New ‘Pirates’ goes through familiar motions

by Tim English on May 26, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Minor Rock Fist Up]

The fourth sequel to 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean finds everyone’s favorite lovable drunk pirate, Jack Sparrow teaming up with a young Turner and a stubborn strong-willed woman to battle cursed pirates out for revenge while outrunning the British Navy. Sound familiar? Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales goes back to what everyone loved about that first movie. It doesn’t do it as well, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the last movie.

Dead Men Tell No Tales tells the tale of young Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom)  and Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) — suggesting this film takes place some 18 years after the third movie (I guess?) — Henry wants to find the Lost Trident of Poseidon, a treasure deemed impossible to find, in order to break his father’s curse and free him from the Flying Dutchman. Of course, the only one who can help him is Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), but he, as per usual, is the target of a bunch of cursed pirate ghosts, led by Captain Salazar, a CGi-enhanced Javier Bardem.

There’s a lot going on here. At times, it gets confusing. It’s hard to tell who is really on whose side most of the time. And I don’t think that’s just a clever story telling trick to keep you guessing either. There are moments where you think the filmmakers just might have been making some of this shit up as they were filming. Characters flip flop, change sides, betray each other, show up, and disappear randomly like they are in some bizarre improv game and have to switch places at the sound of bell we don’t hear.

Javier Bardem seems like a genius stroke of casting, and while his slurred speech makes hit hard to understand his dialogue at times (I’m sure it didn’t matter what he was saying, but still…) and his ghost-enchanced effects become a little irritating after a while, the dude is clearly having fun about his performance. He seems to get how silly all of this is. But as for the curse he is burdened with, I couldn’t explain it to you if I had the script. There’s even a flashback late in the movie (featuring a creepy, young Jack Sparrow) that is meant to explain the curse and why Salazar hates Jack so much, but it does everything but explain the curse.

At least in the other movies, there was some explanation, no matter now ridiculous.

Which brings us to Jack Sparrow and Johnny Depp, no doubt the only reason Disney keeps green-lighting these, other than the fact they continue to make billions of dollars I guess. This time, thankfully, Jack is pushed to the side a bit for the newbies, which is really where his character belongs. Part of the charm of the first film, and one reason why Depp earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, was because he wasn’t the main character. The last three flicks have pushed him as the lead and while he does play more of a supporting role in Dead Men Tell No Tales, his schtick feels a little worn. Sparrow was at his best when he was playing the fool, all the while he was outsmarting everyone. Now, he just seems like the drunk uncle in the background.

So, while Jack plays second fiddle, unfortunately, the new characters suck. There is zero chemistry between Henry Turner and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a self taught astronomer (deemed a witch by everyone cuz she’s so darned smart), who just happens to be the only one who can read the map leading to the Trident. Her character leads to some of the more fun, even if forced, surprises. But the movie comes to a grinding halt every time the it slows down to allow them to awkwardly fumble through scenes together, defying the forces of nature in order to feign romantic sparks between them.

There are plenty of returning faces, which is a blessing and a curse. Geoffrey Rush returns as Captain Barbossa, Kevin McNally as Gibbs, Martin Klebba as Marty. It’s nice to see everyone, but begs the question as to whether or not these are the only goddamn pirates sailing the seas. Bloom and Knightley are back as well, in very brief cameos. At least Bloom manages to say a few things. But it becomes glaringly obvious what a small world this really is.

New directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg do their best trying to steer this ship down memory lane. There are some great action sequences, even if at times there is so much happening on screen it’s hard to tell exactly what the hell is going on. An early sequence with our beloved pirates robbing a bank represents everything that is awesome about the franchise, but too often the story gets bogged down by all computer generated ghosts, and zombie sharks (hey, they’re still freaking cool).

Despite the faults of the movie, I still had fun watching it. It’s predictable, yep. And the good parts of this movie are shadows of the best parts from the other movies, especially Curse of the Black Pearl. Jack Sparrow may seem more like a drunken idiot than the cunning pirate he seemed to be 14 years ago, but dammit if I didn’t get a little giddy when Salazar mumbles “Dead Men Tell No Tales” or that theme kicks in while Jack is lucking his way out of another death defying situation. And dammit, it’s still way better than hell, any of the last three movies, really, even if it’s not nearly as fresh, funny, and exciting as the original.

Be sure to stick around for the after credits scene, which surely can’t be setting up what it seems to be suggesting, especially when you consider what it probably took to get a certain couple of cast members back for cameos. But c’mon mate, even though this trailer boasts something about “the final adventure beginning” or some shit, you don’t really think Jack is ready to sail off into the sunset, did you? And I’ll be there. Ready to roll my eyes and play along. It’s a Pirates life for me. Savvy?

Writer. Ad Man. Jedi. Sometimes people ask for my opinion on movies. Sometimes they agree. Member of the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Creator and voice of the Reel Hooligans podcast. Find us on iTunes. Board member for the Independent Filmmakers Coalition of Kansas City and founder of the Terror on the Plains Horror Festival.

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