Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review: A Tale Igniting the Sea Back to Life.
Just when you thought the Pirates franchise was dead in the water, the fifth and supposedly final installment turns out to be the best movie in the franchise since The Curse of the Black Pearl. I know what you’re thinking — “That isn’t saying much.” Truth be told, it’s not. The Pirates of the Caribbean films have been basically interchangeable ever since the second one was rushed into production, never holding a candle to the magic and adventure of the iconic first blockbuster. However, Dead Men Tell No Tales finds what worked best about this world, and uses those strengths for one heck of an entertaining movie.
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) finds the winds of ill-fortune blowing even more strongly when deadly ghost pirates (yes) led by his old nemesis, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle, determined to kill every pirate at sea…including him. Sparrow must forge an alliance with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a brilliant astronomer, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy who has been deemed a traitor.
Dead Men Tell No Tales takes its time before the adventure swings into high gear. The jarring opening mixed with the introduction of new characters and catching up with old ones felt unapologetically long. That’s not to say what was going on in the film wasn’t good — it was, yet the narrative wasn’t quite working from a story point of view.
After that uneven first act, something truly spectacular happens. A scene involving a guillotine, a hanging, and witty dialogue comes to fruition. It’s one of the best scenes in the entire film, and for me to attempt to describe it would be an injustice to the craftsmanship that went into this project. From that point forward, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is pure cinematic magic, something that has been severely missing since the first movie back in 2003.
Norwegian directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg bring a visually striking flair to the franchise. Gorgeous cinematography radiates throughout the film’s run time as we go from the bright blue sea to the dark “Devil’s Triangle.” Shots of Javier Bardem and his crew of dead men in particular are stunning, with some solid CGI to boot.
As far as the acting is concerned, newcomers Kaya Scodelario and Brenton Thwaites shined throughout, their individual character arcs standing out above the rest due to their chemistry and believability. Without getting into spoiler territory, both characters fit into this established universe with ease, adding to the story rather than being a distraction from it. Scodelario especially surprised me, and her story ended up being the film.
Javier Bardem’s sinister Captain Salazar is the real show-stopper of this tale. Not only is he the best villain to be showcased in a Pirates movie; he is one of the better Disney villains in recent memory. You can tell Bardem is having a ball with this role, chewing up the scenery with equal parts camp and evil.
This leads me to my personal biggest issue with the film, Jack Sparrow. He was drunk and obnoxious, and took me out of the film at multiple points. When we first met Sparrow in The Black Pearl, he would pretend he was drunk to throw off his enemies, only to have the advantage and wit in the end to surprise them. Depp’s performance has been scrutinized by the writers, almost being a parody of himself.
There’s a flashback sequence that was my personal favorite in the entire film and that was utterly fantastic to witness. We see Captain Jack as a young man on the day he became a real captain. Seeing how the infamous Jack Sparrow developed so much life, confidence, and heroism made for not only an incredible scene that gave the relationship between him and Salazar a fully realized backstory; it also stood as a reminder of what we’d been missing out on.
This is not a discredit to Depp, as he’s still an entertaining presence on screen, but to the writers for having his lines fall flat and using this character as a slapstick comedy routine that has stayed well beyond its welcome.
Regardless of that, I found Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales to be an adventure epic that’s all too distant from cinema today. Pirates fans will surely get their money’s worth, and have a great deal of new characters to fall in love with.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales opens on May 26th, 2017.