Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a shoulder shrug entry in the blockbuster franchise. It's an improvement over the last installment, On Stranger Tides, but suffers from a wildly uneven plot and character fatigue. The sizzle is somewhat lost because we've become so familiar with the production design and visual effects. The ghostly baddies and their carnivorous ship seems par for the course at this point. We do get the origin story of Jack Sparrow. It's a high point in the film and a reminder of why we love Johnny Depp. He goes to the well with this performance; but pulls it off in true, drunken pirate style.
Dead Men Tell No Tales begins with a boy on a mission. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, is hell bent on rescuing his father from the eternal curse. He has surmised the only way to do this is with the legendary Trident of Poseidon. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoledario) is a scrappy orphan deemed a witch by the British colonialists. She's also seeking the mythical object. Both their paths inevitably lead to the Caribbean's most notorious pirate.
Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has had a run of bad luck. He's got no ship, no money, and a crew that has totally lost faith in him. Equally worrisome, he's out of rum. Meanwhile, life couldn't be better for Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). He's bathing in the riches of his exploits when a sinister specter (Javier Bardem) pays a bloody visit. An old enemy of Jack's has escaped his demonic confinement. He's out for revenge and willing to kill everyone in his way to get it.
Dead Men Tell No Tales has a convoluted plot that draws heavily on the previous films. It jumps headfirst into the deep end without a primer. It took me a few minutes to remember the purpose of the magical trinkets the characters use. The last film was six years ago, so I don't think I'll be alone in this regard. Several storylines eventually muddle into resolving the primary arc; finding Poseidon's trident. We are constantly reminded by the characters that this is what they're looking for.
Pirates of the Caribbean 5 is a boys club for sure. Carina, the only female character, is the target of sexual slights and double entendres throughout. The insults she receives for her intelligence and beauty can at first be chalked up to the time period. It then continues to be tongue in cheek wordplay directed at the adult audience. This surprised me, as Disney has made female characters primary and more robust in the last several years. I'll be curious to see the reaction to this. It may be much ado about nothing, but Dead Men Tell No Tales has this bewildering adult element.
Javier Bardem's turn as Salazar is too maniacal and cackling. He comes off as cartoonish and one note. The action scenes involving his ghoulish crew are massive and effects heavy. I wasn't too blown away by the way they looked, but was entertained by the scope of the battles. We get a lot of ship broadsides with canon balls tearing through wood like confetti. I believe this is where the filmmakers spent their best money. I didn't see the film in 3D or IMAX, but it looks pretty good in standard 2D.
From Disney Pictures, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales resets the franchise in several big ways. There's also the requisite post-credit scene that leads into the next film. It runs way long at a whopping two hours and thirty-three minutes. The filmmakers could easily have cut twenty. I was never bored, but you do feel the film start to grind towards the climax. The new characters aren't particularly interesting. But the old stalwart, Johnny Depp, still has the wind in his sails.