Even rewatching the films recently, there’s a certain sense of euphoria when going back and revisitng the original Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Pirate movies are difficult to come by, yet the original Pirates trilogy satisfyingly delivered on its swashbuckling, larger than life premise. The villains were brilliant, the plots were epic, and the visuals were astounding. Sure, each film gradually felt more and more bloated, but no matter how many times I watch them, and in my youth I watched them a ton, they still manage to bring the kid out from inside of me. I feel immense joy and satisfaction from watching those first three movies, a feeling so few trilogies are successfully able to maintain. They had a proper conclusion. There was an ending. Then there was a fourth one, and a very bad fourth one at that. Now, the Pirates franchise has dropped its anchor with a tedious, lackluster fifth installment, unfortunately proving that On Stranger Tides was far from a one-off mishap.
While most of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies unapologetically rip off previous entries in the franchise, never has it been more apparent than in Dead Men Tell No Tales. Jack is without a crew. The villains can’t walk on land. There’s a treasure that can cure any curse. Any of this sounding familiar? It should. The film plays out as a combination of both the high point and low point of the series, mixing together the best and worst elements into a film that’s remarkably mediocre. Elements ripped straight out of the original feel dark and exciting, matched with the occasionally impressive colour pallet to suit, whereas the entire second half of the movie feels disappointingly reminiscent of On Stranger Tides. Several different parties, each after the same treasure for their own individual reasons, all show up at the same place at the same time for one final hoo-ha in a fight for glory… exactly like it did last time around.
Jack’s antagonist brings the film’s villainous angles back to its supernatural roots, something lacking in the fourth film that was part of the reason why it felt so unlike the Pirates franchise. When you bring in Javier Bardem to play your villain, you better hope the role suits his acting caliber. Alas, it doesn’t, or at least not entirely. In some regards, Bardem’s Captain Salazar is a worthy opponent, especially in terms of his appearance and tragic backstory surrounding his initial encounters with a terrifying teenage CGI Johnny Depp. The scene is fun, if not extremely tedious, but holy shit, I have no idea what went wrong with the de-aged Johnny Depp, but it’s far less impressive than previous attempts made by Disney. While their recent success with Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One is the high point of the newly developed de-aging technology, Johnny Depp is certainly the low point. That thing is going to give me nightmares.
The script by Jeff Nathanson feels more like an afterthought than the blueprint of the movie. His plot is rushed and unfocussed, and he attempts to make it unnecessarily complicated, when in reality it’s the simplest, most predictable plot to follow. Characters talk aloud all by themselves in order to explain the plot, but rarely anything needs much of an explanation. It’s a by the numbers, insert-witty-line-here type of read, bringing back a wide variety of original trilogy characters without earning their presence. Those who stayed away stayed away for good reason. Their careers are better off without this. Dead Men Tell No Tales marks the first time a new writer steps in to continue the tale, and while the filmmakers and advertising department have been hammering in the fact that everything’s coming to an end, the film’s conclusion, especially it’s groan-inducing post credit scene, suggest otherwise. Disney isn’t looking to put this franchise to rest any time soon. It’s just getting started, and if the last two films are anything to go by, we’re in for some excruciating sequels in the years to come.
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