Somehow, like its characters, this franchise just won’t die.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” saga is the consummate example of “making it up on the fly.” The first film didn’t demand a sequel, nor did the third…or the fourth. But with billions of box office dollars on the line, I should’ve known a revival was inevitable.
Picking up roughly two decades after “At World’s End,” “Dead Men Tell No Tales” introduces Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), who’s out to save his father Will (Orlando Bloom) from the curse of the Flying Dutchman. Along the way, he joins forces with Carina (Kaya Scodelario), a pretty astronomer who spends most of the film being indignant about one thing or another. (Let’s just go ahead and call them Budget Will and Budget Elizabeth, because that’s what they are.)
Enter Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), fresh off a somewhat unsuccessful bank robbery (and I do mean that literally). This time around, Jack’s being chased by Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), a seafaring ghost with a haunted ship and a fierce vendetta. Budget Will, Budget Elizabeth, and Jack subsequently team up in search of the Trident of Poseidon, a mystical artifact that possesses the power to control the sea (and break any curse).
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” is not a good movie—in fact, it’s probably the worst of the “Pirates” quintet. More than once, the movie morphs from a sequel into a “soft reboot” of sorts: pretty much everything significant here—a plucky young lad and lass, a crew of undead pirates, Jack’s shenanigans—is a retread of the original flick. It’s a shame “Dead Men Tell No Tales” plays things so safe, because a lot of interesting pieces are already in play. There’s tons of potential in any plot focusing on Will Turner’s son’s quest to break his father’s curse: not only does it bring the story full circle (recalling Will’s own attempt to save his father “Bootstraps Bill”), but it raises questions of free will, destiny, and penance. “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” however, goes off in unnecessarily duller directions. It’s unclear, for instance, why this movie needed to introduce Salazar at all. Yes, he’s a cool CGI creation…but as far as the core characters are concerned, he’s nothing more than a cheap plot device used to get things moving.
But I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the movie’s highlights. In a creative inversion of roles, the spunky Carina basically plays the dashing hero to Henry’s “damsel-in-distress.” Jack’s quirks are far less irritating when he’s not trying to carry the whole movie. The soundtrack revives a whole batch of musical cues left out of “On Stranger Tides.” The effects are appealing (particularly Salazar’s ghost ship, which has the ability to rear out of the water and strike down like a snake). And despite the saga’s endless pretensions to unearned grandeur, the ending this time around is emotionally satisfying on a very deep level.
In sum, though, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” takes no risks, and accordingly reaps no rewards. It’s not unwatchable, and there are definitely worse ways to spend a couple hours. But when all’s said and done, you won’t miss much by waiting for the inevitable rerun on TNT.
A creaky fifth installment that never quite justifies its own existence.
Normalized Score: 0.5