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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

May 26, 2017
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Why are they still making these? I mean, sure, they make money, but it’s been six years since the last resurrection of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which offered some fun but in retrospect mostly just reinforced the idea that the series was already played out when Gore Verbinski had walked away from it four years before that. But Johnny Depp racked up some big debts with his divorce settlement, so we get another oversized dose of him affecting weird mannerisms with something stupid on his head: pirate edition. This time it’s subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales, which in fact they might, not that you could hear them over the score.

But before we get to Depp, we have two other introductory sequences: one setting up Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) as the son of Will and Elizabeth, the romantic leads from the first movies; the other bringing him face-to-face with this installment’s ghostly antagonist, Salazar (Javier Bardem). Only then do we catch up with the hapless Jack Sparrow (Depp), complete with his embottled ship, the Black Pearl, and his magic compass. The latter of which we’ve conveniently just been told is the key to releasing Salazar to chase after Jack, for reasons that won’t be explained until a later flashback sequence.

Complicating matters, there’s also Jack’s old adversary, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who seeks the same legendary treasure that will release Henry’s father from his curse. And of course we have to replace Keira Knightley, so we get Carina (Kaya Scodelario, moving up from being “the girl” in the Maze Runner series to basically the same token role here). She’s a feisty orphan and self-taught astronomer who somehow doesn’t realize that her supposed astronomical namesake is completely wrong in all respects. If Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t go on a Twitter rant about it, we can be certain that he’s firmly in Disney’s pocket. I know it’s a really minor point, but it would have been so easy to get right that it’s a great focal point for all the half-assed, slipshod writing that went into this script.

To wit: it’s so overloaded with callback characters and artifacts that bulk up the story for little functional purpose. Carina is also looking for the same treasure as Barbossa and Henry, but almost coincidentally because it has something to do with the father she never knew. And if you don’t think he’s going to turn out to be someone we know already, you haven’t been paying attention. She also functions as a romantic reward for Henry, despite nothing in either of their stories having much to do with a romantic interest in each other until the big kiss at the end. But before that, she’s mostly there because only she can determine the location of the treasure, with no mention of why Jack’s compass couldn’t do the exact same thing, and without the overly complicated reliance on plot tokens that seems more like a bad imitation of National Treasure, or the ill-fated revival of the Indiana Jones franchise. Which, by the way, we can also lay at the feet of screenwriter Jeff Nathanson.

The core problem is that the movie lets a plug-and-play framework determine the plotting more than an actual coherent story. Henry and Carina get together at the end because the pretty young leads have to get together at the end. Barbossa is back because there has to be a secondary enemy that switches his support. Need to explain someone’s motivations? jam in a flashback sequence wherever, and if it happens to introduce an unknown — and cheap! — young actor who might set up a spin-off “Young Jack Sparrow” series, so much the better. You can practically see the boxes being checked off as we go.

One might hope that after helming 2012’s Kon-Tiki, directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg would have at least brought something new to the table when it came to the sea action, but honestly there’s nothing particularly special there either. It’s the same SFXtravaganza we’ve come to expect from summer tentpoles, with the most spectacular sequences taking place at night and in the spray so you can’t actually tell quite what’s going on, and with a deafening soundtrack that hopes to distract you from that fact. I’m sure it’ll make another billion dollars world-wide, but its audience has already proven they’ll watch just about anything.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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