Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On May 22, 2017
Last modified:May 22, 2017


Dead men may tell no tales, but with Disney's latest Pirates sequel, I'm not convinced that living men can tell tales with any more intrigue.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the four-quel you’d expect from the guys who brought you Bandidas. Yes, *that* BandidasJoachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg bulk up running times, homogenize visuals and whirl a typhoon of fan-servicing, all in the name of Disney swashbuckling. “Familiar” doesn’t begin to describe Sparrow’s latest quest, as there’s something so amiss this time around. Maybe it’s Javier Bardem inaudibly mumbling the film’s title right before a title card flashes (*groan*). Maybe it’s the numerous tits ‘n balls references within introductory minutes (BECAUSE CANNON BALLS ARE LIKE…). No matter why, it’s a sinking ship with only brief moments of smooth sailing – two hours worth, nonetheless.

Brenton Thwaites stars as the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, young Henry Turner. He meets up with an intelligent girl who’s mistaken for a witch, Miss Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). After some legendary pirate stuff goes down, they find themselves teaming up with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in search for Poseidon’s trident. This way they can defeat undead Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) before he overtakes the seas completely – a mutual interest that’s shared with Captain Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Sounds like quite the tale, correct? Now add in British pursuers, zombie sharks and an actual witch. The tides of comprehension be dark and murky, yar.

While the other Pirates movies offered more than Depp’s drunken gallivanting, Dead Men Tell No Tales exists as a Jack Sparrow vessel. Thwaites doesn’t display the charisma of an Orlando Bloom, Scodelario is forced to roll her eyes at dimwitted men, Bardem’s ghost crew are fairly uninspired villains – this is Depp’s show. Eye-liner, rum-swilling, incoherent grumbles and all. For the fifth time in a series of aquatic adventures that are becoming more redundant and less uncharted. From the moment a bank vault opens and Sparrow stumbles out – a parliamentarian’s wife next to him – it’s business as usual for Disney’s wayward voyager. Unfortunately, Rønning and Sandberg struggle to make it anything more.

This is a franchise built on sword-fights, curses and piracy. Fantasy elements run deep, and action tips a hat to choreographed steel-clanging. So, uh, where was all the excitement in Dead Men Tell No Tales? Plenty of ships sink due to cannonball barrages, but Thwaites shows very little swordplay skills as Turner’s kin.

Instead, there’s lots of running and swimming away from danger. Depp avoids defeat through dumb-luck circumstance (while drunk, of course), Turner paddles away from undead sharks, everyone avoids British warships – the list goes on. Just when a hand-to-hand quarrel should break out, characters flee or cameras cut to an impromptu wedding. We also get cheap anecdotes like Paul McCartney playing Sparrow’s uncle for nothing more than a passing gag. Characters never seem to be fighting for their lives – only the next lame punchline.

It’s these kind of unfulfilled arcs and jerky plot mechanics that plague Dead Men Tell No Tales, from main characters to wasted potential. What’s the point of having David Wenham’s Scarfield chase two escapees, then – after finally catching up to Smyth and Turner – be killed instantly by Slazar’s monster ship? Sparrow clutches onto the past with a vice-like grip, so why would he trade his franchise-famous compass for one single bottle of rum?

Or, bigger question: the only thing keeping Slazar trapped in the Devil’s Triangle is Jack’s ownership of the compass. But doesn’t Sparrow barter for the compass in Dead Man’s Chest (“Yes Matt, with Tia Dalma!”)? So, I ask – what the hell was Salazar doing then?! The compass was lost somewhere between obnoxious mini-Sparrow duping the Spanish shipman (Sparrow’s first act as Captain) and Dead Men Tell No Tales – how does this curse make sense? I’m falling down a dangerous X-Men franchise rabbit hole except with pirates and krakens, here.

Setting my feet on solid ground again, it’s worth mentioning that a few scenes do build grand scenic shots. As Smyth leads her rag-tag companions to the location of Poseidon’s trident (drink every time the word “trident” is uttered), she happens upon an island that reflects the heavens. Rocks glisten with constellations, and then a piece of ruby crystal (attached to Galileo’s diary) parts the sea to reveal this emerald, three-pronged weapon (don’t ask). Sparrow, Smyth and Turner walk over coral landscapes while water walls permit their entry. These moments hearken back to the more adventurous nature of Disney’s pirate franchise, but the problem is they’re so contained. Like, everything I just described wraps up in minutes. Then a scene will follow – like the finale of Dead Men Tell No Tales – and Thwaites looks like there’s someone screaming “LINE!” off-screen until he remembers scripted dialogue. It’s some Kristen-Stewart-in-Twilight level flatness.

Jonny Depp vs. Javier Bardem. That’s what’s happening here. Most other details and personalities are forgettable (or too confusing to care about), while two sea captains garble their voices until recognition is impossible. “Thparrow!” Salazar barks while black goo drips from his lips. *low mumble about rum and something else* Sparrow retorts. One prances. The other stamps his foot. Barbossa? Wasted and given an unprompted late-film event. Turner? He’s just there to lure Will Turner back. Smyth? Sweet scallywags, give her something more to do than force anti-gender puns! Nope. Just waterlogged villains and a Sparrow in flight.

Oh, and animated skeleton sharks. Because, you know. skeleton sharks.

Disney’s latest is no pleasure cruise. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a two-hour movie that feels doubly long, teasing this treasure that’s nowhere to be found. All the greatest franchise hits are played: Sparrow’s Black Pearl, Sparrow’s alcoholism, Sparrow’s fetching comments about whorishness. Only this time you’ll feel like you’re drowning under exposition, and unnecessary side-plots that tangle like a knotted fish net. Too long, too slight and too full of blubber. Here’s hoping that the next inevitable sequel gets back to the more colorful, characterized action of the previous films.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Dead men may tell no tales, but with Disney's latest Pirates sequel, I'm not convinced that living men can tell tales with any more intrigue.