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‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (review)

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
Screenplay by Jeff Nathanson
Story by Jeff Nathanson, Terry Rossio
Based on Pirates of the Caribbean by Walt Disney
Characters by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio,
Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert
Directed by Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem,
Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario,
Kevin McNally, Geoffrey Rush,
Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley

When Disney decided to start building films based on popular rides (i.e. Mission to Mars, Tower of Terror, The Country Bears, etc.) not even they could have imagined the wild success of the Pirates of the Caribbean series.

Spanning 14 years, the antics of Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) have kept audiences coming back for the formula of haunted pirate lore plus lavish action scenes plus slurred one-liners.

But just like a person can only ride the teacups for so many times before getting a bit nauseous, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales may make you ready to get off the ride.

This installation finds young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) searching for a way to free his father from the task of helming the Flying Dutchman. Pirate lore tells of the Trident of Poseidon, a magical relic that can break any curse of the sea. In his quest to track down Jack Sparrow to help him find it, Turner encounters the dreaded ghost Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) who is determined to take revenge on Captain Jack. With navigating help from witty astronomer Carina (Kaya Scodelario) and a few old friends, they race to beat the tides of a fate long coming.

We are in the fifth movie of the franchise and it is showing wear around the edges. While most of the assorted crew are back, the mirth and joy are not at the levels you would expect. Jokes did not land as well as they would have if this was the second or third outing. The action scenes are still relatively good, with an opening bank heist that reminds us of the grand scale of these movies. But we can see everything coming from a mile away and it is more exhausting than comforting.

When newcomer Carina says that she is following clues left by Galileo Galilei, who only mapped the stars to find this treasure, you could almost hear the eyes rolling in the theater. There are enough actual pirate and sea-faring legends to stretch out without having to dabble in actual history. New characters and settings are brought in for mere minutes without significantly adding to the story.

In a movie already 20 minutes too long, you are left wondering why the time was wasted on these distractions that do literally nothing for the story. These kinds of odd missteps show a lack of understanding from screenwriter Jeff Nathanson ,who is new to the series and does not seem to grasp the elements that have kept it worth the ticket price.

On the other hand, Carina’s character delivers the strong and independent female lead that we can always look forward to in this series. I still would have traded the care they gave her for better treatment on the story as a whole.

The ever-competing captains Jack Sparrow and Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) are back but both are just shadows of themselves. Depp does a better job of pulling out the charm as the story goes on, but Rush never seems to really engage with his role and turns in something a bit more paint-by-numbers. Javier Bardem seems to be having fun as Captain Salazar but there is nothing particularly memorable about his performance, nor that of the eager and puppy-eyed Brenton Thwaites.

Kaya Scodelario gave one of the best performances, and her sharp retorts along with passionate demands for respect as a scholar/scientist come across energetic and genuine. Hopefully she will be in whatever inevitably follows (stay till the end for a brief teaser).

Round and round we go on this journey, always starting at the same place (someone is mad at Jack!) and ending only a few feet before a full circle (someone is less mad at Jack and/or dead).

While this may not be worth the six years we’ve waited in line, I’m somehow still willing to get on for old times’ sake.


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