Reel Talk

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Is Somehow the Worst Yet

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Hey, do you remember when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out almost fifteen years ago? It was a pretty great time, right? Everyone made fun of it, laughing about how ridiculous it was that Hollywood was so creatively bankrupt that they had to adapt a theme park ride for a movie. And then it came out, and was one of the most fun movies of the year. Oh, and they nominated Johnny Depp for a goddamn Academy Award for his weird Keith Richards impression? Yeah, that all a happened, and then Pirates of the Caribbean became one of the biggest things to happen in culture. So, of course, they needed to start making sequels. And things got dire. The first film was a surprisingly good time, and had a pretty compact and easy to understand mythology. They then crammed about four films worth of plot, backstory, mythology, and nonsense into the next two sequels, to vastly diminishing returns. The simple joys of he first film became bloated and awkward in the next two films. They then apparently made a fourth film with Blackbeard in it. I barely head about that one, and certainly didn’t check it out. But now a fifth movie has lumbered out to the public, and because I have some sort of mental condition where I have to subjugate myself to cinematic trash, I of course went to see it. And folks? Things are rough.

The film follows a new primary protagonist, since Will and Elizabeth left the franchise after the third film. This time we get to deal with their bland son Henry, who is obsessed with finding a cure to his father’s curse to captain the Flying Dutchman. And the only way to do so is to find an artifact known as the Trident of Poseidon, and to do so he’ll have to get help from Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately there’s a lot of stuff going on in this movie that’s going to make things difficult. There’s a woman named Carina who is obsessed with finding the Trident as well, and believes that astronomy hold the answer, and there’s a crew of ghostly Spaniards led by a man named Armando Salazar who wants to get vengeance on Sparrow. Luckily most everyone runs into each other in Saint Martin where Jack Sparrow is trying to rob a bank with his crew of losers. Henry, Carina, and Jack all meet and decide to work together to find he Trident, since it will solve all of their problems. So after a shockingly inept escape from a duel-assassination the three board a terrible little boat and set sail for a secret island hidden in the sea that will show them the location of the Trident.

But while our protagonists are busy sailing out to the middle of nowhere we see that Salazar is making headway too. Before a young Jack Sparrow caused his downfall and caused him and his crew to become undead spirits Salazar was a renowned killer of pirates, and now that he’s free and on the track of Jack Sparrow he’s going back to old habits. Salazar is causing a whole lot of destruction, and ends up coming across their old friend Captain Barbossa, who has now become the most powerful pirate in the world. Salazar threatens to kill Barbossa and his fleet, but Barbossa convinces Salazar he can find Jack Sparrow. So they chase after Sparrow, Henry, and Carina and end up finding them on an island. Not the one that they need to get to, some other island. And because Salazar and his men are cursed to never walk on land, Barbossa is sent in where he swiftly betrays Salazar. So now Barbossa is on their side, and together they revive the Black Pearl, Jack’s ship, and are able to race off to their destination, escaping Salazar. And as they make their way to the island they find that Carina is Barbossa’s daughter. This doesn’t really affect much. But they eventually find their way to the secret island, and after solving a puzzle are dropped down to the bottom of the ocean where Poseidon’s Trident is hidden. However, Salazar was apparently able to possess people at whim, and does so to Henry so that he can walk on land and get the Trident. Salazar then begins tormenting Sparrow until Henry is able to shatter the Trident, negating all curses in the sea. Salazar and his men then become normal and everyone has to flee back to the Black Pearl. Barbossa ends up sacrificing himself to kill Salazar, and everyone else heads back to meet up with Will and Elizabeth, now that Will isn’t cursed anymore.

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I’m really not sure who this movie was really meant for. Are there still people who have any passion for the franchise? It’s been years since I’ve seen the first Pirates of the Caribbean but I remember it being a highly enjoyable film. I personally am not a fan of the two sequels from the original trilogy, but I suppose I could understand people who still have affection for them and enjoy the franchise. But everything I’ve heard about the fourth film has been shockingly negative, and since it came out six years ago I had kind of assumed that the franchise was officially dead. But then Johnny Depp got divorced after being exposed as a horrible human being, and I guess he was hard up for some cash, so we have a new film. And I really am at a loss to why it exists. You end up having a lot of questions when you watch this film. How are they still making these? How do they keep getting worse? Wait, was that Paul McCartney? Isn’t it gross seeing Johnny Depp be lecherous now that we know he’s a domestic abuser? How much of a bummer must it have been to be Javier Bardem in this movie? How did they find someone with less charisma than Orlando Bloom? Wait, why was Paul McCartney in this movie? Surely this has to be the last one? Because this movie is a bit of a mess. It’s coasting on a whole lot of good will from the previous movies. Barbossa is always a fun character, and it’s nice to see Geoffrey Rush, but that’s kind of it. Brenton Thwaites puts in a shockingly dull performance as Henry, a character who just gets dragged along complaining about everything. Kaya Scodelario is pretty fine as Carina, even though basically everything about her character revolves around people being shocked that she’s a woman who can speak in full sentences. I always enjoy Javier Bardem, but I imagine he must have spent the whole movie on a greenscreen, being evil without any real motivation or characterization. And then there’s Johnny Depp. Listen, Captain Jack Sparrow was a fun character in the first film, when he was a supporting character. But then they made the character more and more prominent and the charm quickly faded. His performance became more and more of a caricature, and by the time this movie comes around it’s just pastiche. There’s no more good will with this film. There’s no more interest. It’s just a slog, and I really have to hope that it’ll be the last one unleashed on us.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales was written by Jeff Nathanson, directed by Espen Sandberg and Joachim Ronning, and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2017.

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