previous films, so let’s talk about the newcomers. First of all let’s discuss Javier Bardem’s portrayal of Captain Salazar. It’s really no surprise that Bardem was wonderful as this film’s villain, because when is he not amazing when playing an evil character? The only thing I could critique Bardem on (and even this isn’t his fault) was the inclusion of a weird voice filter for the character. Bardem’s accent mixed with this strange, ghostly voice filter made some dialogue really hard to hear at times. Moving on to the other newcomers in the film, Kaya Scodelario who played Carina and Brenton Thwaites who played Henry, I felt that they were boring, flat, uncharismatic; pick one. These two leads seems like generic placeholders for an action movie, and the only sense of depth that they were given was a very contrived relationship between the two of them. Their performances weren’t bad, but they definitely weren’t good. The easiest way for me to explain it would be to say it was like they were being payed minimum wage to be in the film. They showed up, did what they had to, and then went home. One thing I will say is Brenton Thwaites, who plays Will Turner’s son, looks exactly like a young Orlando Bloom. So whoever cast him (based on appearance, not skill) should get an award. Moving on to the writing of Pirates 5 there were quite a few issues I had with the script. It felt to me like the writers were forcing jokes down our throats when in the other films the comedy would come naturally. Not only did most of these jokes fall flat on their face, but a lot of them actually made me shake my head at their inclusion in the film. A good example of this would be how Jack Sparrow was treated in this film. Instead of being the wise-cracking pirate we all know and love, he was reduced to a bumbling idiot who couldn’t go ten feet without painfully reciting a “joke” or screaming. Sure some of these moments were funny, mainly because of Depp’s delivery, but in large this made the character of Jack Sparrow feel cheap. One thing I did really enjoy was the inclusion of Paul McCartney as one of Jack’s relatives. Not only am I a huge fan of The Beatles, but I like the idea that Jack Sparrow is related to bunch of characters that are played by aging rock stars. And the cameo wasn’t really forced on us like a lot of the jokes. If you recognized Paul McCartney, great! If you didn’t then you still got a short scene with quite a bit of (actual) comedy. One thing I can praise about the writing in Pirates 5 is recapturing the spirit of the original trilogy. Where Pirates 4 stumbled, Pirates 5 came in and gave us exactly what we’ve been waiting for. Sure it had it’s issues, but you can’t deny that it was fun to watch. And if you are a fan of the franchise, you have to admit that the ending was fucking magical. Once again we got to see the storyline wrapped up nicely, and even got a few callbacks to the original trilogy. If I wasn’t such a realist I would say that this would be a perfect place to end the franchise, but I know that’s not going to happen any time soon.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is far from the best film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but it is also not the worst (cough On Stranger Tides cough). Sure the performances aren’t the greatest (especially from series newcomers), a lot of the jokes fall flat, and characters we love are reduced to walking joke machines, but I will admit that I had fun watching it. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, despite it’s shortcomings, manages to recapture the feeling of the original Pirates of the Caribbean films.
I give Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales a B