Alright, so like most people, I’m very familiar with the Pirates movies. When CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) came out, this movie might as well have been a landmark of a film. It skyrocketed Johnny Depp’s popularity to a whole new generation of film-goers, catapulted Keira Knightly into stardom, reinforced Orlando Bloom’s talent as an action star, and made a movie that for all intents and purposes should have failed on arrival, yet gave us one of the most entertaining pirate films of all time, if not the most popular. It was an all around blast.
But then something terrible happened. The sequels were made. There is a clear passion that was put into the BLACK PEARL, but DEAD MAN’S CHEST (2006) and AT WORLD’S END (2007) felt like they were just cash-grabs. Because BLACK PEARL was so popular, the filmmakers decided to give us complicated plots involving politics, both in civilization and among the pirates themselves, forced plot lines, pointless scenes, even AT WORLD’S END has a baffling two and a half hour run time. Oh my god, are you serious, Disney?! You’re making movies about pirates, not the next gen GODFATHER (1972). Get off your damn high horses! Jesus! It was painfully clear that the first film was going to be the only good one we’d get. And unless the franchise was going to go back to its routes, simplified and swashbuckling, then this franchise needed a serious time-out… which was indeed the case, but… ON STRANGER TIDES (2011). Four years later, we definitely got a sequel that tried to stray away from what was familiar, but from what I understand, this was EVEN WORSE! How the hell do you do that?! I wish I could tell you what I personally thought of the movie, but truth be told… I still haven’t seen it. I think I told myself that if the reviews weren’t basically, “Back on track, Pirates is good again!” then I wasn’t going to see it in theaters. I couldn’t let my soul get crushed. Well… if I can survive THE BRONZE (2016) and THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY (2016), then I think I can survive movies that are more disappointing than straight up bad.
And now… another break was taken. This one lasted six years. Yeah, it’s been that long. So what do I think of this new one? Meh. It looks like it’ll be another Pirates film. Lame jokes, Depp acting weird as opposed to eccentric, and… to be honest, a little bit of a retread of the the first film. Jack Sparrow gets involved with a pair of young people who inadvertently get involved in his crap, one of them being the grown-up son Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann from the first three films, and someone enchanted by magic wants Jack dead for reasons better than he stole his ship, or whatever. I do admit though, zombie sharks are pretty bad-ass.
Well here we go for the on screen talent. Starring, we have Depp (FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM , BLACK MASS , and the upcoming FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD ), Javier Bardem (THE GUNMAN  and 007’s SKYFALL ), Brenton Thwaites (GODS OF EGYPT  and OCULUS ), and Kaya Scodelario (MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS , and the upcoming MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE ). In support, we have the ever-amazing Geoffrey Rush (GODS OF EGYPT), Kevin McNally (THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY ), David Wenham (LION ), Orlando Bloom (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), Keira Knightley (COLLATERAL BEAUTY ), and… *double take* Paul McCartney??? Oh dear God, someone find the asshole producer that’s holding his family hostage!
Now for behind the scenes. Co-directing, we have Joachim Rønning (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of) and Espen Sandberg (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of). Penning the screenplay is Jeff Nathanson, known for RUSH HOUR 3 (2007), and the upcoming THE LION KING (2019). Composing the score is Geoff Zanelli, known for MASTERMINDS (2016). Finally, the cinematographer is Paul Cameron, known for stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of.
Overall, I can’t say I’m excited. Even early ratings are just a little too optimistically high for my taste. But here’s to a double rum and coke and some slim hopes that this won’t be awful.
This is my honest rating of: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES
It’s been five years since the events of ON STRANGER TIDES. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is without a proper ship and after a botched attempt to rob a bank to get back on track, he is now without a crew. Elsewhere, the young man Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who is still cursed aboard the Flying Dutchman, and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), has spent his life learning the curses and legends of the sea and believes he can lift his father’s curse using the mythical Trident of Poseidon, which is also being hunted by a young fugitive woman named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), who is wrongfully accused of being a witch, as opposed to being a woman of science. However, in Jack’s depression and desperation for alcohol, he surrenders his magical compass, which releases the hold of undead pirates, led by Spanish Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who has a vendetta against Jack. Running into Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who can lead him to Jack, the search begins to take control of the seas.
While I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained for a lot of the film, I can’t say that this movie still can’t compare to the first one.
Ehh, maybe it’s best if I start with what I enjoyed about the flick. For one thing, I do really enjoy the look of the undead. I love how they retain the form they did when they died in horrible and gruesome ways. Even the way they move, it looks like they’re moving in this real-time slow-motion. It’s really hard to describe, but its like they’re constantly underwater; like their hair and clothes wave as if they’re walking underwater. I really hope this description is enough because that’s the best I got. Give the Pirates movies some credit, they know how to design their villains and give the actors portraying them material that makes them memorable in some way. Speaking of which, I do admit to enjoying Bardem’s performance. I mean, he’s pretty one dimensional, being just a die-hard pirate hater, but he plays the role so well. You feel that burning hatred he has for all pirates, especially for Jack personally as the one pirate who bested him to the point of getting him killed, and Jack was a young and possibly an inexperienced pirate at that. I love how ruthless and heartless he is about killing any pirates around him, and you really see that discomfort when he has to spare Barbossa’s life and work with him to find Jack. Although can I just ask someone to agree with me that someone working on this movie is a big fan of the video game STAR WARS KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS? Salazar is surprisingly similar to Darth Sion.
Both characters have grey skin that looks like cracked-cement. Both are cursed with immortality, and not really alive but are literally only “alive” because of sheer hatred and anger holding them together. I mean, am I wrong?!
Of course, Rush as Barbossa is always extraordinary. Seriously, this man was born to play a pirate. He’s incredible as one. Some of the side pirate characters are fun and bring a lot of energy. McNally as Gibbs is always a hoot as Jack’s first mate. I do have to admit that the cinematography is also always great and some visuals are beautiful to look at, especially in the climax. Oh, and zombie sharks? Immediate bonus ten points.
However, that’s about all the good things I can say. This movie is unfortunately laced with far too many problems, both in story and in characters.
Let’s start with everyone’s once-favorite pirate, Jack. He has not evolved past his DEAD MAN’S CHEST curse, being nothing more than forced comedy, lame jokes, and… not even entirely useful a character. Come to think of it, what does he really do in the movie? He provides a ship for the main characters to use… which anyone can steer. He more than often gets in the way or is cannon fodder for the enemies. These movies try to keep Jack relevant by making villains that want to kill him, but that’s not enough to give him drive and motivation. It’s just more exposition that I don’t think anyone truly cares about. We learn how Jack got his name “Sparrow.” Because he looked like a sparrow in the crows nest and was named: Jack the Sparrow. It’s not even that interesting a story. Truly wasted backstory. It’s clear that his days of being a competent fighter and clever improvisor are long dead and behind him, which is a shame because we look at Jack and he’s right there. But everything that we used to love about him isn’t. He’s comedy relief, a role usually delegated to a side character, but no, he’s the focus of the story and it’s aggravating.
And franchise newcomers Thwaites and Scodelario are given really bland characters to work with. Henry is pretty one-note, and a little hypocritical. He’s constantly all about, “I’m only here to free my father from his curse,” but he manages to find attraction in Carina. I’m sure this’ll be a small problem for a lot of people, but I personally can’t stand this trope in movies. Can we just have a few movies out there where the male and female leads don’t hook up in the end? I wouldn’t even really mind so much if it wasn’t so contrived too. They almost hate each other at first, insulting and belittling each other for most of the story, so when the attraction starts, I’m left wondering where the hell this came from. And as much as I enjoy Scodelario for her talent, for as few roles as I’ve seen her in, I really don’t like Carina. She never shuts up about how educated she is and how she’s a woman of science. Also, she’s that poorly written independent woman. Meaning, she’s written like she’s supposed to be resourceful and clever, but she’s always in danger and in need of saving and the constant center of whore jokes and cliché damsel in distress situations. Granted, she contributes a little more than Henry does, as she actually knows how to translate the maps that will lead our heroes to the Trident, but useful doesn’t make a great character. It just doesn’t make them pointless. And unless I missed something in the dialog, why does she care about finding the Trident? She mentions more than a few times that she’s scientifically minded and doesn’t believe in the fabled curses and legends of the sea. Her piece of the map was the last possession that was given to her from her late father, entrusting her to find it. But it makes no sense as so why she’s invested in finding it.
In fact, come to think of it, there’s quite a few things that don’t make sense. How did Salazar get cursed with his undead affliction in the first place? Why is Jack’s signature “heart’s greatest desire” compass the key to the curse? When Jack pawns the compass for a bottle of booze, how in piss-hell does Shansa (Golshifteh Farahani) acquire it so damn quickly? Don’t give me no horse-crap that she “has her ways.” What a blanket f**king statement to hide behind! And where the hell does Shansa go? She literally disappears from the movie! Yeah, she and Barbossa meet up to exchange clunky exposition of how they met and she hands him Jack’s compass, but the next and last time we see her, she’s helping the British soldiers in finding the fugitives that escaped their custody. And why does Scarfield (David Wenham), the soldier leading his troops to sea to find said fugitives, suddenly get invested in locating the Trident? By the way, completely pointless character to have around considering the next time we see him and his troops is when they spend two minutes on screen just to die. I’d say that’s a spoiler, but that would imply that there were important characters with important roles in the story, both of which are not present when explaining these characters. And the hell was up with that bank heist scene in the beginning? The safe weighs a ton and a carriage pulled by less than ten horses has managed to not only drag this safe across town for a good ten to fifteen minutes, but the ENTIRE BUILDING ALONG WITH IT?!?!?!? Are you f**king kidding me?! I don’t remember how many horses were pulling that carriage, but it wouldn’t matter if twenty were pulling, give me a God damn break…
Also, I’m getting really sick and tired of these “legacy” trends. What do I mean? Carina is Barbossa’s long-lost daughter. A daughter that I’m pretty sure was never referenced in any movie until now. But since I haven’t seen ON STRANGER TIDES, I’ll pretend that’s where she was referenced. But even if so, there is no reason why Barbossa has any desire to be her father. Nothing about him ever screamed, “I wish I was a daddy.” For that matter, continuing on Carina not making sense, she finds out at the last possible minute that her father is Barbossa and after he dies for her, she immediately takes his last name as her own. No hesitation, nothing.
Look, I know everyone deals in emotional stuff differently, but speaking as a man who was adopted and never knew his biological parents, I think she processed these set of emotions way too quickly. She just found out her father is a pirate, a set of people that she’s strongly against. For the record, Barbossa is a pretty ruthless pirate too, not known to show kindness and mercy. Barely has any semblance of honor. He also just died to save her life. Um… I can safely tell you that if I found out my biological mother had a similar shady background, and if I caught up in a situation that threatened my life, and if she died to save me, I’d have ten cargo ships of mixed emotions right there. If I were to change anything, don’t have her change her last name yet. Save it for the sequel. And then in some dialog, a character is all like, “What’s your name?” She says, “Carina.” He says, “Last name?” And then she pauses. Almost like she doesn’t know what to say. But then she says, “Barbossa.” Then, like, Henry, or Jack, or whoever is all like, “Really? You took your father’s name for your own?” Then with the most subtle of emotion, she dryly says, “He was my father. Smith wasn’t my real last name.” This could have been an extraordinary foundation for some inner conflict with her. Like, she’s not proud of her name, but she carries it because the man who died to save her life deserves respect. There’s so much that could have been used for a future movie, but it’s squandered here in lieu of a contrived happy resolution.
Overall, I say the movie is definitely not good. Despite the franchise constantly taking breaks, no one who works on these movies seems to understand what made that first film to special. This story is riddled with moments and characters and their choices that don’t make sense, or are even downright stupid. It’s needlessly long, characters exist to be bland, to die, or disappear altogether, it continues the trend of messy story-telling. However, I can’t deny that there are some things of merit. Bardem and Rush are great, the character designs for the villains are awesome, some of the comedy does work, and the movie does look pretty to look at. And like I said, zombie sharks. Too awesome to ignore. But none of its positives save it all that much. With a heavy sigh, I say if you wanted to skip this, you won’t be missing much. Only if you’re a die-hard fan of this franchise, which I find difficult to believe that they exist anymore, could I recommend this. Better as a rental, if you ask me.
My honest rating for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES: a weak 3/5