There’s a unique sense of loss to a missed opportunity; an aching feeling of what could have been if only the right decision had been made. Not that POTC: Dead Men Tell No Tales by any means wastes its potential as it’s just as terrible as most were anticipating. No, the missed opportunity here, dear readers, is that I could have successfully written this review based on any of the three previous films in this franchise and avoided putting myself through another sodden 2 hours of this tired series without anyone being the wiser.
In a time where constant streams of “must-see” content have to not only to compete with each other but also the daily soap opera of the White House, to say that “nobody asked for this” isn’t too much of exaggeration when it comes to Disney dusting off a spent franchise that kept the studio afloat during leaner times. Ironically, nobody asked for the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie either and that particular burst of nautical fun remains one of the most pleasant surprises in cinema this century.
But it also the only entry in the series that’s still worthy of attention and although Dead Men Tell No Tales attempts to sail the same seas again in a similar vessel to the original, it does so under the bloated weight of the negligible sequels and quickly starts taking on water as a result.
THE POSEIDON MISADVENTURE
The gist this time around is that Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will, is determined to free his father from his eternal servitude on the Flying Dutchman by finding Poseidon’s Trident. The ancient artifact can supposedly be utilized to remove all curses from the oceans which instantly raises the question of “Why the f*ck didn’t someone think of this 3 films ago?!”
Of course, events quickly conspire to bring Henry into Captain Jack Sparrow’s orbit. They are joined by Carina (Kaya Scodelario), the requisite empowered female rebelling against the era’s constraints on her. That she arrives fully formed in her determination to subvert gender roles and it’s the only thing the writers decided to define her by, the flatness of Carina’s character arc is matched only by Scodelario’s performance. Indeed, the casting directors must have scoured Hollywood far and wide to find two leads blander than Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom but somehow they managed it.
The villain this time round is Javier Bardem’s Captain Salazar, who is just Davey Jones but with less impressive special effects and even more impenetrable diction, leading yet another crew of undead pirates with a vendetta against Sparrow. Geoffery Rush’s Captain Barbosa also returns for reasons that are probably only known to him and while both Oscar winners do their best to lift morale, it is the franchise’s crippling addiction to Depp’s Sparrow that will have audiences on the verge of mutiny.
CAPTAIN HACK SPARROW
There is more than a faint sense of embarrassment in Johnny Depp’s performance as Jack Sparrow this time around. The role has become an unwelcome albatross around the neck of Depp’s once respectable career and it seems the actor is all too aware of how much it has dragged him down after shooting his star into the stratosphere nearly 15 years ago.
Where there was once a gleeful invention and energy to his performance as the rum pirate, there now merely resides a contractually obliged checklist of slurring innuendos. Captain Jack Sparrow is a joke that has been told too many times and the former Mr. Scissorhands is clearly tired of telling it as he manages to bring only a modicum of mirth to a once beloved character who never should have been burdened with the focus of the franchise. Despite several similarities, it would be pure hyperbole to put him in the same bracket as Shakespeare’s Falstaff but had Sparrow been used as sparingly then perhaps he would still have some novelty and joy to bring to what was only ever should have been a comic relief role.
While it’s fashionable to blame Johnny Depp for whatever turkey he over-cooks these days, the Norwegian directing team of Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg has to take their fair share too as far too many shots are either poorly lit or incomprehensively composed. Likewise, the writing team has somehow failed to read the room once again by taking the series’ mythology far too seriously and the only narrative tension will likely be generated by audience members deciding whether or not to cut their losses and leave before the merciful credits begin to roll.
JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE TO GO BACK INTO THE WATER
Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fourth attempt to bottle the lightning that electrified The Curse of the Black Pearl and yet somehow this latest try is more clueless than the preceding lackluster sequels. The issue has been, for the most part, sticking with two-dimensional characters who barely managed to sustain interest through the slightly too-long original and doubling down on Jack Sparrow’s screentime in the paradoxical hope that the character will somehow become fresh and surprising again by over-exposing him whenever possible.
By my reckoning, over a seemingly eternal running time of 2 hours, Dead Men Tell No Tales only musters one noteworthy sequence featuring zombie sharks and a legion of undead pirates sprinting across the ocean’s surface. That this scene feels like it ends almost as soon as it begins is perhaps due to the yawning vacuums of nonsense either side of it but just one moment of exhilaration in a pirate movie could leave DMTNT drifiting into “floppy” waters.
After all, until The Curse of the Black Pearl surprised everyone with its wit and guile back in 2003, the pirate genre had been synonymous with flops with both Roman Polanski’s Pirates and Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island being two of the biggest cinematic money pits of all time. Even if POTC: Dead Men Tell No Tales somehow does manage to swim to shore at the box office, the franchise has been plumbing the depths of Davey Jones’ Locker for too long now so hopefully, audiences will be “savvy” enough to leave it there this time around.
WHY HAS ALL THE FUN GONE? A MONOTONOUS RE-TREAD OF FORMER GLORIES DRAGGED DOWN BY ALL THE PREVIOUS SINS OF A FRANCHISE THAT NEEDS TO BE CUT ADRIFT.