Is this really only the fifth entry in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise? It feels like the 50th – bloated, boring, repetitive, draining. (Let me count the ways.) Except for series newcomer Javier Bardem, who brings a dollop of fresh mischief to this paycheck party, Dead Men Tell No Tales has all the flavor of a rotting leftovers.
The story is the same rehash it was the last three times. Back in 2003, Johnny Depp delighted us and the Academy (he nabbed an Oscar nomination, remember) as Captain Jack Sparrow, slurring and staggering his way through a role he refused to play straight. In effect, he was pissing on the theme-park, family-friendly cynicism of this baldly commercial enterprise. It’s not a pretty sight, watching one of the most creative talents in contemporary cinema, reduced to repeating himself to prop up a sinking ship.
The plot unravels in fragments. In Pirates 4, Jack and his pirate nemesis Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) were duking it out to find the Fountain of Youth – ironic, given that was the script was in dire need of rejuvenation. This time, Sparrow and his archenemy want the Trident of Poseidon, a gizmo that can reverse curses. Enter Bardem as Captain Armando Salazar, a pirate whose crew members are all undead and hence in need of a curse remover. The Spanish actor’s twinkling menace shines through the ghoulish makeup and digital effects. (Irony alert, part two: Bardem’s wife, Penelope Cruz, was the only sign of life in the last Pirates film, 2011’s On Stranger Tides.)
There are otherwise no vital signs discernible in Dead Men Tell No Tales. Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, the Norwegian filmmakers Oscar nominated for 2013’s exciting Kon Tiki, seem to have forgotten everything they learned about staging high-seas adventure.They keep throwing everything they can think of at the screen, including a pirate cameo from Paul McCartney to bookend the Keith Richards bit as Jack’s daddy in 2007’s At World’s End. Couple the chaotic action with an incoherent script by Jeff Nathanson, and even the best actors go under.
Will this be the last Pirates epic? We fear not. Young re-enforcements are already on the scene. Brenton Thwaites plays Henry Turner, son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner from the first film; subbing in for Keira Knightley’s Elizabeth Swann is Kaya Scodelario as a headstrong, feminist astronomer so perfect for Henry they could have met on Match.com. Abandon ship, audiences. Paying cash money to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the equivalent of walking the plank.