Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review
Before we begin, let me write up a quick history of my feelings towards the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. I have seen every single one of them. But the first film was 2003 and that was way before I began writing this blog. It maybe a good idea to run through my history with this franchise before diving into this latest tale.
I love "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." Nothing will ever match the first time Johnny Depp played Captain Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush played Barbossa or Orlando Bloom playing Will Turner. Nothing will match the first time I met Keira Knightley and the development of a new Hollywood crush. Back in 2003, as the business slowly began turning toward brand franchise filmmaking. When superhero movies were coming out at every corner, when "Lord of the Rings" set a new standard. "The Curse of the Black Pearl" felt fresh. As far as blockbusters, its one of the very best in recent years. A near-perfect blend of adventure, comedy, romance, even horror and it did it in a wonderful, exciting way.
I wish I could say the same thing about the sequels. The one-two punch of "Dead Man's Chest" and "At World's End" could have been fun. There are pockets of fun buried deep in each movie. But ultimately, the entire experience is pointless and hollow. It feels like somebody tried to bake two cakes by mixing them in only one bowl. Cutting this story into two parts is utterly pointless. There are too many characters, too many drawn-out subplots, too much exposition and not enough time to make it all come together, even between two nearly three-hour movies. Then there was "On Stranger Tides," a movie so bad I try very hard to forget it.
As I walked into "Dead Men Tell No Tales" tonight, I had incredibly low expectations. I was curious to see Javier Bardem's villain, but that was it. I hadn't jumped for joy for this franchise in over a decade and the reviews for this new entry were very poor. Would there be anything I could love or even like about this movie?
Then after two hours of "Dead Men Tell No Tales," I walked out of the theater and I couldn't believe my opinion. I can honestly say that I smiled throughout the entire film. I can honestly say that I laughed through nearly all of the film's gags. I can say that Johnny Depp has never been more laser-focused on playing Jack Sparrow, and it feels like the first time seeing him. The movie is by no means perfect. Its not nearly as great as the original film. There are still some big problems that keep the film from being great. But a "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel being as good as "Dead Men Tell No Tales" has never happened, and it feels revolutionary.
We begin with a young boy diving into the ocean and landing on a ship. It comes as no surprise that the ship the boy lands on is The Flying Dutchman. And the boy? Its Henry Turner, Will Turner's son. The boy finds his father, played once again by Orlando Bloom, and Will is cursed. Henry says he will find Poseidon's Trident, the McGuffin of the film in order to break his father's curse. Henry says he will seek the help of Jack Sparrow, Will says no. But Henry promises he will break his father's curse.
Nine years later, Henry works for the Royal Navy and a ship is about sail into The Devil's Triangle. Henry desperately tries to convince the ship to not go into The Devil's Triangle, but they refuse to listen to fairy tales. Of course, that is their undoing as the entire crew, except Henry, is brutally murdered by some ghost men. The ghost men are lead by Salazar (Javier Bardem), who is seeking Jack Sparrow and, you guessed it Poseidon's Trident. Salazar keeps Henry alive to tell his tale to the rest of the world.
At this point in the film, I couldn't believe how entertained I was. I spent the first half of the movie waiting for something bad to happen. Waiting for something that was going to make me hate the movie. But I only got caught up in the adventure. Javier Bardem, once again, plays a menacing, grueling villain and part of the film's fun is watching him shamble onscreen. Brenton Thwaites, who plays Henry Turner, does a good job and fits in perfectly in the film's style. When Henry finally catches up with Jack Sparrow, well the big fun begins. Depp and Thwaites give off good energy, and keep the film flowing very well. The special effects are some of the best of the series. I mean, watch something as small as Javier Bardem's hair. When he's above water, his hair flows as if he is still underwater. Its one of the many tiny aspects of the film that only add up to the extravagant adventure on display. For the first time in the run of the sequels, the jokes actually land, there are no stupid throwaway laughs. There are some spooky parts, there are some romantic parts and the entire experience is overall excellent.
Here's the problem though, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels suffer from the same thing, including "Dead Men Tell No Tales." There is WAY TOO MUCH exposition. Had "Dead Men Tell No Tales" only focused on Jack Sparrow and Henry looking for the Poseidon Trident and getting it before Salazar, it would have been much better overall. But there is a female astronomer who is accused of witchcraft also looking for the trident, and there is a female who is an actual witch, and Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) returns also looking for the trident, and there are ghost sharks and there's David Wenham playing a Royal Navy guard looking for Sparrow, Turner and the astronomer. All of these people have subplots, and subplots and more subplots. There so much explanation of character motivation that the movie never really gets going until about an hour and half in. What made "Dead Man's Chest" so good was the story was simple. A group of cursed pirates were looking for a way to break their curse, they attack an island to find the curse-breaker, a girl gets kidnapped and two men go after her to save her. That's pretty much the first movie. The next three sequels are so overstuffed with story that it becomes distracting. Its still distracting in "Dead Men Tell No Tales" and had the film been simpler, it would have been better.
What makes "Dead Men Tell No Tales" better than the other three sequels? Well, the villain this time around is much more interesting thanks to Javier Bardem. Johnny Depp never once feels like he's phoning it in, and he gives a performance that feels like its 2003 again. Each actor in particular gives it their all, and it brings a certain life to the film which I felt was missing in the sequels. The special effects work are at an all-time high. I just wish they trimmed the story and exposition down a bit. I also wish they dropped some of the cliches of the franchise, why does every single character have to be connected to each other in some odd way?
But by the end, I was frantic leaving the theater. I felt energized. My expectations were at an all time low, and perhaps that helped too but this movie blindsided me. For the first time in a long time, a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie worked for me. You may have not liked it, and that's okay. Sometimes in movie fandom, you stand alone. I mean, there were days when Roger Ebert himself sang the praises for "Tomb Raider" and "Van Helsing" and a bunch of other stinkers I would never imagine him liking. If I were afraid to stand alone in my appreciation or dissatisfaction of a movie, I would have never began a blog in the first place. The world may have hated this movie, but I didn't. If you care at all about this franchise, please check this out. It isn't perfect, but in the tradition of summer blockbuster fun, it certainly fits the bill.
FINAL GRADE: B