Who would have thought that a film franchise based on a Disneyland attraction could last so long? The first Pirates of the Caribbean film—The Curse of the Black Pearl—was a surprise success upon its release in 2003. Subsequent sequels, while financially successful, haven’t fared too well with critics with their wild and incoherent plots. This time around Kon-Tiki (2012) directors Joachim Rønning and Epsen Sandberg are at the helm, bringing the franchise back to its roots, though not entirely succeeding.
Dead Men Tell No Tales finds Henry Turner (Aussie actor Brenton Thwaites) determined to break a curse. To do so, he needs to acquire the Trident of Poseidon. He tracks down Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to help him, and along the way runs into astronomer and fellow Trident seeker Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). Meanwhile, an undead Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his ghostly crew have broken free of the Devil’s Triangle and seek revenge against Jack.
The film has all the elements we’ve come to associate with the Pirates franchise. A foe that can’t go on land? Check. A curse that needs to be broken? Check. A McGuffin that needs to be found? Check. Nothing new is presented and the result is a somewhat enjoyable mash-up of the preceding installments.
Many of the film’s shortcomings stem at the script level, the result of the filmmakers knowing what audiences like about the franchise, but not how to combine them into a cohesive plot.
Johnny Depp effortlessly falls back into the role of Sparrow, though he’s largely disconnected from the story. There’s no development to his character other than a flashback showing us how he came to be. The introduction of two new leads—Turner and Smyth—is just what the franchise requires, but the roles they play are largely plot-driven. Their relationship unfolds as expected, and seemingly important elements (such as their believer/skeptic dynamic) aren’t developed to their full potential. Their individual performances are fine, but there’s simply no chemistry to speak of between Thwaites and Scodelario.
Bardem is disappointingly wasted as Salazar. There’s not enough menace, despite CGI being used to make the character appear terrifying. Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa fares better, though the moment at which his character earns some pathos comes too late in the film to really make an impact.
The pirate’s life isn’t all bad, however. The (literal) bank robbery action set piece is brilliantly staged, and the sexual innuendo-filled dialogue is genuinely funny.
Not a complete shipwreck, but far from the treasure we were hoping for.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10