Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tell No Tales
Directors – Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Cast – Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, now five films deep into what can only be described as a flood of diminishing returns, is a lot like breakfast cereal. As far as metaphors go, there is perhaps another out there more suited to the themes of this series, something along the lines of thievery, or greed, but breakfast cereal, as colourful and worthless as the cardboard box it comes packed in, is the most efficient one I could find.
Every new film in this series – which was once (just once though) quite the breath of fresh air – has shown a substantial dip in quality from the one before. Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (also known as Dead Men Tell No Tales) achieves what I always felt was impossible – it’s denser than At World’s End, has more spinning wheels and moving parts than Dead Man’s Chest, and is – unbelievably – a step down from the already quite unwatchable On Stranger Tides.
Honestly, there has only ever been one film in the Pirates franchise that has been worth the two hours plus it takes to watch one of them – and that was the first one, The Curse of the Black Pearl. It offered a fresh take on the swashbuckler genre, gave star Johnny Depp another excuse to dress up, and also – and I bet you’d forgotten this – earned him an Oscar nomination.
This time, they’ve made his character sort of like Han Solo from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He has become somewhat of a legend – a tale, if you will – passed down from generation to generation, from father to son. And speaking of fathers and their children, two new characters are introduced in this movie. Both have notable parentage. They’ve got a bit of a theme going on, you see.
Like Rey and Finn from The Force Awakens, they set out on an adventure to seek Jack Sparrow, but unlike Han Solo (who turned out exactly as the kids had hoped), Captain Jack is still the same dirty drunk who runs around flapping his arms, slurs his speech, and demands money whenever the opportunity presents itself – and also when it doesn’t. In one scene, when he is rescued by his crew moments before being guillotined (he chose it over hanging or a firing squad because it sounds French), he talks them into paying him a fee.
But all things considered, there is still an unmistakable thrill in watching Depp play Jack Sparrow, at least in the few moments in which he is given something worthwhile to do – which don’t come nearly as often as you’d like. What it does have however, is a remarkable villain. Granted, when you hire Javier Bardem to play the bad guy in your film, you’re placing a winning bet, and, if recent history is any indication, perhaps an even stronger one than having Johnny Depp play the lead.
But Captain Salazar is, like his No Country for Old Men character Anton Chigurh, or his Bond villain Silva, a worthy entry into the Bardem rogues’ gallery. He is slimy, menacing, grotesque, and leaves a creepy looming presence in the film. He also has the more sinister modus operandi of any Pirates villain yet: He always leaves one man alive after shredding an entire ship’s crew – so that the man can live to tell his tale. Also because, Dead Men Tell No Tales, get it?
But sadly – although I wonder if anyone will be disappointed in this film (the emotion you’re looking for is a potent mix of anger and apathy) – Pirates 5 is sort of like a greatest hits compilation of the series’ worst trends. For one, it’s utterly unfathomable. At any given point in the film, there are not one, not two, not even three, but four McGuffins our characters are chasing after. A McGuffin, for those of you who don’t know, is defined as an object or device that serves only as a trigger for the plot. In Pirates 5, it takes the form of Poseidon’s trident, a compass, an island that mirrors the map of the sky, a real map, and a diary that cannot be read by men.
And under the direction of franchise newcomers Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the film can’t juggle its overblown, messy plotlines. It loses that sense of unhinged fun original director Gore Verbinski brought to the series. In fact, Rønning and Sandberg’s being chosen to direct this solidifies one of the most irritatingly narrow-minded Hollywood trends ever. They pick the most superficial aspect of an up-and-coming director’s breakout movie, and chuck around $200 million at their face and command them to make a blockbuster. Jose Padilha made a cop movie in Brazil, and was subsequently chosen to direct the RoboCop reboot. Gareth Edwards made a micro-budget movie called Monsters, and his follow up was Godzilla. In 2012, Rønning and Sandberg made Kon-Tiki, a movie about a sea expedition which featured prominently, a ship. Boom.
Thus, Pirates of the Caribben: Salazar’s Revenge, a film that feels twice as long as it really is, and roughly five times as boring. It’s the sort of film that, when confronted with the challenge to be creative, chooses to have its characters topple over for laughs instead. In the end, it drowns in a typhoon of CGI action, which, as far as death by drowning goes, is perhaps the most painful way for this series to have floated away. But there you have it.