I’m not ashamed to say I get sea sick out on the open water, but I am ashamed to say that Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is much better than I thought it would be. Not only does it feature some great action sequences but each character has a strong emotional arc that keeps viewers invested in the film.
Let me preface this review by saying I tried watching Pirates Of The Caribbean 4 for the first time a few days before I saw Dead Men Tell No Tales and it put me to sleep about halfway through. So I wasn’t expecting too much from the fifth outing of this now 14 year old franchise. Jeff Nathanson, who has written amazing Tom Hanks movies like Catch Me If You Can and The Terminal and flops like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, wrote the screenplay so I didn’t know what to think. Fortunately, Nathanson delivered a sharp, funny script and directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg brought a renewed sense of energy and freshness to the film that kept me entertained throughout.
If I’m going to talk about the film’s energy I need to start at the heart of the storm, Captain Jack Sparrow himself. Johnny Depp has been going through a bit of a rough patch according to the tabloids, but he delivers another solid performance as the drunkest pirate on the seven seas. Well, hopefully it’s a performance and he wasn’t just the drunkest actor on the seven seas during shooting. It doesn’t feel like he’s just here for a paycheck because you can see the veteran actor almost enjoying himself as he waddles around making trouble. No matter where Jack finds himself, whether he’s the captain of a ship with a loyal crew or alone, facing the gallows, Depp imbues the character with a sense of naive confidence that is still a treat to watch.
Oddly, all of the new, major characters are driven by their deep daddy issues. Both Henry Turner and Carina Smyth spend the entirety of Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales searching for the Trident of Poseidon as a way to finish a personal quest related to their lost fathers. Even Javier Bardem’s undead Naval officer was originally motivated to start fighting pirates after his father was defeated in battle. As odd as it is that fatherly relationships are so important for this movie, it makes sense when looking at the franchise as a whole. Ever since the original Pirates movie, family has been a key theme for the series. As Captain Jack blundered around in the original trilogy just getting by, Elizabeth and Will Turner slowly fall in love and lay the groundwork for a family of their own. And now we see Jack blunder around some more as Henry and Carina lay the groundwork for a potential family of their own in future movies.
Just because the characters were busy thinking about their fathers doesn’t mean they weren’t solid additions to the universe. Brenton Thwaites delivers a solid performance as the newest Turner son to hit the high-seas hoping to break his father’s curse and Javier Bardem is perfect as the menacing Captain Salazar. But Kaya Scodelario’s Carina Smyth is likely the breakout character in the movie. The Pirates franchise has had its share of strong female characters but Smyth seems to be the most progressive one yet. She’s a woman on a personal mission who won’t let anything get in her way or change her strongly held beliefs. Smyth does a great job of holding her own whenever she shares the screen with Captain Jack or Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa.
It’s fun to watch Carina’s rational, scientific-mind slowly adjust to the magical realities of the Pirates world. The science vs magic trope is used as a tool to show the audience how different Henry and Carina are despite their similar backgrounds. Instead of just sitting around and talking about their beliefs, we get to learn about the characters through their distinct actions as they work towards a shared goal.
There are a lot of visually engaging and fun moments sprinkled throughout the Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The strongest moments in the movie all relied heavily on practical effects. We get to see Jack and his crew dragging a bank around town in a scene that feels like the closest thing we will get to a western crossover for the franchise. My personal favorite moment features Jack caught in a rotating guillotine that looks amazing and hearkens back to the exciting physical comedy of the earlier movies. On the flip side, there was a lot of unnecessary CGI in the movie. I have no problem when filmmakers digitally render extras or ships into scenes, but things like zombie sharks and animated figureheads take me out of the moment and don’t really strike me as necessary for the story. I’m not trying to bash CGI though. Javier Bardem and his cursed crew looked amazing and anytime we got to see his army of zombie pirates running on the water there was a pretty big smile on my face.
It’s not a perfect flick, and in my opinion it doesn’t match the fun of the original Pirates Of The Caribbean, but Dead Men Tell No Tales is a solid addition to the franchise. Both Rønning and Sandberg have said they went back and looked at the first movie for inspiration and that sense of nostalgia and love for the lore is felt throughout the film. I have my fingers crossed that if Disney makes another Pirate movie they’ll bring this directing team back for another go with old Captain Jack.
If you want to see something with some swashbuckling adventures, understandable emotional arcs and solid mix of practical effects and CGI, go check out Captain Jack and the gang as they sail across the big screen in Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, hitting theaters on May 25th.