Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - Review

Movies love holiday weekends. People love going to see movies on holiday weekends. Movies opening on holiday weekends tend to make money. This year the latest (and apparently last) entry into the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise was released. Disney managed to unfurl Johnny Depp, dust him off and suit him as the character he is most beloved for. But was it worth it? Or was memory better than experience? 

Caution: Some light spoilers ahead.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is not only a mouthful but the fifth chapter in a franchise that no one was really asking for any more of. For something to span fourteen years and five films is truly an accomplishment.

The problem is there is no reason for this film to exist. If a franchise gets to a fifth movie, world building is crucial. Take Fast Five for example. The franchise was running on fumes by the time it stumbled into the fifth movie. But it introduced Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as a character that is now a fan favorite, redefined what the franchise could be (turning it from a shallow street racing series to an over-the-top emotional action heist series) and expanded the Fast and Furious world.

This movie did none of those things. That is why it has no reason to exist. They seemed to be attempting to give people their greatest hits and the result was a stale and unstable entry that didn't do the characters any favors.

The ironic part is that this movie borrows heavily from a certain scene in Fast Five. But if they were going to borrow elements from that movie, they took the wrong ones.

First of all, Johnny Depp looked in no fit shape to reprise his role. He seemed like he was actually drunk most of the time, and it doesn't even feel like the same person. It seems like he came out of a formaldehyde preservation and they slapped some makeup and a costume on him this time. I guess a $30,000 a month wine expense will do that to you (allegedly). In the first couple of movies his Jack Sparrow felt fresh and special now it feels like he is a different person who watched the first movie and tried to do an impression of that Johnny Depp. That, plus all of the allegations against him leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of fans. Make no mistake - I am a huge Pirates fan. I even defend the first two sequels but I did not like On Stranger Tides. I was hoping that they would right the ship with this movie, but they seemed to have fallen deeper into the hole.

Javier Bardem is a strong actor - but if he had a mustache he would have been twirling it. There wasn't a lot of depth to his character and he was just an amalgamation of cursed Barbossa and Davy Jones. Bardem did the best with what he had so it wasn't his fault, but it's a shame they have such a strong actor in such a weak role.

Some things that they did seemed to be with good intentions, however it backfired. Take the only important female character in the film - she was a strong intelligent character who was great at science. On paper that looks wonderful. We need more characters like that. Strong female representation is something we don't get very often. But this movie managed to turn her into nothing but sexual jokes, a love interest and damsel in distress. Not to mention that the movie miserably failed the Bechdel test.

They tried to give us some great character moments for people that we cared about. Again, a wonderful concept, but they didn't execute it properly. None of it felt earned. It was all rushed like the writers were checking off "to-do" boxes.

Five movies in, we know these characters well. A part 5's job is to endear us to new characters and evolve the old ones. The returning characters were just retreads of their former selves - hollow imitations of what used to be fun people to watch. They went for the cheap joke instead of trying to earn it. Or, they were just throwing money at Depp and trying to make him happy.

I really wanted to like this movie. I really wanted to be able to defend it to the naysayers. But they made it so hard. The biggest emotional climax of the movie was rushed and actually pretty unnecessary. It was the equivalent of a jump scare in a horror flick. It'll get the cheap quick reaction, but has no value in the long run.

But it is hard when they make baffling plot decisions. They changed the canon of their own series to make an existing macguffin suit their plot. They could have invented a new one or used something that had existed previously without so much history and avoided the problem all together. It was a bit strange why they went down the path they did and quite frankly, I can't understand why. It took me right out of the movie when they had the scene of exposition explaining why.

It wasn't all negative though, there were some pretty strong positives! The music was great. There was a new composer for this film and his original compositions as well as the remixes of the classic themes were fresh and strong. It really added substance to some empty scenes. The special effects were also pretty impressive. The climax in the third act in particular had some pretty stunning visuals that were worth seeing on the big screen. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Academy Award Winner Geoffrey Rush. He brings a legitimacy and gravitas to the franchise. He always gave strong performances and he was one of the only returning cast members who didn't seem to be phoning it in. Barbossa was always one of my favorite characters in the Pirates franchise and I appreciate the arc they tried to give him (one of the only returning characters with actual evolution) though they didn't execute it properly.

The advertisements for this movie has been calling it "The Final Adventure". If that's true, I can live with that. Where they left all of the characters - old and new - was fitting and it would be fine to see nothing further from them.

However if this one makes a boat load of money they will make another and another and another....they wrapped up the story pretty well so they'd have to do some pretty ridiculous stuff to continue it.

I say let it lie. End it here at five, Disney has plenty more franchises now that they didn't have in 2003. The story is complete. (They do have a post credit scene that teases some things in case it does come back however).

If you don't want to hear it from me take it from Luke Skywalker:

"I only know one truth....it's time for this franchise...to end."

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is in theaters now.


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