Early on in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, our “hero” Jack Sparrow and his dwindling crew attempt to rob a bank by dragging its safe through the streets of the city on horses.
This 19th-century rendition of the Fast Five climax, fails miserably due to a lack of planning and luck, which is a pretty good metaphor for the film itself. It’s a series of attempts to ape better action franchises that all land flat on their face like Sparrow himself drunkenly ambling into a pigsty.
Once again, the franchise replaces its former protagonists Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann with much less interesting version of themselves: This time in the form of the Turners’ son Henry (Brenton Thwaites, who I guess just does these kind of roles now?) and astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who both seek to cure their respective Daddy issues by finding this film’s MacGuffin, the trident of Poseidon himself. A down-on-his-luck Jack Sparrow also seeks the trident, as he has accidentally set free a crew of cursed zombies led by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). How this curse works or what connection it has to Sparrow is never fully explained, even in the gratuitous origin stories and flashbacks. Meanwhile, Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is also along for the ride, though his motives are constantly shifting and wholly unimportant.
The whole movie pretty much dodders along like this, constantly adding and removing rules and plot-points without much consequence. It ignores developments from previous films (or even previous scenes) and constantly creates more confusion in its attempts to answer questions that no one actually asked. This is a script written by playing Calvinball; nothing matters and anything goes. Some scenes are obviously yanked from earlier drafts where they may have made more sense, others show a complete lack of understanding regarding the rest of the franchise.
For example, minutes before the final battle, we’re told that Salazar apparently has the ability to possess the living, but if he does, he is trapped in their bodies forever. (How does anyone know this? Do you get a little “So You’ve Been Cursed By The Sea” guidebook from HR on your first day of being cursed?) This is yelled at us as though we’re supposed to have known this whole time, so we understand the gravity of the decision he makes. But there is none, the possession is undone in literally the very next scene. The whole movie works like this, falling into scenarios and situations with no logic or explanation.
This would almost be forgivable if the film weren’t also constantly mean-spirited and hateful.
This is not a fun adventure romp, it’s a series of serial murders broken up by childish innuendo. The film constantly wanders between using violent deaths as a punchline and using them as examples of cruelty, and after a full hour of expendable crew-member slaughter, it just becomes exhausting. But the film’s distaste of background characters is nothing compared to its hatred of women. The franchise that spent three films building Elizabeth Swann into a pirate queen has now been reduced to finding new ways to call its only female lead a whore and put her in various traps from which to be rescued – all the while insisting “she’s the smart one.” In one of the film’s most egregious moments, an entire scenario is brought up for three minutes of a transphobic joke and then disappears as quickly as it came, bearing no meaning on the rest of the film. To be clear, this means that the final cut of this movie removes the part where the curse rules are explained but leaves in the part where “haha Johnny Depp has to kiss a man in a dress.”
That finally brings us to the film’s open secret – Depp himself is now the albatross around this franchise’s neck. The movie does itself no favors by awkwardly inserting a CGI flashback version of young Depp, they simply remind us that years ago, the wigs and accentuated eyeshadow gave him a allure of sexual mystery. Now they just seem to be the vain trappings of a poorly-aging man desperately trying to hide it. Because that’s what these films are now – attempts to redeem Depp’s rapidly-fading starpower and cover up his less-than-stellar public persona, often at the expense of everyone else. (Reports that Depp himself was responsible for the removal of a female character from this film certainly don’t help matters much.) Jack Sparrow in 2003 was the epitome of a charming rogue, with the recurring gag of being the “worst pirate I’ve ever seen” working to his advantage. Here, the idiot savant comes off as a bitter angry drunk, hell-bent on taking everyone else involved down with him. Am I talking about Depp or Sparrow here? Who knows if art is imitating life or vice versa, but what we do know is that it’s not fun to watch either way.Liked This? Share It!