FILM REVIEW – PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. With Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario. Written by Jeff Nathanson. Directed by Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg. Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content. 129 minutes.
Way back at the turn of the century the “original” thinkers at Disney–the folks who are now turning their classic animated features into live action films–had an idea: why not take popular attractions at their theme parks and turn them into movies? Among them were “The Country Bears” (2002) and “The Haunted Mansion” (2003). It’s okay if you don’t remember them. They were both flops.
However, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) was a hit, in no small part due to Johnny Depp’s eccentric turn as Jack Sparrow, who could be, by turns, a ruthless brigand, a comical drunk, and a kind-hearted soul. It spawned sequels, each one less necessary than the last, but they made money, priming the pump for the next one. The fourth film, “Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides,” came out six years ago, and now we get PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES. However, the executives whose priority seems to be extending franchises that were dead long ago seem to think otherwise.
It is utterly pointless to try to describe what passes for a plot here. Like it’s source, it’s an amusement park ride. There are thrills and escapes and explosions, and if you don’t know always know why, just hang on and root for Jack. We’re told everyone is chasing after the “Poseidon’s trident” which, when found, will end all the curses at sea. Rival pirate Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) wants to put an end to the raids on his ships by the British authorities and by a ghost ship led by Salazar (Javier Bardem). Salazar wants to remove the curse from his ship and get his revenge on Jack. Henry (Brenton Thwaites) wants to lift the curse on his father Will (Orlando Bloom, in a cameo of his character from the first film) who is trapped in a sunken ship beneath the waves. Carina (Kaya Scodelario) want to decode her father’s diary which describes a “map no man may read.”
You see what the problem is? There’s enough stories here for several movies, and none of them are particularly interesting. So instead we’re invited to look at the special effects, the elaborate action scenes, and the bits of alleged comic relief. Critiquing the writing or the performances would be like reviewing a roller coaster. You may thrill at the sudden plummet from a height, but there’s no real reason to ask why, or even to compare it to other plummets. It simply is. Once you’ve paid the price of admission, you just want to strap in and hang on.
On that score, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” more or less works. It provides action and comedy, it let’s the viewer cheer on Captain Jack, boo the heavies, and feel sophisticated because we’re not sure which category Barbossa belongs in. Newcomeers Thwaites and Scodelario provide the love interest, there’s a couple of satisfying cameos for fans of the series, and–heaven help us–there’s even an Easter egg at the very end of the credits suggesting that a “Pirates 6” is in the offing, even though the series really can come to a halt with this edition.
In short, it does what a tentpole sequel is supposed to do: bring on enough familiar material so that fans will feel comfortable and enough new material so that they won’t feel they’ve already seen it. As a movie it’s disposable. As this year’s edition of a favorite ride, it will likely satisfy.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.