Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Rating

Director

Joachim Ronning, Espen Sandberg

Screenplay

Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio

Length

2h 9m

Starring

Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham, Angus Barnett, Martin Klebba, Adam Brown, Giles New

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for sequences of adventure violence, and some suggestive content

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Soundtrack

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Review

Davy Jones’ Locker may have one more casualty to add to its trove with the fifth outing for the Black Pearl and her not-so-illustrious crew. In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, it’s the film’s writers who aren’t telling any tales, at least good ones.

The Walt Disney Company hit on a surprisingly popular property in 2003 by turning one of its most popular attractions into a cinematic blockbuster. Starring Johnny Depp as Captian Jack Sparrow, the series has managed a series of box office hits that have bolstered Disney’s war chest and pleased myriad fans. For this fifth outing, Depp returns as the fading fop Jack Sparrow and for the second film in a row, he’s surrounded by a pair of star-crossed lovers who are as interchangable as the dingy clothes he continues to wear.

For this excursion, Jack is being pursued by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a successful pirate hunter who met his fate at the hands of young Jack. To save himself from the clutches of Salazar and his undead crew, Jack cooperates with Henry, the son (Brenton Thwaites) of a former associate (Orlando Bloom from the first three films), and the Carina, the altruistic astronomer (Kaya Scodelario), to see the Trident of Poseidon, which is said to remove all sea-based curses, which will free Henry’s father, lead Carina to her father, and free Jack from the curse Salazar had placed upon him.

For swashbuckling epics, the pickings are slim. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is one of a small number of seafaring adventures that have released in the past two decades and that film came out more than a decade ago. The Pirates of the Caribbean films have been almost the sole source of period nautical adventures for modern audiences, which won’t help bolster their interest in similar, less fantastical offerings.

Apart from it being a surprise that a theme park attraction could generate a film franchise with such longevity, the stagnation of the series has been less surprising. Although the first film succeeded thanks to an adventurous spirit and a killer lead performance by Depp, the series has struggled to improve itself in the intervening years. The first two sequels (Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End) were ostensibly a single film split in two because of its length and released a year apart. Those films showed some sign of fatigue, but had engaging characters and a narrative that still felt exciting.

Four years later, On Strange Tides proved that the series had indeed hit rough waters. Co-stars Bloom and Keira Knightley left the series to pursue other roles, but their absence wasn’t the only problem for the film. The writers seemed to struggle in light of these losses to create a narrative that was still filled adventure while keeping the pirates historia moving forward. That film was a disappiontment on many levels, but waiting six years hasn’t improved the property one bit.

Part of keeping a series going is who you bring into the directors chair. The best thing going for On Stranger Tides was getting Rob Marshall in the directors chair. While he couldn’t entirely right the sinking ship, he managed to keep the film feeling fresher and more visually interesting than it had any right to be. Dead Men Tell No Tales doesn’t have that benefit. Directors Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg were chosen to helm the latest Disney endeavor, having successfully anchored the Oscar-nominated foreign language film Kon-Tiki. However, their inexperience with big budgets enabled the film to add largesse without trimming, resulting in a hefty two-hour nine-minute slog.

Taking on a new screenwriter, the series was hoping to find a fresh perspective, but going with the writer of Speed 2, Rush Hour 2, Rush Hour 3, and Tower Heist wasn’t the brightest move. Everything about Dead Men Tell No Tales is tedious, from the expansive set pieces that have little impact on the rest of the film, the corny jokes and tin-eared dialogue, and the plot that felt more forced than forceful. It was a production that, from the ground up, was fettered by inexperience or bad experiences.

The film’s title, Dead Men Tell No Tales, is cheaply inserted into the dialogue, but such awkward inclusion is almost metaphorical. A better title, perhaps might have been Pirates of the Caribbean: Red Sky at Morning. An old adage sailors used to forewarn of inclement weather read: “red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailors delight.” This film should act as a warning to future productions (and audiences for that matter). This is their red sky moment, a warning that the future is sure to be stormy and the end result might just be the sinking of a once buoyant ship. This film is Disney’s albatross, and they may just have killed it.

Oscar Prospects

Potentials: Production Design, Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects

Review Written

August 17, 2017

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