A Pirate’s Life is Done
A Film Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
There are many signs within the installments of a popular film franchise that indicate when fatigue, or in some cases rigor mortis, is starting to set in. Only two of these factors ultimately matter: 1) The main character doesn’t have to do very much and 2) The main character no longer matters. That’s not to say there’s no coming back from the brink when the focal point of the entire fiction is fading into irrelevance. A franchise can certainly endure when younger actors playing new characters are handed the torch and an expectation of excellence is upheld (Marvel cinematic Universe). It can even be placed on life support by spin offs (Deadpool) and totally reinvigorated by reboots (The Dark Knight Trilogy). Unfortunately for the fifth part of The Pirates of the Caribbean saga, the audience could not be spared the lethargy of a franchise and main character overdue for retirement.
Captain Jack going through the motions is not the Captain Jack we all knew and loved since The Curse of the Black Pearl. I found it a bit arrogant on the part of screenwriters Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio to have this “final” installment tell a tale that consciously acknowledges the age, irrelevance and otherwise diminished capacity of Captain Jack within this story, but still somehow be a worthy addition to his adventures. The resultant impact is a screen story stitched together by the shadows and dust of nostalgia featuring characters that “kinda sorta” did things like before and circumstances that “kinda sorta” played out like before. Mind you, there are still moments of unique levity and thrill (such as the guillotine sequence), but overall, this film has as much energy as Johnny Depp himself brought to this production: not optimum.
Is Captain Jack really all that important, though? The argument could be made that the most iconic character of this franchise isn’t technically the main character of any of the “Pirates” movies, which is especially true for Dead Men Tell No Tales. When you think about it, Will Turner, Elizabeth Swan and even Barbossa were more driving forces to the previous plots than Captain Jack who was more than content lurking in the background, being left to his own devices to gallivant at his convenience about the sea, brothels and taverns. He is an anti-hero spouting unique philosophies, who looks cool, acts weird and is quite entertaining in his ever evasion of what would be certain death for any other character.
Herein lays the genius of Captain Jack in relation to the “Pirates” franchise. Yes, he may be a Macguffin personified, but he’s also gravity in that the destiny of most he encounters and even the fortune of the seven seas themselves are linked to his exploits. This doesn’t happen because he makes it so because we know he’d rather not get involved. His legend grows not from heroics, but from being the ultimate self preservationist who all but breaks the 4th wall observing to other characters how ludicrous the token heroics to save token damsels for the same token stakes that affect everyone is in the reality he perceives. He is the perfect, romanticized pirate in fiction. So yes, Captain Jack’s role in any “Pirates” film is imperative and as far as Johnny Depp’s efforts to make that character more than words on a page go so to goes the immensity of any adventure he is associated with in this franchise.
Unfortunately, Captain Jack doesn’t do very much in Dead Men Tell No Tales and he is a character that literally only matters to the villain. Thus, I can see why Johnny Depp mailed in the effort for this film, but this hampers the entire production, delivering a by-the-numbers adventure that had no urgency and could have easily been ignored let alone affording it a $230 million dollar budget to produce.
There’s a good variety of well choreographed action throughout featuring ship battles, plenty of swordplay, stunt work and the “Pirates” patented ridiculous set pieces that fill the frame with wonder.
Oh yes, Paul Cameron captures all the action quite well with intricate and experimental camera work that never gets in the way of what the audience needs to see.
Johnny Depp will forever be Captain Jack Sparrow, but the flame of his performance has been noticeably doused for this film. Also, I was stunned over the bland fury of Javier Bardem as the antagonist Salazar. I’ve never seen such a cookie-cutter performance from such a fine actor.
Geoffrey Rush had no problem mustering up his old Barbossa persona, while newcomers Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario represent the beautiful heroes whose performances are as interesting as the flaws in their complexions. Bonus point for Kevin McNally’s Gibbs for hanging around and fighting the good fight once again.
Taking every moment to incorporate the iconic “Pirates” overture is never a bad decision as most spinoff accompaniments play up moments of drama and action well enough.
Par for the course, but it certainly upgrades when a supernatural affect is happening onscreen.
“Moving” = 22/33
CG was good overall with highlights being undead sharks and the splitting of the ocean. I didn’t care very much at all for the design of Salazar’s ghost ship as it pales in comparison to The Flying Dutchman. I also felt the ghostly effects for his crew were inconsistent. It looked great on Salazar himself, but the same concept didn’t look as well for the rest. Some instances looked worse than the undead pirates from the first film back in 2003.
These films are getting more and more difficult to tell what was done practically vs. digitally, but there seemed more than enough stunts and set pieces to give sound kudos for special effects.
Who said period pieces (even stylized ones) had to have boring outfits? Certainly not this film.
Hair & Makeup
Captain. Jack. Sparrow. ‘nuff said! Also, pirate hygiene is nothing to aspire to.
Exterior locations are vast and appropriate for their fictional settings. I also appreciate how a good amount of them occur during daytime, thus allowing the audience to appreciate more of everything we see.
Interiors aren’t nearly as impactful, but I do love the luxury featured in Barbossa’s captain’s chambers.
“Picture” = 24/33
One last adventure for an aging Captain Jack who is being pursued by yet another dead/ghostly/undead crew of angry pirates. Been there, done that.
I don’t buy much of the conflict at work here even when considering the more subliminal fighting against stereotypes and preconceptions theme. This however bears no connection to the antagonist’s singular and somewhat unjustified intensity of hate towards Captain Jack.
Those looking for a clean wrap up for the entire franchise will be pleasantly satisfied though they probably saw it coming a mile away. It was too vanilla for my taste.
The charismatic manner of pirate speak throughout these films have always been a strength for this franchise and is no less so for this film. Though I will give extra point deductions for the cheesy incorporation of the film’s title during dialogue in the opening moments.
This film actually does a decent job setting the audience up for what they need to know with flashback scenes that don’t eat too much into the unfolding plot of the present.
All drink and no swordplay makes Jack a dull boy. Barbossa continues to show new layers of his personality and what he’s truly capable of, while our 2 new “beautiful heroes” do what they do best: glow in the sunlight.
What makes Captain Jack Sparrow so relatable is not his eccentricity (although it certainly makes our desire to be eccentric a bit more comfortable), but that deep down we all are a bit on the timid side, would rather look out for ourselves, but would hopefully rise to heroics if put on the spot to do so. We may not be looking to make waves, but sometimes fate has the waves finding us.
“Story” = 19/34
Overall MPS Rating: 65/100
I’m a bit surprised at how high the MPS rating is for Dead Men Tell No Tales because I was somewhat bored with everything I saw. The story wasn’t particularly compelling, the characters weren’t particularly interesting, but it was a better time than having to watch grass grow. In a way, it’s sad to see this franchise go out with such a whimper because there is no question it is the weakest link amongst the “Pirates” films. Those desperate for more Johnny Depp pirate action will probably get more out of this movie than someone looking for anything fun to watch as there are plenty of alternatives at the box office right now. Hopefully we can put this franchise to bed and look forward to some more assertive summer blockbuster films.