Review: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales’

By Troi Watts

Trailers are supposed to preview movies. You know, tell audiences what the story line will be, set up suspense, build up some excitement so that people will actually go see the movie in theatres. Well, the trailer for the fifth installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series did not accomplish that, at least not for me, because it looked as if this film would be a reboot of the first film in the series, Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)! Therefore, I avoided watching Dead Men Tell No Tales for as long as I could. When I did watch it the fan in me was satisfied, but the cinephile in me was not.

Warning: Possible spoilers ahead!

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales continues the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow as he recovers from the events of On Stranger Tides (2011). His ship is magically trapped in a bottle, his crew is tired of his antics, and he’s on the run from the law (being a pirate and all). However Jack finds purpose when young Henry Turner, son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, comes to Jack for help finding the Trident of Poseidon, which will free Will Turner from his curse as captain of the Flying Dutchmen. The Trident will also save Jack from an undead pirate who seeks revenge on Jack for killing him many years ago. With the help of young astronomer Carina and old frenemy Captain Barbossa, Jack and Henry set out on a quest to find the Trident, defeat the undead, and free Will Turner.

The returning cast, including Johnny Depp (Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Edward Scissorhands) and Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech, Genius), do a surprisingly good job at bringing their characters back to life in this installment. I was expecting tired, run-down versions of the characters after a decade of playing them, but that is not the case. Johnny Depp’s quirky performance as Captain Jack Sparrow is consistent with his previous performances and even adds more to the character now that Jack is facing some harder times. Geoffrey Rush’s performance as Captain Hector Barbossa has developed greatly through the series, from being the frightening villain to being a sort of funny ally, but it has never lost its luster.

Whether the same can be said for the newest additions to the cast list, I’m not so sure. Brenton Thwaites (Maleficient, The Giver) as Henry Turner seems to have the most important new role as he is the catalyst for the plot. However, the character is very flat with little development. This could be a fault of the writing for the movie, though, as Henry’s dialogue and presence seemed to have little substance after the opening of the movie. However, Brenton Thwaites is relatively new to the screen and in my opinion could use more experience before I feel comfortable simply blaming the script. These same opinions go for Kaya Scodelario (Skins, The Maze Runner), who plays Carina, an astronomer and love interest for Henry. That’s it. That’s all she is…

Another blow to the movie’s construction is the sloppy pacing throughout. The beginning is fast, pushing the audience into the thick of it right from the start. But then the middle seems to be walking through cement as action scenes are drawn out and oddly spaced out. But then the ending comes up fast and hard, making the climax and resolution not feel as intense and satisfying as they should have been. In the end, the movie feels more like an origin story for Jack Sparrow (as we see how he became a captain and even how he got his name, etc.) than a fully-constructed film.

As I mentioned before, the trailer brought to mind the first installment of the series when explaining this installment’s plot: the undead pirate ship, the unlikely trio of a pirate, a good man, and an adventurous woman, and of course the mythological artifact. This déjà vu feeling doesn’t really go away as you’re watching this movie, but it is easy to ignore. The scenarios may be similar but the details are different, so there is something new to look forward to. For example, these undead pirates don’t turn into skeletons because their curse is definitely not the same as Barbossa’s crew’s curse.

A friendly warning: if you’re a fan of this series, you’re going to find plot holes. Plenty of plot holes. The timeline is askew, as we are shown a nine-year-old Henry meeting Will for what seems to be the first time in the beginning of the movie, while at the end of At World’s End (2007), we were left with an image of Will coming home to Elizabeth and his son for the first time in supposedly ten years. Also, why is Will covered in barnacles and all gross? I thought that only happened if he didn’t do his job and he’s definitely been doing his job. Finally, stay after the credits because this movie has an end-credits scene! It shows Will apparently having a nightmare about Davy Jones (remember him from the second and third installments?) but leaves clues that Will may not have been dreaming. However, Davy Jones, who appears as a shadow only, still has an octopus face and a lobster claw… shouldn’t those have gone away when Henry broke all the curses of the sea? Because Will’s barnacles did.

Despite all of the flaws and mistakes in this installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales does hold up the image associated with the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The awesome special effects, the talented performance of the returning actors, and the added insights to the series’ world make this movie worth watching. All fans of the previous films shouldn’t be worried about wasting their time here. Just do yourself a favor and don’t criticize this movie until after you’ve enjoyed it at least once.

The film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray on October 3.

Rating: 2.7/5