2 out of 5 stars.
If you’re looking to watch a little over two hours of a major movie studio desperately trying to resurrect a franchise that should have been dead and buried a long time ago, look no further than “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” Directed by franchise newcomers Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, it’s the fifth film in a series that began almost 15 years ago as a fun swashbuckling adventure inspired by the classic Disneyland attraction. That bloated story is dragged out even further here, in a movie that attempts to duplicate the success of the first film, with middling results.
“Dead Men Tell No Tales” is set almost 20 years after the ending of “At World’s End,” the third film in the series and finale to a supposed trilogy, and some years after “On Stranger Tides,” the fourth film that focused entirely on sidekick-turned-leading-man Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and concerned neither of the series’ leads, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). This movie brings them back into the picture, however, with the introduction of Henry Turner (Brendan Thwaites), Will and Elizabeth’s now-adult son. Now, this movie does require some prior knowledge of the third film, so here’s the gist of how that all ended, in case you forgot: Will was cursed to sail on the Flying Dutchman, only able to return home to his wife and child for one day every ten years. Henry has grown up without his father, but he thinks he has found a way to break the curse: by finding the Trident of Poseidon, which actually would be able to break all the curses on the sea for some reason. Most people believe it is a myth, except for Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a young woman who is believed to be a witch because of her knowledge of astrology and horology. She agrees to help Henry, as does Jack Sparrow, who is being pursued by an undead sailor, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) and his crew (apparently their state of undeadness is Jack’s fault, so he wants vengeance). Geoffrey Rush is also back as Captain Barbossa, who is dragged into all this by Salazar, who forces him to help him track down Jack.
You’d be hard-pressed to describe exactly what the plot of this film is, outside of the major details. There’s too much going on, and there are too many characters whose purpose in the story isn’t entirely clear. But looking at the film not as a whole, but in segments, it isn’t terrible (at least, it’s a bit of an improvement over “On Stranger Tides”). Parts of it are quite fun, like the rousing opening scenes involving Jack and his crew robbing a bank (and taking things a bit too far). But despite all of the action and excitement, the film drags at times. While the first couple films in the series were generally straight adventure movies with funny scenes and characters, almost all of “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is played for comedy. Those action scenes border on slapstick (Ronning cited Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as influences on the tone of the film, so take from that what you will), and the dialogue is loaded with an overwhelming amount of innuendo. In contrast, the scenes that are supposed to be serious are taken too seriously, and emotional moments are played up and dragged out to the point where they are quickly drained of all that emotion.
The characters in this film aren’t especially exciting either. It’s obvious that the filmmakers tried to make the new leads as similar to those of the first film as possible. Sure, Henry is a second-rate copy of his father, while Carina exhibits the strong and independent qualities that Elizabeth did. But they aren’t as charming, nor do they have as good chemistry, as Will and Elizabeth. There is even, once again, an undead army, but even the immensely talented Bardem doesn’t add a whole lot to this film as its villain. And then there’s Jack Sparrow, still one of the film’s main characters but fortunately taking a small step back into more of a sidekick role again. At this point, the character has just become a caricature of itself, playing up traits that were once funny and made the character weirdly likeable to the point where now he’s just weird.
It’s especially maddening that the bulk of “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is so lackluster, because the finale is so emotionally satisfying, especially for longtime fans of the franchise. It is nice to see Bloom and Knightley back in the roles that were such a big part of them becoming household names. You can end the film right there if you want, nicely tying up all those ends, or you can stick around for the after-credits scene, which undoes almost all of that and sets up a new potential trilogy for the series that, like Captain Salazar and his crew, just won’t die.
Runtime: 129 minutes. Rated PG-13.