Dear Disney Studios, you are literally making billions of dollars off the Star Wars and Marvel Cinematic Universe movies so can you please let the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise die? It’s clear none of your writers have had an original thought since 2003 and have just been beating a dead horse ever since (or should I say a dead seahorse) but regardless you seem intent on dredging the lagoon again and again so that we must suffering through more of Johnny Depp’s rambling screen incarnation of a once beloved character. Sure the film grossed almost $800 million worldwide but with its $230 million dollar budget, and who knows how much was spent on marketing, couldn’t you think of better way to spend your money? Where’s that Jungle Cruise movie that was supposed to star The Rock? How about giving James Gunn some of that money and remake Howard the Duck? Sadly the success of this fifth installment of the Pirates franchise has about guaranteed a sequel, “Shiver me timbers, but that makes me weep.”
Well let us batten the hatches and sail into the shit storm that is Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales; the movie opens with a young Henry Turner as he ties himself to a bag of rocks and jumps into the sea, this all so he can have a talk with his good ole dad Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) who was cursed to man the Flying Dutchman for all eternity at the end of the third film in the series, and the kid informs his father that if finds something called Poseidon’s Trident he could break the curse and the family would finally be reunited. Will tries to dissuade his son by telling him that, “The Trident can never be found” but the kid insists that with the help of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) he’s sure he can do it. The film then jumps ahead nine years and we meet the now older Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) who apparently joined the British Navy in the hopes this would lead him to Jack. I’m not sure of the logic in that but we’ll let that slide. The navy warship is currently chasing a pirate ship and against Henry’s advice they follow it into what the film calls The Devil’s Triangle, something that neither looks like nor is even located near the one in Bermuda, and while inside the Triangle they encounter Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) along with his undead and cursed crew.
We later learn that Captain Salazar was once an officer in the Spanish Navy who had become obsessed with ending piracy because of the family he lost to them, and while chasing a particular pirate ship that just so happened have a young Jack Sparrow as a crew member, he was tricked into sailing into the Devil’s Triangle where his ship was sunk and he and his crew died. Now for some reason the Triangle has turned them all into vengeful ghosts but they are apparently ghosts that aren’t allowed to leave the Triangle while Jack Sparrow is in possession of his magical compass.
I’ve got a few problems with this magic compass and where this series took the whole “piracy” aspect.
• The film demonizes Captain Salazar for being a pirate hunter but aren’t pirates bad guys? They are kind of known for thieving, murdering and raping their way across the Spanish Maine so how is someone wanting to end that a villain?
• In the first film it was a charismatic goofball pirate up against a bunch of evil undead pirates, and that worked perfectly fine, but by the third film Kiera Knightley is giving speeches to the Pirate Brotherhood about fighting for their freedom. What kind of freedom? To rape and murder? You wouldn’t expect Disney to take a pro-rape stance.
• Let’s now talk about Jack Sparrow’s magic compass which supposedly points in the direction of your true desire; Henry Turner wants to find Jack because with the compass he can locate Poseidon’s Trident and free his dad, but why does Jack’s possession of the compass keep Salazar and his crew trapped in The Devil’s Triangle? This is never explained.
• The film even screws up series continuity by having the dying pirate captain, the one on the ship being chased by Salazar, giving the compass to young Jack Sparrow, but it was clearly stated in the third film that Jack got it from the sea goddess Calypso. Regardless of where Jack got the compass it’s only magical property was in telling the user where to find his heart’s desire with no previous connection mentioned to The Devil’s Triangle.
• Later in this film Jack gives a local bartender the compass in exchange for a bottle of rum, this giving up of the compass in such a fashion somehow allows Salazar and his crew to escape The Triangle. But hadn’t the compass changed hands multiple times over the course of this series? Captain Salazar should have been freed years ago.
So in this film we have the ghost of Captain Salazar seeking Jack Sparrow to pay him back for all those years being trapped in The Devil’s Triangle, and we’ve got Henry Turner looking for Jack so the drunk pirate can help him find Poseidon’s Trident so Flying Dutchman curse can be lifted, but that’s not all this film has going on as we are also introduced to Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a woman sentenced to death for witchcraft, which according to this film includes astronomy for some reason, and she wants the Trident as well…for reasons.
Historic Note: The Witchcraft Act of 1738 completely abolished the practice of executing witches all over the British Empire and this film takes place in 1755. Also the Royal Navy pretty much had a handle on astronomy by this time and would certainly not have considered it witchcraft.
Carina wishes to use the diary her father left her to search for the Trident and she needs Henry’s help to achieve this; which will of course involve jail breaks, mutinies and fighting the undead to accomplish said goals. And exactly why is she after the Trident in the first place? Sure the diary has sentimental value to her but throughout the first half of the film she proclaims to be a woman of science, not believing in ghosts or curses, so what the hell does she want with a mythical weapon of a Greek god?
Storywise Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a nonsensical mess; characters are given motivations that make little to no sense and then for whatever reason a few moments later they will most likely contradict those for some even dumber reason, and the action itself is beyond over-the-top with one particular action sequences that was pretty much a blatant rip-off of Fast Five when the Fast and the Furious gang dragged a vault through the streets of Rio, but where as Vin Diesel and company used muscle cars to pull a large steel vault this film has Jack Sparrow’s men pull the ENTIRE BANK through the city streets with a team of horses.
That all said the film is a visual feast with even the dumbest moments of action at least looking pretty neat; I particularly liked the scene where Jack Sparrow and Salazar hopped from canon to canon like one of the trickier levels in Super Mario, and at 129 minutes it’s at least the shortest in the series.
The film then dredges up poor Geoffrey Rush as Captain Barbosa because it’s not a Pirates of the Caribbean movie if you don’t stuff in all your fan favorites (at least the “Where’s the rum gone?” joke has been retired) and the result is another pointless and embarrassing performance. Worse is the fact that the writers had the nerve to force a connection between Barbosa and one of the new characters that made little to no sense. Johnny Depp was quoted as saying, “Everyone involved wants the script to be right and perfect.” I guess we can assume after a week-long bender the writers gave up on “right and perfect” and just worried about fitting ghost sharks into the script.
The movie of course ends with a credit cookie hinting at which direction the franchise is going next and as neither Orlando Bloom nor Keira Knightley are doing all that hot career wise we can expect to see them in the next installment in something other than glorified cameos. Unfortunately by this point in the series we have moved so far into the realm of cynical cash grab that I can’t see anything other than a full reboot working. That the series is still making so much money is a greater mystery than the Devil’s Triangle, Stonehenge and the Loch Ness Monster combined…oh, maybe in the next film they can go after the Loch Ness Monster and it’s connection to Stonehenge.