Overall: 14/20 – B
**Ship in a bottle-sized spoilers**
This has been the year of sequels and remakes. And more remakes. And more sequels. Why on earth should the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise be any different? What started off as a simple ride at Disney World has ended up as some of the most recognizable pirate films on the planet. Notice that I didn’t say the best… merely the most recognizable. As a franchise, it’s had it’s ups and downs. Most have a particular favorite, in my case, Curse of the Black Pearl and At World’s End. We don’t talk about On Stranger Tides. I’ve never been a huge fan of Penelope Cruz, and although I do love Ian McShane, it’s a movie I found sorely lacking. Having watched all the prior movies, I was deeply curious to see just how this one would stack up in comparison. Would it be a one-hit wonder like Curse or would it flop like On Stranger Tides?
Despite its numerous predecessors Dead Men Tell No Tales actually manages to stand on it’s own two feet. It almost seems to be an interesting conglomeration of all the movies without entirely losing its originality.
The film opens with the young son of William Turner, Henry, vowing desperately to free his father who was last seen sailing off in flash of green as the cursed captain of the Flying Dutchman. As an adult, Henry is joined by Carina Smyth, a woman with many secrets, who is, as she loudly proclaims, NOT a witch. Together, they seek out the infamous Jack Sparrow. Our Captain is not the man he once was, with no crew, no ship, and all his trademark luck cast out to sea. Banded together, they search the seas for an ultimate treasure known as the Trident of Poseidon, which legend states will end the cursed torment of he who wields it.
Of course, it could not just be a simple search. And it wouldn’t be a Pirates movies without the undead making their presence known. In this case, a Spanish Captain by the name of Salazar, has come for Jack Sparrow. Tricked into an eternal damnation by a very young Jack Sparrow, Captain Salazar has waited a long time to exact his revenge. He enlists some very familiar faces, such as one Captain Barbossa and his undead monkey, to make sure Jack Sparrow meets the end that all pirates must.
I wish I could say there is an overarching theme, but a lot of the plot seems muddled. There are at least five different storylines attempting to come together and a sixth which never even gets off the ground. The British Navy attempts to have some sort of plot but it vaguely consists of them running around, shooting (poorly) at pirates and eventually getting utterly destroyed at sea by Captain Salazar. There are many points where I find myself doing a mental headcount of who is where and why, a fact that is entirely the fault of the writers. Overall it just seems like a mish-mash of places and faces rather than a cohesive storyline. The only redeeming feature of the story is that it provides a modicum of insight into the history of Jack Sparrow, but even that is fleeting.
Johnny Depp reprises what is probably his most famous role as Captain Jack Sparrow. However, in this version, he is even more inebriated than normal. For the first half of the movie, he is nothing but a high-pitched, whiny drunk and it is, quite frankly, annoying. Half the reason people love Jack Sparrow are his funny, insightful quips and miraculous pull throughs while this version seems to be nothing but cheap gags and whining. At least he manages to redeem himself by the end of the movie and is once again, the Jack Sparrow we all know and love. In fact, I prefer his younger self, played by Anthony De La Torre, rather than Depp. As his foil, we have the newest Caribbean villain, Captain Salazar played by none other than Javier Bardem. The fact that he is a native of Spain and plays a Spanish Captain pleases me greatly. The only complaint I have is that he chose to have a very thick accent which is further muddled as he spends most of the movie moving as if still underwater. He is perfectly sinister and yet, is still a very likeable character as one could sympathize with his motives. I, too, wanted to kill Jack Sparrow.
This movie has multiple new faces, which is a deviation from the first trilogy where we follow the same crew for all three years. Chief amongst the newbies is Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner. He is an up and coming Australian with multiple credits to his name, including Maleficent, Gods of Egypt, and The Giver. He actually makes a believable Turner, displaying many characteristics that remind me of Orlando Bloom. Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth is a relative newcomer, but she has a strong personality and she works well in the mix of things. She is not only capable of the stunt work, but is able to keep pace with the likes of Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush with ease.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment for me is the complete misuse of David Wenham. He has a slew of credits behind his name and is a brilliant actor. He has maybe two minutes of screen time, though there should have been more. He is underused and is in a role ill-suited for a man of his talents. They even attempt to create another Pintel and Ragetti (Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook), through the use of Scrum and Cremble (I think – I’m not entirely sure they ever said their names). However Stephen Graham and Adam Brown respectively, do not have the same connection displayed by their predecessors and so the comedy falls flat. Paul McCartney as Uncle Jack is nothing but a useless cameo, attempting to duplicate Keith Richards’ role as Captain Teague. However, there is no substance and really no point other than yet another unneeded cheap gag.
The visuals of the movie are nothing to write home about. It is standard CGI-fare. In comparison to some of the others, the overall color scheme is far darker, with lots of blacks, greys, and blues. The few times they are on land, there is the typical riot of color. Unlike previous versions, you don’t ever get a feel for any particular town or place. I’d be hard pressed to tell you the name of any island, town, or significant landmark despite the fact that they spend a good 20 minutes of the movie in one particular town. Not even Jack’s beloved Black Pearl sees much screen time when it comes down to it. It feels very much the same style as At World’s End, with a similar color palette but is actually even darker than that. It is so dark that on occasion it is supremely difficult to see the on-screen action. That could be the fault of the movie theater screen itself, but it seems odd and a little frustrating that at the point when I can finally stand Jack Sparrow, I can’t actually see anything he is doing. I will say that the design for Captain Salazar is brilliant and visually he is very fun to watch walk about on the ship.
The one thing that truly made me happy, more so than any other aspect of the film is the score. The music has always been a big draw for me, when it comes to this particular set of movies and the trend continues. I am surprised to see that Geoff Zanelli has taken over the reins from Hans Zimmer, but the transition is smooth and I honestly didn’t notice the change in composers (I realize most probably can’t anyway, but as a violinist, musical scores intrigue me and I can typically identify different composers by their style). There are elements from both At World’s End and Curse of the Black Pearl (Klaus Badelt). The music beautifully counterpoints everything that is happening on screen and is perhaps the most emotional aspect of the movie.
Overall, this movie can be summed up with one word, “meh.” It doesn’t have the wow factor, but that is as much due to the writing choices as anything else. I can say that it has a few elements going for it, and does make me happier than On Stranger Tides (at least this one feels like a Pirates of the Caribbean movie). The actors do the best with what they are given, but the music is the true star of the movie. But because I am a completionist, I will probably add this one to my movie collection as well. Gotta have ‘em all!
Adults: If you are a die-hard Pirates fan, I would suggest seeing it in the theaters. Javier Bardem’s acting is truly amazing to watch. If you are a fan of Johnny Depp, be prepared for whining and acting similar to what was found in The Tourist. Otherwise, I’d wait for the release on Netflix.
Children: If you’ve seen the others, this one will be no different. If you like pirates, you’ll probably like this one.
**If you are on twitter, come follow me @HonestMidwest