Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales redeems the series from the fourth movie, but is unable to fully recapture the magic of the original trilogy.
Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will and Elizabeth, searches for Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to help him find the Trident of Poseidon. Coincidentally, they also run into Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), the one person able to understand the map to lead them to the Trident. Meanwhile, as they seek the Trident, Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) chases them as he seeks revenge against Jack, whom he blames for his death, well more un-death.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales returns to the roots of the series. This is mostly due to the relation to Will and Elizabeth, as they were the emotional core that largely held the films together. Although their physical presence in the film is minimal, they still are rather significant. The fact that Henry is their son contributes to an overall Star Wars-like generational new chapter. However, unlike Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales reveals all their cards in this film. This movie would have been the perfect ending to the Pirates of the Caribbean series, but surprise! Unlike what the trailers suggest, the directors recently revealed that there are more movies to come.
The first half of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is in most ways just as good as the original three. Weirdly enough, most of this takes place on land. Unlike the other Pirates movies, which have intricate moving pieces that all carefully align in the end, this one’s story becomes far simpler not too far after the halfway point. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the story arc flattens. The direction of the story leading up to the final battles, yes plural, is far too obvious and simplistic, besides some minor hiccups. Yet strangely, there are at least five relevant ships, and some of their crews’ motives and fates get muddled until only two ships remain.
As mentioned, the first half of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is incredibly fun. It breathes air back into the series mostly through absurd action sequences. While the concepts of these scenes are hilarious and exciting, and they are enjoyable to watch, they are missing the elegance of the original trilogy’s action sequences. In the first three, especially in Dead Man’s Chest, the action scenes are choreographed beautifully, and the cinematography is just as nice. Even the inevitable ship battles are still great. In this movie, however, these sequences are shot and choreographed a little too chaotically. This is even worse in the ship battles, which feel endless. They all feel exactly the same, and beautifully choreographed sword fights are replaced with ghosts running around slashing people.
Visually, the movie never seems to want to focus on the correct image. It focuses unpleasantly longer on Salazar’s mouth oozing black blood, than it does on a beautiful island. Also notable, the 3D is definitely not worth it. It feels like much of it caters to 3D, but it’s uncomfortable and over-the-top.
Henry and Carina exist in the film to fill Will and Elizabeth’s shoes. Carina, played by Scodelario, is a fantastic female character, in different ways than Elizabeth, in a franchise that is male-heavy. She has the most interesting back-story, even though as it unfolds it becomes a little cheesy, and is easily the most competent character. Carina has an amazing introduction, but as the movie weakens, she becomes a little too one-note. There is nothing really special about Henry, but Thwaites’s performance makes this character still lively.
It is unfortunate that a romantic sub-plot undermines both of these characters’ growth. This is clearly present to parallel Will and Elizabeth’s story, but their attraction feels forced into the story. Their relationship could never hold a candle to that of Will and Elizabeth’s, which is thankfully wrapped up nicely. That is until the post credits scene. If you were not aware, there has been a post credits scene after every Pirates movie.
Something great about the Pirates movies is the great villains. The villains, and even the heroes, all operate in the grey, and alliances constantly shift. Captain Salazar, however, is not an interesting villain. He has no arc whatsoever, and all he wants is to break his curse and kill Captain Jack Sparrow. It becomes tedious watching him constantly chase and lose Jack, and even the “dead men tell no tales” line feels wasted. The flashback featured in the trailers, showing Salazar’s demise and Jack’s rise to Captain, feels awkwardly inserted into the narrative, used only as exposition, and the CGI of young Jack becomes uncomfortable after a little while.
Even though Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the shortest Pirates movie, almost an hour shorter than At World’s End, it feels too long. It drags out the third act and inserts far too many unnecessary action scenes, making it overly tedious. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, it is still a fun movie. It would be hard for this swashbuckling adventure, with its unforgettable music (although none of the new music stood out) and distinct characters, to not be appealing. Especially that is continues the story and feeling of the first three movies.