What can be said about Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales that hasn’t already been said about the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies before it?
There are cursed seamen, a quest to end said curse, and a whole lot of swashbuckling goofballery. In essence, Dead Men is a basic replica of its predecessors—and as is the case with frequent copying, there is significant generation loss.
In the fifth installment of the blockbuster movie franchise based on a theme park ride, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), sets out to break the curse placed on his father in the third movie, At World’s End. Despite his dad’s warnings, Henry seeks out Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) so they can team up and find the Trident of Poseidon, a magical weapon that grants power over the seas and can put an end to the elder Turner’s curse.
As absurdly good luck would have it, Henry’s journey runs him right into another person looking for the Trident, a female horologist by the name of Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), who happens to be the only person who can read the map revealing the mythical weapon’s location. As bad luck would have it, Henry finds Jack at the precise time a villainous gang of ghouls escapes the Bermuda Triangle with the express purpose of murdering Jack.
Henry and Carina become stand-ins for Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), serving less as fleshed-out characters and more as generic means for Jack to bumble into mystical shenanigans. The filmmakers do attempt a first-act feminist subplot to give Carina some depth, but it’s ultimately abandoned in favor of perhaps the most literal display of patriarchy in movie history. Henry remains a nonentity throughout.
What follows is so par for the course that even Jack Sparrow seems bored by the experience. Ghosts are trying to get me again? Whatever. Pass the rum. Once upon a time his adventures were novel, his attitude devil-may-care. Now it just seems apathetic. As Jack stumbles drunkenly from one overdone plot point to the next, he becomes kind of intolerable, and the movie with him.
Of course, not all sequels are bad, not all remakes are soulless, not all franchises are cash grabs—but Dead Men Tell No Tales is all three. There is nothing new here. And given the amount of money the Pirates movies continue to rake in, why would there be? The fourth entry made over $1 billion worldwide. People of all stripes complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality ad nauseam, but in some ways we’re as complicit as they are in the rising tide of mediocrity.
That said, you have to wonder how long Disney will keep this up. Jack Sparrow is still the lynchpin in the franchise’s success, and surely Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of Jack’s Swollen Prostate will not have the same turnout as its youthful predecessors.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Directors: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Orlando Bloom
Theater: now playing, area theaters
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