“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” Movie Review


     March 18, 2017 marked the 50th Anniversary for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, and despite all that the park offers, it remains one of the most beloved attractions for fans of all ages.  Films inspired by Disney’s classic rides and lands have been a mixed bag over the years, but one cannot deny the overwhelming success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise that began in 2003 with director Gore Verbinski’s “The Curse of the Black Pearl”.  The positive critical and box office reception for the film ensured the series, led by the eccentric lead character Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), would continue on and has done so with what is now four sequels.  And while the second and third installments, “Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) and “At World’s End” (2007), chose to go the route of a two part film format with “Dead Man’s Chest” ending with a cliffhanger and subjecting audiences to a one year wait in order to find out what happened in “At World’s End”, the two films none the less grossed $1.066 billion and $963 million respectively at the worldwide box-office and ensured the exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow within the theme park ride’s world would at some point continue.

     Four years later, director Rob Marshall took over the director’s chair from Gore Verbinski and delivered the fourth installment, “On Stranger Tides”, which would go on to gross $1.045 billion at the worldwide box office, though for the third straight outing the film was hit with less than stellar critical praise.  Now Disney is well aware of the worldwide appeal the “Pirates of the Caribbean” brand carries, and has certainly observed the success Universal has had in revitalizing the “Fast and the Furious” franchise by taking full advantage of its diverse cast and thrilling stunts being thrust into a series of intriguing storylines.  To a certain extent, directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg have accomplished the same with the fifth installment in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”  Sure, the story again focuses directly on Jack Sparrow in yet another magical swashbuckling yarn involving ghostly curses and the never-ending quest for various long forgotten treasures, but the directing duo of Ronning and Sandberg has injected several notable visual touches which bring the series to a new level creatively.

     Working from a script written by “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” scribe, Jeff Nathanson, the film sees the return of a Spanish ship Captain named Salazar (Javier Bardem) who once was given the mission of ridding the seas of pirates for good, but was duped by a young Jack Sparrow into sailing within the Devil’s Triangle, thus condemning he and his crew to living as ghostly versions of their previous selves, trapped forever unless the curse could someday be removed.  When a British ship sails into the same area in the present day of the story, Salazar’s ship and crew are unleashed, sending them on a quest to find Sparrow in order to seek revenge.  When they board the British ship and subsequently kill the entire crew, Salazar finds Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) buried in a jail cell and surrounded by “Wanted” posters of Jack Sparrow.  He tells Turner, “I always leave one to tell the tale” and insists he find Sparrow and warn him he will be coming for revenge.

     That opening scene sets the plot in motion and gives Ronning and Espen a limitless canvas of which to work and create the action set pieces this series is famous for.  And they don't disappoint.  “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is the most visually satisfying film in the series, taking full advantage of the established characters, storylines, and settings, allowing the audience to utilize their knowledge of the first three films in the series as the story comes full circle.  In addition, new characters are introduced who have lineage with previous characters and significantly add to the overall lore of the franchise and could possibly lead it into future installments.  Turner, who is the son of the cursed pirate, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), brings youth and enthusiasm to the proceedings, as does a mysterious astronomer named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) who accompanies Turner on his quest to find Sparrow.

     Salazar continues to look for Sparrow and in the process also continues his previous line of work in the gobbling up of pirates and their ships.  In doing so, he eventually runs into Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who, as pirates often do, has no problem saving himself by leading Salazar to Sparrow.  All involved are trying to find the lost Trident of Poseidon, which is said to have the power to remove all of the curses bestowed on the various characters in play.  It’s seen as the only hope Sparrow has in surviving the onslaught led by Salazar and his seemingly invincible crew of ghosts and other interesting weapons.  Certainly, the creative team behind the film’s visual effects have outdone themselves in both design as well as the seamless inclusion of CGI characters and environments with the live actors.  In addition, the film features at least five sequences that are likely more thrilling then anything seen in any previous installment.

     The cornerstone of the franchise still remains within the comedic exploits of Sparrow and Depp’s performance the fifth time around doesn't miss a beat.  And while some may say Depp’s character suffers a bit from franchise fatigue, I would argue his presence is not only integral to the story but expected from the paying audience who wants to see the bumbling pirate make it through another perilous adventure, narrowly avoiding danger in a way only he could pull off.  I think it’s fair to say no one is criticizing Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto of the same and yet each of the last four installments in that franchise has received mostly glowing remarks from critics.  So no need to have a double standard here.  Sparrow is the pulse of the series and should remain as such, but the filmmakers know new character storylines must be created in order to sustain the series and the inclusion of the Turner and Smyth characters, as well as a reintroduction of characters who go back to the first three films are all welcome and needed additions.

     As for the future of the franchise, stick around for a post credits scene that may very well answer the direction Disney plans on taking two of the series’ key characters.  And with this episode providing the kind of energy and creativity audiences expect from a Summer tentpole, I see no reason why we won't see another installment in the future, given the obvious financial incentive as well as the quality of product being generated at this point in the series.  Sure, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” doesn't necessarily break any new ground, but it does send the franchise in a potentially new direction and infuses the story with new heroes to root for, all the while maintaining the tone of perhaps the most beloved ride at Disneyland.  GRADE: B+