(2017—Directors: Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg)
Low ★★★ (out of 5 stars)
Six years removed from the last installment of Pirates of the Caribbean and with another directorial shift (this time to the directorial team behind the 2012 Oscar-nominated historical drama Kon-Tiki), Disney, Johnny Depp, and company return for the fifth time to this fantasy swashbuckling world. The resulting installment is admittedly a hit-and-miss adventure, particularly in its second half. That said, the budgetary restraint (compared to the last film) and a few narrative choices hint at a hopeful intention by Disney to eventually see the franchise to a fitting and triumphant conclusion in the future.
The ruthless Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his undead crew have escaped from the Devil’s Triangle and are hell-bent on killing every pirate on the seven seas. Salazar has a particular vendetta for a down-on-his-luck Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who years earlier had tricked Salazar’s crew into becoming cursed. Once Salazar ropes in Sparrow’s former rival-turned-ally Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to help track Sparrow’s whereabouts, Sparrow’s only hope of survival lies in the fabled Trident of Poseidon. Sparrow and his crew must ally with the headstrong young sailor Henry Turner (a spry Brenton Thwaites) and the beautiful aspiring astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) to find the Trident, hopefully before Salazar has Sparrow in his grasp.
Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have cited The Curse of the Black Pearl as inspiration for the script (penned by Jeff Nathanson) and tone of Dead Men Tell No Tales. To some extent, that rings true, especially with the film’s early goal of establishing a new romantic couple in Brenton Thwaites’ Henry and Kaya Scodelario’s Carina before reintroducing us to Johnny Depp. Javier Bardem’s Salazar manages to carry about as much presence as Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones from the previous films. Salazar also has a stronger reason to hunt down Captain Jack Sparrow. Tales even makes ample use of Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa, now a series staple. Sequences such as an attempted bank robbery and Sparrow’s close encounter with the guillotine made the first half of Tales as solid and adventurous as the best portions of the last three installments (and certainly less convoluted). Only the second half reveals that the first half may have bitten off more than it could chew. A superfluous mock wedding scene steals screen time from a climax that proceeds too quickly to make the strongest possible emotional impact. Throughout this, Henry and Carina seem only to get together because they just happen to be a young man and woman around the same age. All these make me apprehensive of Jeff Nathanson’s writing prowess, especially since he’s set to write Disney’s 2019 CGI live action remake of The Lion King.
As messy as the film gets towards the end, Dead Men Tell No Tales does manage to set a course for a fair series resolution down the line. It sets aside the excessive narrative of the previous three sequels for one more straightforward, with only two parallel plotlines to supplement the main story and only a couple of partial betrayals to add flavor to the stakes. Tales is, in effect, a reset button for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. One should hope that Disney harnesses this fresh start for the inevitable sixth film—in this critic’s mind, the best opportunity with which this rocky franchise can go out with a bang.
(Parents’ Note: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales features the same mostly bloodless, mostly off-screen/background, but nonetheless genuine sword violence familiar to those who have followed this franchise for the past decade-and-a-half. Several nameless crewmen are summarily stabbed at the will of the villain. A character nearly escapes the blade of the guillotine a handful of times. A minor character is shot dead suddenly while another is shot dead by a fellow crewmember as he attempts to shoot one of Salazar’s ghost crewmembers. A handful of sailors presumably drown towards the end of the film. One scene focuses, in a comedic light, on the pirates’ incorrect assumptions of what Horology (the study of time) is due to word sounding similar to “whore”.)
(Also, please keep an eye out for the cameo by musician Paul McCartney and for a post-credits scene.)