SPOILER WARNING: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandburg, 2017)
Coming fourteen years after the release of the first film in the franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandburg, 2017) definitively proves that the series should have ended a long time ago. Lacking any of the charm or inventiveness of the original film, or even any of the films in the original trilogy, the film instead relies on the perceived charm of its returning characters to keep its leaking vessel afloat. But in this it fails spectacularly. Franchise flagship Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is no longer the inventive and eccentric wannabe captain that captured audiences what feels like a lifetime ago as he has been reduced to nothing more than a bumbling alcoholic whom is literally tied up for most of the film. The same can be said for most of the other leading characters of the film, such as the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) Henry (Brenton Thwaites), or his love-interest-to-be Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). In her the film fails spectacularly as it silences its one voice of reason and logic in favor of the babbling of idiots. Dead Men Tells No Tales is ineffective in every aspect that comprises an action adventure film as it relies on nonexistent charisma and all-too-sparse nostalgia to carry its audience from each of its numerous mindless action sequences.
Not much can be said about Jack Sparrow. Instead of being the larger-than-life persona that often carried the film in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003), he is now nothing more than a character that must be shuttled form one scene to another by outside forces. He is completely devoid of any agency in this film as others take the reigns in each instance because they realize that Jack cannot be relied on. And while this is certainly annoying, the film does not realize this as it still thinks that he is the most charming man to ever exist. He ultimately gets his way in each and every situation, and he is portrayed to be as right over much more sensible human beings. All of his crimes are forgiven as well, from sleeping with the wife of a man in front of him to insinuating to his pirate cohorts that Carina is a prostitute, the film forgives all of Jack’s crimes as he is simply (allegedly) the crazy Captain Jack.
In the case of Jack silencing those around him, the film steers into more problematic territory. Being released in the same summer as Wonder Woman (Patty Duke, 2017), Dead Men Tale No Tales cannot find an ounce of feminism within itself. Carina is initially portrayed as a woman of science whom has falsely been accused of witchcraft, but the film then spends most of its remaining runtime proving her wrong. She is saved by pirates from her execution, but not before Jack shouts her down from delivering her last words with his own brand of incoherent babbling. Following this, Jack’s crew takes her captive, tricks her into revealing her information, and then continues to doubt her every word as they fantasize about having sex with her. By the end of the film she has been proven wrong on almost every account and has also learned that her father is none other than Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). This turn is as needless as it is out of left field. The film does not build up to it in any way, and overall the story could function without it. But Dead Men Tell No Tales is intent on shrinking the Pirates of the Caribbean universe as its ties everything so closely together that little can be left for any sense of wonder.
As a poorly executed flashback scene demonstrates, Jack Sparrow became captain, defeated Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), and gained all of his cosmetic knick-knacks in the same ten minutes. The deeming of Carina as Barbossa’s daughter continues this trend as the film explains too much, takes away any sense of wonder, and as a result: removes the fun. The same can be said for the execution of the rest of the film. The magical McGuffin of Dead Men Tell No Tales is the Trident of Poseidon, a magical staff that can apparently break curses, grant its wielder power over the seas, and drive bad Pirates of the Caribbean movies. But the film does not execute the hunt for this object in any sort of interesting way. Unlike the original film, which essentially centered on a group of pirates hunting for a person that is among them the entire time. For most of Dead Men Tell No Tales, it is not clear whether of not the Trident even exists. None of the characters have ever seen it, and the ones that are hunting it can hardly be deemed to be reliable sources of information. And once it finally does appear, its simply hidden on the seabed. There is not an island that can be found only with a magical compass or any sort of interesting location for what the film spends its entire runtime leading up to. And in many ways, the revelation of the Trident is a complete letdown because of this. The Trident is never briefly shown or hinted at and as a result the expectations of the audience (if the still have any by the end of the film) are ultimately not going to be met, as the Trident is nothing more than a pointy stick that is almost immediately destroyed.
The abrupt destruction of the Trident is appropriate for how the film handles everything else. There is little build-up to be had for any of the events of Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Henry and Carina breaking the trident is no exception. After this event, the film finally decides that it needs to end but at the same time it realizes that its so-called villain is still alive. As Jack and company try to escape to safety, they are followed by Captain Salazar, who is promptly and effortlessly killed by Barbossa at the cost of his own life. This turn of events is equally as ant-climatic as anything else in the film, and it comes off as nothing more than a hasty way for the film to dispatch of its villain. But Salazar is hardly a villain. His only motivation is that he wants revenge on Jack Sparrow for his defeat and subsequent reincarnation as a ghost pirate. Even after he and his crew are cured of this ailment, he still harbors no other emotion than a lust for Jack’s blood. In addition to this, Salazar is hardly in the film, and most of the violence that he perpetuates occurs off-screen. He only appears when it is necessary to shuttle the other characters along, and every one of his actions are in response to something that Jack or his cohorts have done, but not in any way that makes him or what he does compelling. Salazar is not Barbossa, whose villain status exists because he led a mutiny against Jack and is also too bound by the plot to simply put a bullet in Sparrow’s head; nor is he Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to whom Jack owed a debt. He is just someone who was once defeated by Jack in combat, and know wants to get revenge.
Dead Men Tell No Tales does not contain any sort of flourish or intricacy that might make it interesting to be seen. In the same way, it is completely devoid of all tension or suspense, as it does not know what foreshadowing is. Jack simply shuffles drunkenly along from scene to scene and everything simply works out in one way or another for no other reason than that the film cannot be bothered to become intricate or unpredictable in any way. All of its characters are critically underdeveloped and one-note as well. The few that are an exception to this are only such because they have four prior films to flesh them out, and this is hardly an excuse for Dead Men Tell No Tales. And once the film is over, none of them have undergone any significant positive transformation. Carina now knows that she can be wrong, which the film seems oddly obsessed with, and Jack has his ship back without any pesky Barbossa to try to take it from him. Essentially, everyone has become more dull for the sake of Dead Men Tell No Tales to exist. Jack is now a useless idiot rather than a crafty pirate, and he oddly enough tries to get his crew to pay him for the privilege of rescuing him. This effort is successful, unfortunately, as people have seen this film.