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

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Originally published on Creators.co June 1st, 2017

I think I hold the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise in higher regard than most people, critics, or reviewers do. I love the original Pirates of the Caribbean film (The Curse of the Black Pearl), but parts 2 and 3 (Dead Mans Chest and At Worlds End) do not get the credit that I believe they deserve. They are not perfect, but how many movies are? The movies not only work individually but work great as a three-part story and trilogy. Quite frankly, I think it’s one of the better trilogies made in North American film history. They are fun, exciting, dark, dramatic, beautifully visual, have really interesting lore and characters. It’s the type of blockbusters I get drawn to, epic swashbuckling fantasies.

However, the 4th film lets me down. The movie wasn’t bad, but it didn’t feel like a continuation of the story of the first 3. The movie (On Stranger Tides) felt more like a spin-off or part 3.5. The movie also focused way too much on the famous Captain Jack Sparrow. Sparrow is a central character for sure, but he can’t lead a movie, and I’m not sure Rob Marshall was the best choice to replace series director Gore Verbinski (although I don’t think it’s for a lack of effort). Part of me wondered if they should have stopped with three. The story really ended there.

Part 5, Dead Men Tell No Tales, looked like it was going to answer a lot of my critiques of the 4th movie. The movie had more to do with the story of the original movies: Jack wasn’t the lead, the story looked more epic, a better villain was portrayed, and it brought back some of the pirate crew that was missing in 4 (even the return of Will Turner). For the first 30 minutes or so, I got the movie I was hoping to get with the 4th film. But, as the movie proceeded, I became more and more disinterested, disheartened, and disappointed. This might be my least favorite film in the series, with characters acting out of character, subpar CGI and set design, rushed story elements, and contradictions towards its own lore. Even as a big “Pirates” fan, I was left unhappy.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales picks up a few years after the events of part 3 and 4. Captain Jack Sparrow is past his prime and now struggles to come up with good fortune as he spends most of the time drunk and antagonizing his crew. Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry Turner, is now all grown up and is hell-bent on freeing his father from The Flying Dutchmen. To do this he has to find the Trident of Poseidon, which has the power to lift all curses. To do this, he enlists the help of an intelligent young woman (who is thought of as a witch) who has a map that can lead them to the Trident. All the while, Jack is pursued by the dreaded ghost Captain Salazar, the captain that Jack killed in the Devil’s Triangle and is who is now out for revenge.

As I stated before, I was really enjoying the movie for the first 30 minutes or so. It had some energy, introduced the new characters nicely, had a solid setup, connected to the previous movie, and had some large scale (and fun) action sequences. The movie starts off on the island of St. Thomas, where Jack attempts to rob a bank in “Fast Five” style. Henry comes to this island after his ship falls prey to Salazar, but Salazar leaves him alive to tell everyone the tale of what happened. Why? Dead men tell no tales. Carina Smyth runs from the law as they think of her as a witch, and eventually the three paths cross and they head off to sea to find the Trident.

The problems started to become apparent to me as it felt like we were never getting off this island of St. Thomas. This movie spends a lot of time there before finally getting the plot going. It isn’t really spent much on developing or establishing Henry Turner and his relationships with Jack or Carina; it’s a lot of hijinks, comedy, and downtime, (downtime that could have trimmed or refocused on something more important). The cast has little to no chemistry with one another. Henry (played by Brenton Thwaites) doesn’t work well off Carina (played by Kaya Scodelario), and Jack doesn’t work well off of Henry. Jack and Henry’s relationship should have been the easiest to write since Jack and Will had been through so much together in the first three movies. I never felt like they had a relationship at all.

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About halfway through the movie, something occurred to me: I bet this movie had different screenwriters than the past movies. After the movie was finished, I looked it up as I waited for the end credits scene. With the exception of the original “Pirates” (which had four writers), all of the movies were written by the team of Ted Elliot and Terry Russo (who were a part of those four writers from the first movie). This movie was written by Jeff Nathason.
The reason I felt this was because the characters didn’t feel like the characters. I saw Geoffrey Rush supposedly playing Barbossa and I heard characters call him Barbossa, but I didn’t see Barbossa. In no way did this feel like the character established in the first 3 movies (even the 4th movie). You could argue that this is just simply character development, but you can develop a character and still have him recognizable as that character. Harrison Ford still felt like he was playing Han Solo even though he was an older version in The Force Awakens. In this Geoffrey Rush doesn’t command the screen, chew on the scenery, gets bested so easily, soft, and doesn’t feel like he plays off Sparrow well either. Along with Barbossa, Master Gibbs felt completely out of character by betraying Jack and acting really goofy. This could also have to do with the new directors as well (not to place everything on Nathason). These just didn’t feel like the characters from the rest of the series. There is even a basic mistake the filmmakers made having to do with Jack’s compass that could have been avoided by just re-watching the first hour of the second movie.
The biggest issue with this movie, and it pains me to write this, is Johnny Depp. Depp returns to his most famous role as the quirky pirate, and I fear it might have been one time too many. I don’t know who is to blame, the writing, directors, or Depp himself, but this is merely a shell of what the character used to be. In the first movie, Sparrow was quirky, strange, eccentric, and funny, but still held that intact and was restrained when he needed to be. He still had an edge as a pirate to be feared (or one with a plan). And while in 2 and 3 he was less restrained, he still had a limit to his quirks and still had that edge. This movie he becomes Jar Jar Binks. He acts like he is drunk throughout the movie, he keeps screaming like a baby; he isn’t a character; he is a walking joke. Aside from the inciting incident, he contributes nothing to the plot. He doesn’t fight his nemesis; he doesn’t do anything! You could remove him from the movie and just have Salazar chasing the Trident, the movie’s story wouldn’t change a bit. I would understand him acting pathetic in the beginning since he is past his prime, but he doesn’t change throughout the movie. He still gets a few laughs, but this feels like a sub-par impression and not a performance by a great actor.
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I am quite honestly surprised by the number of critics I see that I love and respect claim this is the best one since the first. For me, this is even worse than the 4th. But that’s the great thing about movies: we can all disagree and see something different in movies. The movie ended and my theater clapped. There are some fun sequences in here for sure. Javier Bardem is good in the movie as the villain (even if he isn’t given a lot to do unlike previous villains), and there are some impressive visual effects (even though the bulk of the movie looks overly digital and the original films look better from 10 plus years ago). As a big fan of the first three movies, I really felt let down by the movie. The end credits offer perhaps some hope for the 6th film, but that’s all the series has left for me. Different writers and directors need to be brought in to salvage it. This isn’t the worst movie of the year, but it might be the most disappointing (especially for a Pirates fan)
Final Score
4/10
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