Dead Franchises Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Caribbean 5 Review

It's hard to remember this, 14 years later, but the original Pirates of the Caribbean was not something anyone expected to be good. Positioned as a companion to a now long forgotten Eddie Murphy vehicle, no one expected a movie based on a ride to be good. But, surprise of surprises, it worked. It was a fun, engaging adventure, with a good cast and a great score, and it did exceptionally well at the box office a and with critics, even scoring Depp a surprise Oscar nomination. A good time was had by all.

Now, 5 movies later, with each of our leads' careers having spiraled off in wildly different directions than their career trajectories at that moment would have suggested, the franchise has basically collapsed into itself, but keeps going, more or less under the weight of its own momentum. And while there is always the possibility that a franchise will revive itself and come out better than ever, like Fury Road, it seems like the far more likely possibility is that a dead franchise will continue to suck.

Our plot this time around Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), Will's son from the third movie, who is out in the world seeking a way to break his father's curse and return him home. His strategy is to seek out something called the Trident of Poseidon which don't care do you? Yeah, it's just our latest macguffin designed to push the plot into motion, and get Henry to seek out Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) so he can... help? They also run into an astronomer named Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who is seeking the Trident too for...some vaguely defined thing to do with her dad.

This is complicated by the fact that there are another set of ghost pirates on the loose, led by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who want to get Jack Sparrow and are willing to carve their way through anyone to do it. Including Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) who's here too because...well he might as well be, right?

Let me be right up front with this: if you're looking for a spoiler free review of Dead Mean Tell No Tales, you're in the wrong place. This movie is so bad, such a huge failure on every conceivable level, that I'm less interested in reviewing it than I am in autopsying it, and to do that, there will be spoilers. So if you want my spoiler free review: It sucks. Do not see it.

"Do you have any plans for getting through this?"
"I said basically nothing for the first 2 seasons of Skins dude, there's my strategy."
The big issue is, unfortunately, Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. I made a comparison on twitter a couple days ago that Depp as Sparrow has felt off in the sequels because in the original he was written normally, and Depp decided to go weird with it, and now they've got writers trying to write "Weird Sparrow" and it just feels inorganic. But more than that, Sparrow used to have depth, emotional range and a genuine sense of cleverness. He manipulated, double crossed and talked his way into getting all the stuff he needed in the cave at the finale of Curse of the Black Pearl, and he did so holding absolutely no cards whatsoever, just playing off everyone's characters and desires.

Now the writers don't trust him to do anything but clown his way through an action sequence, and his plans consist less of cleverly manipulating everyone around him and more just standing there and letting stuff happen until he gets what he wants. He gets arrested early in the film, and rather than cleverly coming up with a plan to escape, he just sort of hangs out until he gets rescued. It's boring, and it turns what was an engaging, entertaining character into a passive actor in his own movie.

Not that the rest of the characters get off any better, as they wind up stumbling from scene to scene without any real drive or motivation. The movie seems to be self consciously setting up Henry and Carina to be the new Will and Elizabeth, but they were both on screen extremely early and the movie took great pains to show their bond, and make their relationship progression seem natural. Carina and Henry barely spend any time together, even less of it alone, and the finale seems to be giving them payoffs to character arcs that never seem to happen.

This flashback is basically pointless, but hey, at least it means Orlando Bloom says a few lines.
More than Keira Knightley does.
That might be because the movie is stuffed to the gills with just random stuff, none of it interesting and most of it superfluous. We've already got the ghost pirates and the search for the Trident, but we've also got Henry and Carina's various daddy issues (Carina's includes a revelation which lands with a thud and doesn't add a damn thing), a stupid subplot where Carina doesn't believe in magic, Barbossa's weird side-plot and also David Wenham as a British Admiral who's hunting the lot of them, that I omitted from the plot summary above because it's an exercise in total f**king pointlessness. The movie is two hours long, short by this franchise's standard, but more than enough to tell a full story, but the movie jumps from plot to plot so suddenly that none of them get to develop.

The action sequences, that are supposed to be a summer blockbuster's lifeblood, are...whatever. The original movie's action beats had a sense of immediacy and intensity, but since then they've only gotten sillier, to the point where I was fondly reminiscing about characters trying to figure out how to execute a hard turn in a ship. This movie continues the trend, and they're so stupid and over the top, that any sense of danger or intensity is completely gone. I've seen Loony Toons with a better grounding in reality.

That might be excusable if they at least looked alright, but they don't. The design of most of it is pretty dull looking; Javier Bardem looks alright, but the rest of his crew just look dull, and the action beats are shot flatly and edited generically. Most of it's pretty rote, and the ones that aren't are just plain stupid. There's one kind of entertaining beat involving zombie sharks that barely has time to get going before it's over. I get that they're trying to walk back the insanely overlong action beats of previous movies, but there has to be some kind of middle ground.

"Oh look, there goes the last shred of my credibility."

There are elements that work about this, but they just make me angrier at it. The film's sole moment of real emotional payoff is right at the end, when Will and Elizabeth reunite, but it just makes me wonder why the hell they hadn't been in the movie more (Wasn't Elizabeth a Pirate Lord at one point? Couldn't she call in some help?). There's one kind of clever use of the water setting (as part of a lengthy and pointless flashback, but still) but it just made me wish they'd done more stuff like that and less stuff like the bank being dragged through the town.

There are other things I could rant about, like the script that's simultaneously overwritten and underwritten (at one point Bardem's character possesses someone who's still alive, and the other crew state he can't unpossess them but then the movie just sort of abandons that 2 minutes later) but honestly, I'm tired. I'm tired of ranting, I'm tired of Depp, I'm tired of Pirates of the Caribbean.

There are other blockbusters out there this summer that either look promising (Spider-Man, Wonder Woman) or excellent (Atomic Blonde, Dunkirk). Save your money for those and stay far away from this.

Elessar is a 27 year old Alaskan-born, Connecticut-based, cinephile with an obsession with The Room and a god complex.