The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has had a rather disparaging affair since the release of The Curse of the Black Pearl. This is one of my favorite sea-themed adventure movies. The characters are excellent, with Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow being THE breakout character of the film. As the films have gone on, the stories have fluctuated in quality while altering characterization on the primary characters. The end result has been problematic at best to downright bizarre at worst. This culminated in the 2011 release of On Stranger Tides having the lowest aggregate rating for critics in the series with a 32% on Rotten Tomatoes and being a mixed bag for moviegoers. The films have still been financially successful with the last film making a total box office of $1.045 billion even with the mixed fan reaction. Even with that success, it took ages for the film set to sail for this Memorial weekend release. So how is it, you might ask? Let’s have a look at Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Return from Under the Sea
The film starts with a quick, emotional prologue showing a partially-altered Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) with his young son, Henry, shortly after the post-credit scene from At World’s End. Will tells him there is no way to reverse the curse of the Flying Dutchman and to not seek out the Trident of Poseidon, the film’s McGuffin said to have the power to break sea-related curses, or Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). We properly begin with a grown-up Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) as a low-ranking member of the Royal Navy thrown in brig for treason when he tries to warn his captain away from chasing pirates into a mythical area called the Devil’s Triangle. When the ship enters, it’s attacked by an undead horde lead by Captain Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem). All aboard are killed except for Henry who is told to send a message to Jack about Salazar’s pending return. In St. Martin, Jack and his crew attempt a bank robbery and, in the process, bumps into Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer and horologist attempting to escape execution as a witch due to her intelligence.
With the robbery a bust, Jack’s crew, including the normally loyal Mr. Gibbs (Kevin McNally), leave Jack due to his constant failures. Crewless and no longer considered a worthwhile pirate, Jack gives up his compass in a trade, causing the seal on the Devil’s Triangle to break and allow Salazar to begin hunting Jack, kill every pirate between him and his goal. Jack is captured but rescued from his and Carina’s execution with the help of Henry and Jack’s old crew. With the aid of Carina. her journal (another McGuffin), and her stargazing skills, the group journeys to the location of the Trident before Salazar can reap his own benefit from it. The chase is complicated with Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) getting involved for his own reasons and a British officer named Scarfield (David Wenham) chasing after his escaped prisons in hopes of claiming the Trident to give control of the sea to the Royal Navy.
As long winded as this summary may seem, it’s a slog to get through elements of this film just watching it at times. This is weird because this film has the shortest running time in the series at 129 minutes. There are moments where the film repeats elements of the plot over and over and over until you want to start yelling at the screen, “We get it! We know your motivation! Now shut up and do something!” Plot holes creep up a lot in the feature to the point where a post-credit scene that should entice me to be ready for another film made me question the logic of the film’s story. A couple of plot points just disappear for no reason, taking away moments of drama and action that could further impact the film. My biggest complaint with the movie is that this plot feels like a copy-paste job of three other films, one of which is from within its own franchise! Yes, this argument is like how some hardcore anime fans may complain about how Firefly rips off from Outlaw Star but it’s that degree of noticeable for me. Don’t believe me? Here’s the film’s and elements:
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl: As much as it’s argued in interviews, the Henry-Carina relationship is the 2017, plot necessary version of Will-Elizabeth relationship. Both are young kids who require the forced interactions of Jack to get them over bashfulness about admitting they care for each other. The villain uses one member of the pair as part of his ploy to reverse the ill-effects of a curse with the McGuffin. The two admit to their love for one another and get together by the end of the film.
Indian Jones and the Last Crusade: Much of the journey to find the missing McGuffin is connected to a journal passed down to the protagonist that belonged to the father (Indy gets his sent in the mail while Carina gets hers left with her as an orphan). Secrets in the journal revealed the location and how to access the prize it speaks of. After the artifact is used, an ecological event ends the film from which the heroes barely escape and the bad guys die.
Skyfall: This felt the most blatant film to be ripped off, in my opinion. This is literally a ripoff of Skyfall! Our hero fails at an important assignment that leads to him reaching rock bottom. Actions in and around this time leads to a major set of incidents that leads to the deaths of many in his profession by the villain of the film. The villain wants personal revenge due to a fall from grace because of a central character that leads to him becoming disfigured and gains the power needed for revenge from an unknown/unexplained force. The villain is killed in the final act after a desperate attempt to get our heroes resulting in the death of a fan favorite character.
The acting is good with this one but there are some chinks in the armor with some of the characterization. I know it may have seem liked I hated that they this relationship with Carina and Henry but I think that they did a fine job in their roles. Their stories are touching at moments and make me want to see their story continue into later films. Geoffrey Rush is a delight as Barbossa. There is an element that alters his characterization to a degree that I didn’t agree with at first but grew on me later. I still don’t agree in the direction his character went considering it leaves its own plot hole that you could park the entire Spanish Armada into. We see a couple of scenes with Orlando Bloom and he does a decent job with what he has. The problem is with our lead and our villain. Johnny Depp has been in a bit of a rut due to his work outside of this franchise being extremely varied. I know he’s doing his best with the role of Captain Jack because he’s dedicated to the character but this doesn’t feel like the Captain Jack Sparrow we fell in love with anymore. He’s a caricature of what made him a great character because of how popular he was in Curse of the Black Pearl. Javier Bardem is great as Salazar but he feels like an expy of his role as Raoul Silva in Skyfall.
The film’s quality is greatly different because most of the crew was changed out. We have a new pair directing the film, Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, who have a decent directing track record and have lead the film in a better direction than with what happened with Rob Marshall’s direction with On Stranger Tides. Ted Elliot is no longer on screenwriting duty, leaving that and story to Jeff Nathanson, who hasn’t produced the best work in the writing department, and Elliot’s old partner Terry Rossio. The soundtrack does use Hans Zimmer’s original tracks but with changes thanks to his protégé Geoff Zanelli working as the main composer. It gives a great scope to the film and acts a positive to me for the film experience.
Curse of the Skyfall Crusade
In the end, I don’t feel right recommending this film. Even though it improves on what happened with the previous film, it’s far from being back up to form for the standards of the Gore Verbinski era of the films. With plot elements disappearing and feeling like they are from other movies entirely to characterization that doesn’t keep me fully invested in all of the central leads. There are some good things but not enough to offset what rubbed me the wrong way. This is one ship that has sailed off course and on its way to sinking.