Jack Sparrow‘s luck has finally run out. Captaining a small ship with an incompetent crew, he’s being chased by the British Navy AND a dead pirate hell-bent on revenge. Sparrow’s only chance of survival is to locate the Trident of Poseidon, but to do that he must team up with a headstrong sailor, a beautiful astronomer, and an old enemy, all of whom have their own reasons for tracking down the legendary lance.
A Fresh Start
Captain Jack is back for a fifth film in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Mercifully, Dead Men Tell No Tales (also called Salazar’s Revenge in some territories) is something of a refresh for a series where the storylines and plot machinations had become almost comically complex and convoluted.
And so proceedings commence by introducing a new roster of characters, most notably Will Turner’s son Henry. He’s a headstrong youngster desperate to break the curse that has condemned his father to a watery grave. So he spends his youth studying myths and legends, then joins the Navy to sail the high seas in search of the Trident of Poseidon to break said curse.
Another new character is Carina Smyth, an equally headstrong youngster who is skilled as both an astronomer and a horologist. Carina also has Daddy issues, searching for the father who abandoned her as a baby, with only a map to the stars for help.
Played by Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario, the pair have relatively interesting stories, and their paths inevitably cross. But they are also given some duff lines, and the romantic interplay between them is oftentimes painfully awkward. So it comes as sweet relief when the actual pirates of the Pirates of the Caribbean show up.
Captain Jack is Back
The highlight of most POTC movies is the introduction – or re-introduction – of Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow, and Dead Men Tell No Tales is no different. The good Captain makes a typically hilarious entrance, then steals a bank – literally – before taking centre stage in a spectacular action sequence that may be the best in the franchise.
There are times when it feels like his shtick is getting a little tired however, and some scenes seem to have been shoe-horned in just so Depp can double-take and make suggestive asides; most notably a weird wedding sequence that doesn't advance the plot and only serves to slow proceedings down. But there's none better when it comes to physical comedy, while a brief flashback even gives the character a little depth, explaining his origin and how Jack came by the Sparrow name.
Javier Bardem fares less well as the villain of the piece however. Captain Salazar is an intriguing character – a sailor who believes that pirates have infected the seas, and who is looking to end that plague by wiping them out. He and his crew are also dead, and their ghostly appearance is a visual tour de force as they walk on water and their ship consumes enemies.
But the brilliant set-up of his character doesn't really pay off, the film burying Bardem under make-up and CG so that he looks a bit like The Crow and is oftentimes quite hard to understand. The film also fails where Skyfall so spectacularly succeeded by tapping into his dark charm, meaning Salazar becomes just another forgettable Pirates villain, there so Captain Jack has something to run away from.
Much better is the return of Barbosa. Johnny Depp gets the headlines for these films, and rightly so as Sparrow is a sublime comic creation. But once you've had your fill of his histrionics, Hector Barbosa is the heart and soul of these films, and arguably their secret weapon.
In spite of his being a villain, Geoffrey Rush imbues the character with such charm and likability that it's impossible not to root for him. And here he gets a story worthy of that performance, with Barbosa featuring in the film's most affecting scenes.
Sparrow's skeleton crew – led by Kevin McNally's Gibbs and Stephen Graham's Scrum – also steal most of the scenes they are in, providing cheeky contrast to the slightly bland young leads, and turning a joke about 'horology' into a great running gag. So it's a shame they aren't in the film more.
As for the film's other seeming secret weapon, don't get too excited about the return of Will Turner, as while much has been made about Orlando Bloom re-joining the franchise, there's a reason he isn't on the poster.
Is Pirates of the Caribbean 5 Good?
The Pirates films became increasingly dense and confusing as they progressed, so much so that – first film aside – their characters and plots coalesced into one big, long, messy overlapping story that seemed to last forever.
Part 5 starts in encouraging fashion, introducing new characters and a storyline that seems both compelling and relatively straightforward. But then more characters are introduced. Each with their own tale to tell. And once again a Pirates film loses focus, so-much-so that by the time Poseidon's trident is reached, it's a struggle to remember why there are all there. And even harder to care.
So while Dead Men Tell No Tales is an improvement on the last few entries, it nevertheless fails to live up to the promise of the original. Suggesting that this ship might finally have sailed, and the franchise should now be condemned to its own watery grave.