Review: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 5’ Sets Sail for More Mediocre Waters

'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" (2017) - Movie Review

‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ Lost at Sea After 2003 Breakout Hit

2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was lightning in a bottle. Who would’ve expected a Disneyland theme park ride-turned film franchise would be become ingrained in pop culture almost 15 years? The Mouse House sadly couldn’t capture similar success with The Country Bears, The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland. Entering the fifth (yes, fifth) installment, can Dead Men Tell No Tales recapture some of the magic lost over the previous installments?

Dead Men Tell No Tales begins to answer some of the questions Pirates fans had over a decade ago. Skipping over Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom) ambiguous fate in 2011’s On Stranger Tides, the original trio return for “one final adventure.” Or is it? This time, Will and Elizabeth’s (Keira Knightley) grown-up son Henry (Brenton Thwaites) is consumed with breaking his father’s eternal debt to the Flying Dutchman. He naively attempts as a child, then again as an adult. Fate would have him cross paths with the damned Spanish Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a female astronomer (Kaya Scodelario) and the one and only Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).

Everyone’s after the all-powerful Trident of Poseidon, which has the power to reverse curses. In a franchise where the supernatural smacks you over the head at every turn, this is a fun par for the course. And in muddled Pirates fashion, everyone has their own agenda about retrieving the trident. Though, the double-crosses and constant changing of allegiances aren’t as fluctuating as in At World’s End. That in itself needed a scorecard.

Since the first film, the Pirates films have gotten progressively worse. While Depp has made Captain Jack his signature role, the novelty has worn off with each passing installment. From Academy Award nominee in Black Pearl to a pale caricature lately, there’s nothing left enticing about the role anymore. With Dead Men Tell No Tales, Kon-Tiki co-directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have Depp running through the motions for a fifth round. Outlandish as usual, this latest iteration of Sparrow is less drunk, less eccentric and not nearly as fun as in previous films. The one plus being a flashback scene that turns the clocks back on Johnny Depp about 20 years or so.

SEE ALSO: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review: Yo-Ho-Ho and a Bottle of FUN

Though without Captain Jack, all the fun would be sucked dry out of Pirates of the Caribbean. Newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario lack the immediate chemistry of Bloom and Knightley. Surprisingly enough, the young pair add more weight to this film and to the franchise overall. At least it’s an improvement miles ahead of a bland missionary, mermaid romance in the last film. It seems as if this is already the summer of “estranged daddy issues.” Thwaites plays it up better than anticipated. However, this pivotal plot point tends to slip the screenwriters’ minds way too often.

In a slim 129 minutes, Pirates of the Caribbean charts too many courses it’s unable to handle completely or on an epic summer blockbuster scale. There’s the save Will Turner subplot. Scodelario’s Carina has her own baggage as a progressive female making peace with her past. Jack’s attempting to keep his crew together while avoiding the wrath of Salazar. Seriously, what did Jack Sparrow do to anger everyone on the Seven Seas? Barbossa, Davy Jones, Blackbeard and now Salazar. After shining in No Country for Old Men and Skyfall, Bardem should be a perfect adversary for Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Yet, the end result feels redundant and underdeveloped. Either these films are too bloated like Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End or too confined like On Stranger Tides and Dead Men Tell No Tales. There seems to be no happy medium.

Pirates of the Caribbean still has its occasional bursts of wacky energy from time to time. There’s still the thrills and daring of a theme-park ride. It’s just not the one you’re running to in a heartbeat or willing to stand a long time in line for. The film’s spectacular climax is well worth the bumpy start. But by the time, you’re starting getting back into the world of Pirates, it’s already over.

And there’s no way this is the end to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. If we have to wait another six years for a sixth and final installment, so be it. There’s room for just one more adventure on the horizon to tie up the loose threads of both On Strangers Tides as well as this film.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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