Directors: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
Writers:Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio
Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Geoffrey Rush, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, David Wenham
Genre: Action & Adventure,Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise shambles onward with an installment that has some patches of sunlight, but sinks under the weight of franchise expectations and too much stuffed into one movie.
Violence/Scary Images: There are many swordfights and ship battles; lots of people get stabbed or blown up. Several ships full of people are eaten by a ghost ship in a frightening way.
Language/Crude Humor: D*** and hell are used a few times. More contemporary profanity is absent.
Spiritual Content: Plenty of undead sailors and discussion of magic and mythology, including the god Poseidon.
Sexual Content: Discussion of prostitution. Sparrow is seen wearing no trousers and Carina is shown in petticoats, which still cover her from shoulder to ankle.
Drug/Alcohol References: Jack Sparrow drinks a lot of rum.
Other Negative Content: It’s a movie about pirates! Many characters belong to this violent and predatory class of criminals, and ‘pirate’ is treated as a synonym for ‘adventurer’ rather than for ‘murderer and thief.’
Positive Content: The story is driven and resolved by the love shared between children and their parents.
Dead Men Tell No Tales (also known as Salazar’s Revenge) is a strange mess of a movie. Henry and Carina’s quests to save or find their respective fathers have a lot of potential and their actors lift a clunky screenplay. There is also a plethora of content with Jack Sparrow and Salazar that is completely incidental to the actual plot of the movie. Up to a third of this movie only exists because Johnny Depp had to be in this movie. And that has dreadful consequences.
Salazar’s titular revenge seems to be against all of the other character arcs in the movie. They never get room to breathe. Henry and Carina’s romance is laughably compressed. Their myth versus science dynamic doesn’t connect to the events of the movie. We get about ten minutes to absorb Barbossa’s relationship with Carina, it only affects one scene he’s in, and the entire search for the Trident is so compressed that it feels less like a treasure hunt and more like waiting for Google Maps to open.
New characters and their motivations are starved so we can spend time with Captain Salazar hunting Jack Sparrow. But this is a grievous mistake. Javier Bardem brings suitable menace to the role of Salazar but Jack’s shortcomings as a main character have never been clearer. His refusal to admit failure or inconvenience is funny as part of an ensemble, but as a main character it puts up a shield against the audience ever caring.
Why should we care? Sparrow’s self-absorbed and semi-drunken improvisations were funny when he was one character in an ensemble, but the more he gets to be the center of a scene the less impact everything has. If nothing ever threatens or involves Jack on a personal level, why should the audience be involved? Jack responds to everything with the same Caribbean stoner effect, whether it’s finding out that an old enemy has a daughter or the news that an undead Spaniard in a ghost ship is hunting him down.
If Jack took a side role in the movie this might be tolerable, but he’s everywhere, sucking the emotion out of every reveal and the time out of every arc. At one point we get a flashback so that we see Salazar’s extremely simple motivation and an origin story for Jack Sparrow. An origin story. For Jack Sparrow. We get a long scene of Jack failing to rob a bank, and another long scene of him being forced to marry a woman– both of them entirely pointless. Meanwhile Henry and Carina are at the door saying “Please, sir, may I have some time to express my character through action?”
When it’s not being Jack-centric the plotting is downright confusing, to the point where I suspect major edits and/or reshoots. At one point Henry gives Jack a message about Salazar’s escape, but it’s completely different from the message we saw Salazar dictate to Henry, containing information Henry couldn’t know. The witch that Barbossa consults is kidnapped by the British without explanation or any indication of travel, giving the impression that everyone lives on the same island.
Elizabeth Swann shows up at the end of the movie after two and a half hours of not existing as far as the narrative is concerned (Oh sure, she’s mentioned, but then there’s all sorts of questions about what on earth she’s been doing while her husband was trapped and her son ran around the Caribbean). Jack’s compass does things that aren’t explained for reasons that aren’t explained and stops doing them for reasons that aren’t explained. And most hilariously, every ship arrives at every location at the same time. I also found these great Jack Sparrow quotes online recently, so check those out.
These depths of narrative confusion are especially disappointing because Curse of the Black Pearl did all of this so well. The last act of that film answered and altered character motivations that had been shown to you. The plot built on top of what had gone before in ways that made sense. My response to most plot points in Dead Men Tell No Tales was “Well, I guess.”
If you’re hoping for the action scenes to take your mind off all this, your hope will be confounded. They have energy and a certain sense of movement. But the set-pieces feel largely recycled and diminished from previous movies, and the movie doesn’t take (or have) the time to develop the understanding of space and threat to characters that makes action scenes sing.
I don’t recommend seeing this movie in cinemas. It does not think it needs to make sense or express anything about its world or characters; this is a cinematic product rather than a work of art.
+ Some good performances
+ A few mildly fun set pieces
- Extremely long
- Confusingly edited
- Wooden writing
- Jack Sparrow is uninteresting
The Bottom Line
Dead Men Tell No Tales is occasionally engaging but mostly confusing and half-baked. Its high points are fun but forgettable, and there aren't that many of them. Catch it on DVD if you love the series but otherwise give it a miss.