I’ve always considered the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to be Disney on “safe mode”, a franchise that prints money with very little effort or change required. While the movies have become less popular with each outing, with a few exceptions, the series isn’t what it used to be, and while Dead Men Tell No Tales is an entertaining, and mostly enjoyable movie, it’s a faded memory of a once great series, one that continues to give us the same characters caught up in the same things we’ve seen several times over.
The story told here is splintered to several characters, Henry, Carina, and Jack Sparrow himself. We are introduced to Henry, first off, as we learn of his connections to the series’ past and are given knowledge of this movie’s MacGuffin that is the Trident of Poseidon, an artifact that can nullify any curse in the sea. Speed ahead a few years and we are then introduced to Carina, a woman who at every turn is accused of being a witch, among a few other things when she starts claiming she is an astronomer and horologist, with the latter getting quite the attention among the dimwitted Pirates. We eventually meet up with Jack Sparrow, and after an entertaining chase scene around a small town, the trio finds themselves each in search of the Trident, for their own various reasons.
The problem with this dynamic is it’s hard to know who the main character is, as no one seems to be in control of the movie for too long. In fact, there are moments here where Jack Sparrow feels at odds with the narrative as if he’s there just because they needed to have Jack feature somehow in the movie. Eventually, other characters start to join in on the quest, Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa and is included in the plot for a few reasons, one of which isn’t known until much later on into the film.
As is the case with the franchise, the themes of family, love, redemption, curses and revenge are all present here through newcomers to the series, Henry, and Carina, and the two find themselves written into a romance that doesn’t feel earned. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario do their best and at times the pair does have decent chemistry, but the way in which their romance is pushed on us doesn’t feel as natural as what Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley gave us in the earlier films.
The Pirates movies, for the most part, have had some very well conceived villains, but Captain Salazar played here by Javier Bardem, is one of the least impressive of the entire franchise. There are some fun fantasy elements to who this character is and what has put him on the path for revenge against Captain Sparrow, but the character never has a moment to really shine and comes off as more of a narrative way to push the main characters where they need to go. The spooky look and visual feat that is Salazar and his crew is your typical Pirates flare, but a cursed/undead crew with a cursed/undead Captain is something the series has essentially done before, even if the origins of their curse does lend itself beautifully to their particular designs.
While the movie has a few visual spectacles like Salazar’s ship, his crew, some undead sharks and a young Jack Sparrow, there isn’t one that stands out as a series best, especially after the technological upgrades to the visual effects industry. The lack of a giant beast or something really impressive doesn’t hurt the movie, but it does disappoint in the fact that even the first movie had some better visuals effects that what we see here. There is a moment where Jack is jumping over a low bridge during the bank robbery scene that looks incredibly fake, and it’s not the only visual blemish in the film. I’ll also point out that the 3D used here lacked a lot of depth found in most other 3D movies, but I’d still recommend seeing it in ULTRA AVX regardless.
Regarding the whole bank scene, while it has a very Pirates feel to it, I couldn’t help but notice it’s almost entirely what happened in another fifth entry of a franchise, Fast Five. Replace the cars with horses and you have the same basic scene. The scene is fun, regardless of the comparison, and was a highlight of the film for me.
One of the other problems I had with Dead Men Tell No Tales is the lack of payoff to several events in the film. The film attempts to lay the groundwork for some amazing moments and then takes a hard right turn and plays it far too safe. The movie begins with Henry being in contact with a very popular character from the series past and there were several moments in the film where this character could have helped out greatly, but it never happens. There is also a moment in the film where you think a giant sea battle is about to take place and then suddenly that ship is taken out of the picture in a quick moment that felt like they didn’t know what to do with that particular plot thread and felt that casting it aside was the best option.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is as safe as Disney could do with a Pirates movie. It takes zero risks and places your typical action-comedy moments of the Pirates franchise together with a shoe-string narrative. There is definitely some fun and laugh out loud moments that do make this film enjoyable, as well as some well-shot action set-pieces, but overall the movie isn’t really giving us anything we haven’t seen before. The film has been mentioned to possibly be the final adventure, and the story certainly hints at that, but regardless, it was nice to see several of the series best-known characters come back to give us some closure to the various stories this franchise has left open for years.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was seen in ULTRA AVX 3D.