Rated PG-13 (Adventure Violence, Some Suggestive Content)
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki, Marco Polo)
Written by Jeff Nathanson (Speed 2, Catch Me If You Can) and Terry Rossio (The Mask of Zorro, The Curse of the Black Pearl)
Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Dead Man’s Chest)
Cinematography by Paul Cameron (Collateral, Westworld)
Music by Geoff Zanelli (Secret Window, Into the West)
Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, and Kevin McNally
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
On top of that, its two directors, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, directed Bandidas. If you remember that movie, you’re probably not super excited right now. In fact, you might just have lost a little faith. Don’t. This director duo was hired by Disney based on their excellent track record as Norwegian filmmakers, including their visually marvelous high seas adventure flick, Kon-Tiki.
Right off the bat, let me clear the air. Dead Men Tell No Tales is a heck of a lot more entertaining than the third and fourth installments in this franchise, much due to the fact that it’s a heck of a lot less confusing. The third and fourth movies have so many story threads and subplots running around that, at times, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of everything! Action-adventure movies shouldn’t be that confusing!
This one does a better job focusing on a more concise, focused, and efficient plot, and they also make Jack Sparrow, once again, a supporting character, similarly to Curse of the Black Pearl. As the movies went on after that entry, Sparrow progressively became the focus, and as that happened, the grating parts of his character became evident, as did the fact that he was becoming more and more a caricature. In these movies, Jack should not be the main character. He needs to be served up in delicious helpings, not forced on us in extravagant amounts. Here in the fifth movie, he is forced on us some, but I still liked it.
Of course, Johnny Depp, as always, does a fantastic job portraying Jack Sparrow. However, despite my praise, here Jack’s character’s evolution has taken yet another degrading step into becoming even more of a Looney Tune cartoon. He definitely possessed some of those qualities in the first film, where he was playing a caricature of a pirate, but now he’s playing a caricature of himself. In the first one, he was silly, crazy, and drunk all the time, but he was deadly too. You understood why people feared him, because you could tell that he posed a serious threat. He was someone that should be taken seriously, but he didn’t take himself seriously. By the time the fourth movie came around, that wasn’t so true anymore. It seemed like he just accidentally got lucky a lot.
And that’s definitely true here. Though he has occasional moments of ability, he’s laughably cartoony. Yet I don’t have as big a problem with this as some critics do, because here, at least, there is a reason for his drunken-stupor-quirkiness. This time around, it plays into the character in this story. At the beginning of the movie, he has basically lost everything, and he loses even more as the plot goes on. So he becomes what you would think the character from the first movie would become if he got older and lost his ship, crew, and options: a drunk idiot. By the end of the movie, though, and I won’t spoil anything, he regains his strengths as a man. So there’s that.
As for the other actors, I’ll begin with the other pirates. First off, Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa. Remember how in Curse of the Black Pearl he was momentarily enticed by the idea of becoming a pirate commodore? Well now he is! And a good one, at that. Though Jack is definitely an extremely fascinating character, my personal favorite might be Barbossa. In this series, he is one of the only people that experiences a real character arc. A lot happens to him, he adapts as necessary, and he reacts, grows, and survives in a way true to his character. He’s interesting, and he does an excellent job. Not only that, but Rush also seems to be the only original cast member still having as much fun as he did on day one. Depp seems ever so slightly tired and weary. After all, he has borne this franchise on his back for 14 years. In addition, as my wife and I were talking, I’m not sure what it is, but this seems to be Depp at his most transparently “Johnny Depp” as Sparrow.
On to the other major pirate, the latest undead sea villain, Salazar, Javier Bardem, born to play villains. And, man, if he doesn’t relish this role! He is hamming it up, as he should, chewing up all the scenery. He does an awesome job. And he emotes effectively through considerable CGI. As an undead Spanish captain once a terror to all pirates, he wants revenge, and his portrayal is very cool. The designs for him and his crew are neat as well. I don’t want to spoil too much, but if you were kind of wandering if that look you’ve been seeing in the trailers is too awkward, once you see it in context, once it’s explained, you’ll probably think it’s cool too.
Let’s get to our two kinda leads. As in the fourth film, we have an attempt to recapture what the first three movies had with Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. And I’ll just tell you: it is a better attempt than On Stranger Tides‘. So there.
Now, I find Bloom and Knightley in the first three movies to be bland in many moments. Another negative that I have for them in the series is that they act like they’re in a completely different movie from the rest of the actors. They’re over-the-top pirate movies with monsters and zombies. Depp, Rush, Nighy, and most of the rest of the cast understand this, but Bloom and Knightley never do. They’re very self-serious. Of course, this does help make them the normal characters, the sane ones amidst the madness, providing a certain amount of normalcy. Thwaites and Scodelario attempt to bring that as Henry and Carina. But how do they measure up?
Unfortunately, Thwaites is far blander than Bloom ever was. Quite vanilla. But he’s ok. That’s really all I have to say about him. I’ve forgotten him already.
Scodelario, on the other hand, is a bit more memorable. She’s an orphan who believes her father was obsessed with science, and so now is she, in addition to a family-motivated, quest of scientific discovery that she means to fulfill. She seems legitimately intelligent in this role, and though she does somewhat ham-handedly become a love interest, she’s at least a little interesting. And actually, though she’s probably not as good an actress as Keira Knightley, and though the film deals with her more poorly than the other screenplays dealt with Elizabeth Swan, I honestly prefer the way Scodelario chose to portray her character, because she, unlike Knightley, seems to know the movie she’s in. She pretty successfully maintains a line between being the “normal” character and, at the same time, being a little over the top to match the movie’s tone. So that helped her. There is a running joke, though, that the movie has with her where every man thinks she’s a witch because she’s so smart, and that got old fast.
Anyway, let’s get into the more technical aspects of the movie. As expected, like the other Pirates films, this is a beautiful movie. The visuals in general are spectacular. There are many shots of big, expensive sets, intricately choreographed set pieces, cool visual effects, gorgeous shots of the sea, and good implementations of water tanks to display that. However, almost every visual moment that I thought looked amazing here, and even the score by Geoff Zanelli, though also good, and the ship action too. . . Most of all the things that I loved were due to the filmmakers trying to replicate the look and feel of Verbinski’s “original trilogy.” There were a few new touches that were cool and original, including the newest ship-of-undead’s designs, the ghost pirates and how the way they died made them appear as they do, undead sharks, an island that shines like the stars, and Poseidon’s trident and how it works. Some of the new stuff I didn’t like though.
The movie tries to visually explain the origin of the ghost sailors, and it doesn’t quite make sense. Also, though the ship-to-ship action is awesome, the man-to-man action is not. C’mon! This is a pirate movie. Give me sword fights! There are only a couple scenes of hand-to-hand combat, and those don’t even focus on swordplay. The second one is mostly obscured by CGI stuff happening. And that’s just a shame. The swordplay is one of the biggest things I love about the first two movies.
Talking about CGI, that brings me to another gripe. They use far too much of it, even more than in at least the first two movies. Dead Men Tell No Tales had a $230 million budget. If you have that much money, for pity’s sake, film on location. There are so many scenes here where it is so obvious that the actors are gathered around a giant green screen, and it just takes you right out of the movie. It didn’t have to be that way! Its use of CGI is kind of aggravating. Not to say it doesn’t look good. It does. But it’s implemented in such a way that in ten years will probably be far more annoying.
The screenplay is alright. I really liked the pacing. I think this movie is faster paced than any of the others, except maybe the first one. I also like that they keep the subplots to a minimum. And they, interestingly enough, keep the characters to a minimum, too, so that we can focus on whom we care about. So that’s really good. The dialogue is ok.
So overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is awesome, enjoyable, entertaining, and just tons of fun. Definitely worth seeing. Does it have flaws? Sure, but so do the other Pirates. All in all, I’d say it’s my third favorite Pirates movie now, beneath Curse of the Black Pearl and Dead Man’s Chest. I definitely recommend seeing it.
I’m going to give Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales a 76%.
P.S.: Be on the lookout for a hilarious Paul McCartney cameo!