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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017) review

May 29, 2017

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written by: Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio
produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer
directed by: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content) 
runtime: 129 min.
U.S. release date: May 26, 2017

 

Back in 2011, no one was clamoring for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” the third sequel in Disney’s fantasy swashbuckling “Pirates of the Caribbean” blockbuster, based on the famous ride that’s been a staple of company’s amusement parks. So you can imagine how excited everyone is for yet another attempt to pour the few remaining drops out of the lone whiskey barrel that remains of this once-lucrative blockbuster franchise, despite lackluster efforts from Johnny Depp in recent years. After all, any given “Pirates” movie will inevitably be someone’s first and in turn inadvertently help keep the franchise afloat. At least that’s what the studio is counting on. This new sequel “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is being touted as the final installment – which is something everyone can fully support – and it is indeed a fitting bon voyage to an often bloated series that started thirteen years ago.

The story is obviously set in the titular sun-soaked location and opens with the introduction of Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who is set on breaking the curse that has his father, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) consigned to helm the Flying Dutchman at the bottom of the sea (in case you forget the conclusion of “At World’s End” the second sequel). Henry, who believes the only way to break his father’s curse is to seek and find Poseidon’s Trident, has been sentenced to death for treachery towards the British Royal Navy. Due to some unintentional interference by the bungling Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), Henry meets the plucky Carina Smith (Kaya Scodelario) an expert in both astrology and horology, who’s also been sentenced to death after being accused of witchcraft, and the two escape execution thanks to the inebriated pirate’s trademark bungling. which is said to be located somewhere at the bottom of the sea.

 

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At odds and on the run from the same pursuers, Henry and Carina find themselves sailing away on the Dying Gull, captained by the desperate and out-of-luck Sparrow and his loyal crewman. It takes some convincing, but the ship sets off in search of the Trident after Carina reveals to the men her knowledge of a map that will point them in the right direction.

At the same time, the undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his similarly afflicted crew have freed themselves from The Devil’s Triangle and are out to kill Sparrow. Enlisting the help of the one-legged Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, a vain pirate and frequent antagonist of Sparrow who is now wealthy and in charge of a fleet of pirates, Salazar is out for revenge for a time long ago when he was defeated by a young Jack Sparrow. All parties, along with the Royal Navy led by Scarfield (David Wenham) converge at the location of the Trident, battling it out with swords and cannons over the treasure with their respective motivations on full display.

 

“Dead Men Tell No Tales” does its best to take us back to the formula that worked so well for “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” thirteen years ago, most notably by thrusting two new characters who resemble Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley’s (who were in the first three movies) into the story’s forefront. It’s a tried and true formula that screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (from a story he co-wrote Terry Rossio, who penned all the previous installments) and veteran producer Jerry Bruckheimer also rely what has become tried and true tropes of the franchise – McGuffins pursued by multiple characters, attacking sea creatures, double-crosses, comical action sequences, narrow escapes and a pesky monkey – but this one has pet zombie sharks!

This familiar approach, directed by Joachim Running and Espen Sandberg, the Norwegian duo who probably got the gig for their work on 2012’s “Kon-Tiki” (and not 2006’s “Bandidas”, but for all I know, probably both), barely works here and only because it consigns Depp’s nauseatingly repetitive performance as Jack Sparrow to a supporting role. Although Sparrow is the motivation for Bardem’s antagonist’s revenge, there are thankfully enough characters filling up the screen here, to the point where you won’t once again grow weary of the whole experience because of Depp’s overexposure. Unlike the last film, the filmmakers thankfully remember that Jack Sparrow and his drunken posturing does not make for a good lead character.

 

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We need some characters without slurred speech to follow and ground the story, which is why Thwaites and Scodelario have replaced the aged-out Bloom and Knightley.  The problem is it becomes immediately obvious what’s going on here, which will be just fine for some moviegoers, and simply tiring for the rest of us. What becomes clear is that Thwaites and Scodelario simply do not have the necessary chemistry that Bloom and Knightley did. Both are given bland and flat characters to work with, but I’d take Scodelario over Thwaites easily (not because I’m a guy), who is really good here, reminding me of a young Mary Louise Parker and thankfully having more of a fleshed out character and things to do even though the script integrates her effectively too late in the story with a forced tacked-on plot point.

All we really have here is one action set piece after another, which isn’t a foreign element to these movies, but it does feel like the sole purpose is collateral damage rather than legitimate thrills. It’s ultimately empty entertainment, save for one comical bit involving a guillotine, interrupted by bizarre scenes that have nothing to do with anything – like the cameo from Sir Paul McCartney (since the last movie had Keith Richards playing Sparrow’s father – just wait, in the inevitable next film, Roger Daltry will make a cameo) or the strange wedding scene that’s inserted for no reason, except to garner some forced chuckles. It’s all just an excuse to see Depp saunter his schtick out way once again.

Therein lies the conundrum – you can’t have these movies without Depp, but after five movies, the actor has turned the character into a one-note joke. I can’t recall any other actor who repeated a role he received an Oscar nomination and repeated it this many times. Depp has now made a parody out of the incorrigible Sparrow, a one-time charming role which he initially and unexpectedly developed into a fully-realized character. There’s no trace of that anymore. Even with the slim backstory they give the character here, which connects him to Salazar’s past and includes a digitally de-aged (all the rage these days) Sparrow helming the Black Pearl, it winds up feeling like they’re exhausting every possible dimension of the character – not to mention an actor simply returning for a reliable paycheck. Each time Depp cashes in on this role, it’s like seeing a desperate career corporate executive withdraw from his 401k.

 

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Surprisingly, it’s nice to have Rush’s Barbossa back as the once-villain, now-ally, but even he feels a little tired by everyone and everything around him. Rush’s presence reminds us what it’s like to have an engaging antagonist, since we’re given Bardem this time around, who hams up the screen any chance he gets. With his rolling R’s and black goo spewing from his lips (reminding me of Danny DeVito from “Batman Returns”), his impatient Salazar can’t seem to provide a fearful presence, much less a formidable threat. He’s mad at Sparrow for sinking him and his crew long ago, leaving him cursed to live as a soggy zombie, but there’s never any explanation as to how he became a member of the undead. It seems like that would be an important point.

Like “Alien: Covenant“, this sequel would be just fine if this was someone’s very first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. For those who’ve somehow withstood each previous movie, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” will offer nothing new or different. It’s simply a safe rise to the top of the box office opening weekend, only for it to plummet in the weekends that follow. The movie opens the same weekend “Baywatch” is hitting theaters and if you told me a year ago that I’d be more interested in the franchise hopeful debut of a unintentionally laughable TV show, I’d have told you to walk the plank.

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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