Like Shrek and Ice Age before it, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl has been followed by so many unnecessary sequels, most have forgotten how truly brilliant and original the first movie was.
The real trouble has been that despite not being the protagonist of the first movie, Johnny Depp‘s inspired, looney performance as Capt. Jack Sparrow clicked too much with audiences. Before long, every unfunny boss and drunk uncle was doing their own bad impression and Disney themselves shaped the Pirates sequels (and, in so doing, the whole series) into “The Voodoo Tales of Pirate Jack.”
Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth (and final, if you believe the marketing) Pirates of the Caribbean movie, admirably wants to give Jack a proper sendoff, including a flashback or two, but can’t muster the energy needed to land it. Were it not for three gifted thespians fighting to chew the most scenery, it’d barely even be sea-worthy.
Brenton Thwaites is not one of those three. He blandly plays Henry Turner, the grown son of Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), the saga’s original star-crossed lovebirds. Since he’s been old enough to remember, he’s wanted to break the curse on his father — after killing Davy Jones in At World’s End, Will was forced to become the new ferrier of the dead — and believes the “unfindable” Trident of Poseidon to be the only thing that can.
Before you can say “like father, like son,” Henry has saved Capt. Jack from his execution and teamed up to sail after the Trident, joined by female scientist Carina (who is continually accused of being a witch), played by Kaya Scodelario.
As for Jack himself, he’s on the run from the undead Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), who he killed/cursed decades ago and who’s finally been freed from the Devil’s Triangle.
The script also has Carina embarking on her own quest for her father’s birthright, using Galileo’s diary; Geoffrey Rush’s Capt. Barbossa jumping back and forth between sides like the mercurial Machiavellian he’s always been; and, because this is a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the British Royal Navy giving straight-laced, humourless pursuit.
That’s a lot of plot to cram into the shortest movie in the series. Thankfully, the writers and directors don’t waste time paying attention to pesky things like logic or continuity. (At this point, with all the backstories they’ve given Capt. Jack, he should be something like 70 or 80.)
They also save time by reusing bits and pieces from other movies, forgoing the need to try and make what deserves to be a fitting end to the pirating pentalogy original or memorable in any significant way.
After Gore Verbinski’s surreal style in the first three movies and Rob Marshall’s elaborate spectacle in the underrated On Stranger Tides, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (Kon-Tiki) have delivered the most pedestrian-looking pirate movie since Muppet Treasure Island.
There are only three things working in the movie’s favour: Depp, Bardem, and Rush. They each have a blast with every scene they’re given and the movie feels all the livelier for it whenever one of them is onscreen (even more so when two or three are). When none are, though — as occurs frequently whenever Dead Men Tell No Tales focuses on the will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-obviously-will story of Henry and Carina — the movie sinks like a stone.
But even the trio of ham artists can’t distract from Dead Men Tell No Tales‘ absolute lack of any logic or continuity scene-to-scene — or between this and previous movies in the series. The saga is all meant to be one timeline, but backstories here not only contradict prior backstories, some moments within this film completely negate themselves less five minutes later. The more you pay attention, the more aggravatingly nonsensical the whole affair becomes.
One of the things made the first Pirates of the Caribbean so clever was its usage of Jack Sparrow as a wild card, adding spice and flavour to otherwise rote proceedings. By catering to audiences and making the sequels Jack-centric, it long ago went off the rails.
The ship almost righted itself with On Stranger Tides, but when audiences rejected it (due, in this critic’s opinion, to Depp fatigue more than justifiable issues with the movie), Disney went in the completely wrong direction for their ending. And this is what we get.
Johnny Depp may not warrant any favours, and audiences have nobody to blame except themselves, but Capt. Jack Sparrow really deserved better.