Review: Although "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" touts the coveted "Pirates" namesake, it has no place alongside the other films in one of Disney’s most beloved cinematic franchises. While some of the genetic makeup of 2011’s "On Stranger Tides" is present throughout the narrative, it bears nothing more than a passing resemblance to the initial three installments in Jerry Bruckheimer’s string of highly successful high seas adventure flicks.
When "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" first sailed into theaters in 2003, audiences around the world were captivated by an entirely new genre of film and the unprecedented scale at which it was produced. Full-sized and completely operational pirate ships, meticulously crafted sets, intricately tailored costumes, and awe-inspiring practical special effects all combined to completely redefine the modern cinematic landscape in a fashion that even Walt Disney himself may not have believed to be achievable. But alas, 2017’s continuation of the stories that dominated box offices the world over in the early 2000s has relinquished all of the hallmark innovation that prior installments are renowned for in favor of decidedly less compelling computer-generated imagery. The CGI is very poorly implemented by the standards of the studio that recently took home an Academy Award for its work on "The Jungle Book" (2016) and now owns the legendary Lucasfilm VFX house Industrial Light and Magic, and the cinematography is so inconsistent that it’s hard to believe it was executed by the same unit. The musical score, on the other hand, is as compelling as ever, thanks in no small part to the groundwork laid by master composer Hans Zimmer. And while there are certainly some redeemable moments to be found, the movie as a whole simply lacks the attention to detail and overall quality expected of a new addition to a series maintaining such an esteemed legacy.
Despite the fact that each follow-up to the premier "Pirates" film has been met with varying degrees of critical distaste, there is a unique, intrinsic entertainment value at the heart of the swashbuckling tales of Captain Jack Sparrow that has kept audiences flocking to cinemas worldwide for more than a decade. And it is the complete absence of any semblance of those same distinctive attributes that renders "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" almost entirely unwatchable. The writing, which is paramount in a series so notorious for its pirate-based jargon, witty banter and compelling expositional dialogue, is inexplicably sub-par. With the exception of a couple of instances of clever word play, the vast majority of the script’s attempts at humor fall completely flat. But perhaps the most perplexing detail of all is the outright paucity of any of Jack Sparrow’s signature quips, monologues or catch phrases. The film’s central figure is written into obscurity and irrelevance, serving only to provide infrequent, albeit mediocre, comic relief from the sometimes sluggish and tawdry plot. Worth noting also is the absurdity of this particular saga, which departs harshly from the lore of more practical fables (relatively speaking) such as the "Flying Dutchman," Davy Jones’s Locker, the Fountain of Youth and the infamous Kraken and enters a new realm of myth akin to the events depicted in Marvel’s "Doctor Strange." In fairness, the misadventures of Jack Sparrow — including his many miraculous escapes from certain death — have seldom adhered to a rigorous standard of realism or plausibility. But viewers have never previously witnessed something quite this far-fetched in the fourteen years of the franchise’s existence.
The single most depressing aspect of the entire film, however, is undoubtedly the lifeless and substandard performance of Johnny Depp. After almost six years spent apart from the iconic character, it’s painfully apparent that Depp was simply unable to recapture the performance magic that turned Captain Jack Sparrow into a household name. His return to the screen as the dreadlock-clad, rum drinking, pistol wielding rapscallion feels forced and obligatory, as if Depp is simply going through the motions with basic “muscle memory” and without the inherent charm or charisma we’ve observed in the past. This problem is further amplified by the introduction of two entirely new characters into the narrative (Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner and Kaya Scodelario as Carina Smyth), whose collaboration with Depp is completely without chemistry and only further complicates a storyline already weakened by the departures of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. Geoffrey Rush returns to form as Captain Barbossa and Javier Bardem fairs well in his performance as the vengeful Captain Salazar, but these exhibitions alone are simply incapable of filling the void created by Depp’s shortcomings.
Final Take: "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" isn’t as great as I would have hoped after six years of anticipation. That being said, it is by no means the worst film of 2017. For all of its imperfections, the DNA of the original films is evident enough throughout to warrant a viewing from any true fan of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise. Depp’s performance is disappointing compared to past portrayals of the character, but Captain Jack manages to steal the show for a few shining moments nonetheless. Ultimately, it’s a perfectly entertaining film that’s worth seeing if you’re looking to go to the movies any time soon — especially over the long holiday weekend.
Recommended Format: See it in 3D, even IMAX 3D, if you can spare the extra change. It’s clear that the film was intended for exhibition in 3D, but it’s palatable in standard digital if you’d rather avoid the jump in price.
Parental Guide: "Dead Men Tell No Tales" isn’t as dark as some of the other "Pirates" films; however, it should still be researched before bringing younger children. The trailer provides a comprehensive preview of what to expect from the movie, so be sure to give it a watch and decide whether the film will be suitable for your child.