Reviewing: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

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I remember falling in love with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I’ve always been obsessively intrigued with the underbelly tales of marauding outlaws sailing the high sees for years. I remember when Dead Man’s Chest came out and we saw it on opening night in the one-screen theater of a small town in Minnesota. People were so excited about it that they actually sold extra tickets and let people sit on the floor. That probably wasn’t the safest thing, but that’s how good those first few movies were.

My husband and I went to see the new film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, last weekend on Saturday afternoon. It was us and maybe 10 other people in a huge theater. I think this might be the most accurate representation of both the excitement and the general reactions to this most recent installment. In a word: disappointing.

Dead Men Tale No Tales begins with young Henry Turner charting his father’s boat across the sea. Henry is determined to set his father free from the Flying Dutchman and the curse he took from Davy Jones in At World’s End. If you will recall, Will must ferry the souls who died at sea to the other side. However, when Henry sees his father, Will’s face is encrusted with coral — a sign that he might not be fulfilling his duties, despite a pledge to do so. This is never explained. Nothing is really explained about Will’s life aboard the Dutchman, which I found very frustrating as the guiding plot of the story is breaking his curse.

Years pass, and Henry is working aboard a British Royal Naval warship that is pursuing a pirate ship into the Devil’s Triangle. Despite his warnings, his captain sails directly into the cursed area where the ship is soon boarded by a ghost crew. The merciless, decaying men, captained by Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, tasks Henry with finding Jack Sparrow. I have to say that the visuals of the ghost crew were fantastic and Bardem was absolutely terrifying as Salazar. He did a fantastic job as the sadistic, revenge-driven hunter of pirates that gives the film its climactic tension.

Finally, we return to Jack and his withering crew trying to rob a bank. We are also introduced to Carina, an astronomer and horologist on trial for witchcraft. After an absolutely ridiculous scene where an entire bank is pulled through the streets of the town, Jack’s crew realizes their captain is a washed-up drunk and they leave him. Soon Jack is arrested and sentenced to death. While both Jack and Carina are waiting for death, they are soon rescued by Henry and Jack’s crew. Together, the group sets sale in search of the Trident of Poseidon, which holds all of the curses of the sea.

Eventually, we have the typical Pirates of the Caribbean plot line, in which several parties are searching for the same thing. Henry wants the trident to free his father, Captain Barbossa, who begins helping Salazar find Jack, wants the trident to have full control of the seas. While Jack’s full intentions are lost in his horribly timed jokes and fumbling escapes from Salazar, we can assume he wants it for similar reasons. Yet, only Carina knows the way, due to her knowledge and a diary left to her by her father.

If all of this seems confusing, despite my attempts to whittle down everything that happens, don’t feel bad. The film is over run with multiple story lines and inadequate explanation. Everything we loved about the first few films: the suspenseful moments, the sword fights, the connections, the cunning. It is all missing. But I think the leading disappointment in Dead Men Tell No Tales, is Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow. Where he was swarthy, cocky, intriguing, clever and witty in the beginning, now he is simply a background placeholder for jokes and slapstick comedy. Although the story is that Jack is washed up due to his drinking, he never fully comes back to his former glory through the entire movie, even at the end. There is a glimmer of how he used to be in a flashback to when Jack was young and needed to escape Salazar’s clutches, leading to the crew’s curse. But it is hardly on the same level as the first three films. Whether this is how the character was written, or it is just a sign of Depp’s own flailing as an actor, is yet to be seen.

The film does introduce some extremely interesting plot lines, but they cannot be fully realized when they are all competing against each other in a two-hour film. This is a prime example of Hollywood’s directors desperately grasping for audiences and money, as they replace valuable storytelling with underdeveloped plot lines and over-the-top action scenes that make no sense whatsoever. I would have loved to dive deeper into Will’s plight aboard the Flying Dutchman, or Carina’s background growing up in an orphanage and following scientific studies, or even Captain Salazar’s hatefulness toward pirates. All of these could have been explored in depth if they had made this story the way they did the first three — stretched it to the second trilogy of Jack, Will, Elizabeth, Henry and Carina.

While there were a few redeeming qualities to Dead Men Tell No Tales, this is one you can miss without reservation. I highly recommend that you instead go read the prequel book, The Price of Freedom by Ann C. Crispin, which details Jack’s background and how he obtains the Black Pearl to become a pirate.

With the release of the trailer for this film, it was said to be the final installment. However, now the directors have implied the franchise will finish out it’s seven-film deal. In the end credits, there is a scene that implies the return of Davy Jones, despite his unquestionable death in At World’s End. This is another prime example of filmmakers’ inability to realize the death of a series when it comes. There is no good way for this to go and will ultimately lead to another failed film trying desperately to claw its way back to glory. As much as I loved the series in the beginning, it is time for this story to end.

What did you think of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales? What did you think of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in this film? How did the many different plot lines compliment or take away from each other? Will you see the next film when it is released? Let’s talk.

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