Review: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’ (If Only)

A film for fans who don’t want the ride to end.

“The Dutchman must have a Captain” we were all told, and Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) willingly took on that role to ferry the dead at sea into the afterlife; his only son, however, isn’t willing to let his father go so easily. Grown into a young man, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) hones his seafaring skills in the British navy until their ship runs afoul of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish pirate hunter cursed with undeath by a strapping young rogue named Jack… the Sparrow. Meanwhile, the now much-older Captain Jack (Johnny Depp) is down on his luck, unable to free his beloved Black Pearl from its bottled prison… yet inadvertently frees Salazar in a moment of weakness (and a convenient loophole). All of this has something to do with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a self-proclaimed woman of science that everyone accuses of being a witch on sight, never mind that the British navy as well as Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) have an actual witch (Golshifteh Farahani) in their employ who isn’t constantly being threatened with hanging. Got all that? And wacky adventure ensues…

The first Pirates of the Caribbean was a joy to behold; who knew a simple theme park ride could be translated into a big screen adventure and spawn a franchise? Hint: not the makers of The Haunted Mansion. Pirates mixed with the supernatural were the right ingredients blended together with Johnny Depp’s devil-may-care buccaneer antics, but complications over the first three Gore Verbinski-directed films stretched the concept thin and over-the-top. The fourth film, On Stranger Tides, was generally well-received but seemed lacking and underperformed, prompting this reportedly final film in the franchise to wrap up as much as possible. Was a fifth film necessary? Should they have stopped at three? Should they have stopped at one? Let’s explore.

Had Dead Men Tell No Tales been the only film in the franchise, it might have gotten a pass; as compared to the rest, it doesn’t fare as well… in fact, it’s easily the worst of the five. Fans will find plenty to love here — Javier Bardem’s Salazar is a more-than-worthy adversary and the best part of the movie — but pacing, story, and even the McGuffins all fall terribly short and for the most part make no sense. The script feels like the worst-case scenario for too many ladels in the pot; there are five listed writers who made the list out of who knows how many actual contributors. It feels not only rushed but as if they ran out of time to meet deadlines and went with whatever they had, trying to fix it all in the editing room. Folks, this is what beating a dead pirate looks like.

Consider this a case study for why feature films work better with a three-act structure: you can feel the beats moving toward a resolution and anticipate your hero’s journey. The re-introduction of the characters goes on forever — not to mention the drop-in of a new female lead with zero introduction or reason to care (hmm… could she become more important later since she’s so easy to dismiss?) If the characters were compelling enough and/or had more original things to do, this might have worked. As it is, it feels tedious because we’ve seen all of this before, like a curtain call that goes on long after the audience stops clapping. Only at the very end does any of this pay off and with any real consequences, but it’s still too little too late — never mind breaking so many rules to even get the plot working. On the upside, it boasts an incredible production design; Salazar’s Spanish galleon is a spectacle to behold, both before and after being cursed — the graphics artists and designers went all out on this one to make it look good, story be damned.

If you need a Depp fix, if there’s no such thing as too many pirates, and if you can’t wait to learn the fates of some of your beloved characters going back to the beginning of the franchise, you’ll get your money’s worth — minus premium seating fees and concessions. If you’re looking for something better to spend your cinema bucks on (assuming you haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 yet), the summer box office is just getting started. Speaking of which, does anyone actually think that Transformers 5 will fare any better? Place your bets!

2 Skull Recommendation Out of Four


  1. Oh, and as for nitpicks?

    Why is Will Turner turning fishy if he’s doing his job? What happened to his dad after the curse was removed? How in the world is an artifact linked to every mystical curse in the world THAT easy to break? (example: One Ring? Use Mt. Doom!) Why did Salazar toss Jack around forever instead of just killing him? Why the hell would Barbossa knuckle under to Salazar? He’s BARBOSSA! The Queen Anne’s Revenge is mystical, too, damn it… and so’s that fricking sword! I could go on… never mind that they spend two-thirds of the movie just getting Jack’s mojo back… ugh.


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