Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Franchise filmmaking always has dangerous waters to tread. Every movie in a series needs to serve as a chapter in moving the overall story forward, but at the same time, stand on its own as its own story and worthwhile film experience. The fifth entry in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series, sub-titled DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, is a film that grasps tightly to one approach while throwing the other over the side.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) enlists the help of the famed pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), and astronomer Carina (Kaya Scodelario), to search for the mythical Trident of Poseidon, in an attempt to free his father Will (Orlando Bloom) from his curse. Meanwhile, Sparrow is hunted across the seas by the spectral Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem), who aligns himself with Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush).

True to the series that it belongs to, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES runs off like a checklist of things that are expected; a supernatural enemy, an object to destroy said supernatural enemy, bombastic chase and action scenes, cannon battles at sea, betraying pirates, and a saturation of old sea lore. There’s a feeling of been-there, done-that going on, but directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have enough new material to work with to keep fans of these PIRATES films satisfied for a time. At the center of all the swordfighting and ghost-shipping are newcomers Henry and Carina, with Captain Jack literally tagging along. The film sets itself up as a parental-absolution story, with both characters seeking to resolve one family issue or another.

The plot unfolds through an unnecessarily complex maze involving stars, maps, diaries, crystals, and convoluted riddles…all of which confuses more than engages, and things feel like they could have been a lot simpler. But where TALES really hits the reef is just how much it relies on the films that have come before it. The film’s stepping-off point has to do with nearly every major plot point from the previous movies, and it makes it nearly impossible to watch without revisiting every entry prior. But what’s baffling is that despite how much TALES asks us to remember the previous films, the directors seem to have forgotten to do that themselves. There are two massive breaks in continuity that were established in previous PIRATES films, starting with the origins of Jack’s compass and the curse that Will Turner is under. The latter is the most troubling, as the need to get Will out of his current situation makes zero sense when considering what the third film in the franchise has told us.

The co-directors don’t bring anything special or unique to the film, and they just seem to trying to keep the ship and its many moving parts on course. There’s a fair amount of energy and forward momentum going on, and two set-pieces involving a bank heist and an execution-rescue are a blast to behold. However the later scenes which take place at night have an intolerable murkiness to them which makes it impossible to see what the blazes is going on. Unforgivable. Visual effects look cartoony, especially with Salazar’s crew of ghost sailors; the effects looked better in the first PIRATES movie 14 years ago.

Acting is all over the place as no one really is given the chance to shine. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario have zero chemistry together and are as bland as carp, and Johnny Depp’s famed Captain Jack Sparrow is buried underneath all the plot, has nothing of his own to do or offer to the story, and has officially become boring. Javier Bardem’s big-bad is a thin, one-note dull revenge-seeking villain, and he is buried underneath way too much CGI. Geoffery Rush is fine, and his character is given an unexpected arc which feels tacked-on and isn’t nearly as powerful as it thinks it is. David Wenham shows up as a British officer in chase of the Trident and is disposed of just as quickly as he shows up.

After all the noise, TALES goes for an emotional finale that nearly makes the entire film worthwhile by closing some loops from the first three movies, and it’s clear that this fifth entry only existed for that end scene. But again, the film leans so heavily on its predecessors that it’s easy to wonder if the “loose ends” were really loose at all. It doesn’t work on its own, and as another chapter it’s needless. This is a tale better left dead.


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