This is certainly better than the fifth film of a franchise has any right being…
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the fifth installment of the series that began all the way back in 2003, and the first since 2011’s “On Stranger Tides” (which I doubt you remember was even a thing). Johnny Depp reprises his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, and this time must find the Trident of Poseidon before an undead captain who Sparrow damned years ago (Javier Bardem) can get his revenge. Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally and Geoffrey Rush also star as Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg direct.
The “Pirates” films are a lot like the “Transformers” series. They make a lot of money, everyone forgets a fourth and fifth ones were even made despite no one desiring any after the initial trilogy and only the first film was an actual good movie. I love “Curse of the Black Pearl,” it holds a place in my heart and is a fun and visually impressive film even by today’s standards, but the “Pirates” series has continued to get more convoluted and overstuffed with each progressive installment. It’s been six years since the last film and since then we now live in a world where there are seemingly superhero films every other week, so people no longer clamor for the spectacle and scope that this franchise once delivered. Still, despite all odds and literally almost no one asking for it, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a very fun, visually impressive blockbuster that is honestly the best of the franchise since the original.
Johnny Depp was really only known for indie films when he was cast as Jack Sparrow but after “Black Pearl” was released it not only thrust him into stardom and nabbed him his first Oscar nomination but also created one of the most distinguishable characters in modern cinema. The character has gotten more cartoonish and less clever with each film, but Depp and the writers tone it back a bit in “Dead Men.” Sparrow doesn’t feel the need to chew scenery and say a punchline at the end of every sentence, and even if he’ll never recapture the surprising magic he found in 2003, it’s fun to see Depp under the hat and makeup of his most iconic character.
Javier Bardem is solid as the film’s antagonist, a Spanish naval captain who died at the hands of the Bermuda Triangle after falling into a trap set by a young Sparrow. Bardem chews scenery, growling and wheezing his way through each bit of dialogue, but as far as paycheck roles go it’s far from a sleepwalking performance. The character design is also cool, as Bardem and his crew take on the appearance of how they died; some of his ghost army don’t have legs or parts of their arms, and Bardem himself has flowing hair since he died underwater.
The action and set pieces here are as solid as they’ve ever been. From the colorful brick and clay buildings of the ports at St. Martin to ship battles in open oceans, it seems the directors tried to keep things as practical as possible and not feel the need to over-use CGI, something the last few films have fallen victim to.
The film’s biggest issue is the same as the previous three installments, albeit to a lesser degree, and that is its pacing and overabundance of characters. When Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) came back at the end of the second film it was a fantastic surprise and him being in the third film was fun. But he had no point of being in the fourth and has even less to do here, as is the case with a half dozen other characters. They just pad to the two-hour-plus runtime and make it feel much longer than it actually is.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” may not be a great movie, but it’s great fun. If you’re a fan of the series then you’ll absolutely enjoy it, and even if you haven’t truly liked a film since the first one then I think this recaptures some of the feel that one had. In an age where Disney puts all their efforts into Marvel and Star Wars, there’s something about their original tentpole franchise providing one final adventure that is comforting.
Critics Rating: 7/10