Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. We open on a flashback to a child who’s around nine. Not yet a teenager, this poor kid is already being thrust into some sort of adult situation. Most likely, pirates are to blame. Flash forward to present day where we meet an ensemble cast of sailors and noblemen. Twenty minutes in, Jack Sparrow finally arrives on screen in some clever, undignified manner. A chase scene ensues between Jack and the British authorities. In the nick of time, Jack escapes by means of luck, coincidence, improvisation and the assistance of someone who needs his help. Back on the ship, we learn the reason for all this madness: there is a supernatural item with the power to free someone of a curse, and everyone is racing to get there first. If this sounds familiar to you, then you probably shouldn’t see the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
The franchise began in 2003 with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a charming film with clever plot twists, original characters and thrilling action. The movie was a smash hit and Disney followed it up with two sequels, both of which I greatly enjoyed. A fourth chapter was added in 2011, which was poorly received by critics and fans (although I was rather fond of it).Now, they have rebooted the series once again with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.
No series can go on forever without turning stale, and the predictable moments of this film can be forgiven on the basis that these pirates have all but exhausted their potential. Nevertheless, this movie would have bored me even if I hadn’t seen its predecessors, because the plot points and the dialogue are not just familiar to this franchise, but they are familiar to all of modern cinema. Every action/adventure sequel-to-a-sequel has used these tropes before: old characters reunite, someone is someone else’s father, a central character sacrifices himself, yada yada yada… In a nutshell, it’s a summer blockbuster.
The performances vary. Javier Bardem is satisfactory as the film’s antagonist, although, as per usual, he did not blow me away. Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario underwhelmed me as the new additions to the cast and Orlando Bloom plays the cursed Will Turner without much flavor, but I’ve come to expect that from him. And poor, old Johnny Depp has clearly grown tired of playing Jack Sparrow. In the first Pirates movie, he was alive and vibrant, but today, nearly fifteen years later, his heart is no longer in it. Who can blame him? Sparrow walks through this film like he is reluctantly retracing his own footsteps. Thankfully, the veteran pirates of this franchise never fail to deliver. Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally and all the other members of Jack’s crew delight and entertain us with their vigor and excitement. Additionally, Sir Paul McCartney makes a cameo as Jack’s uncle, which I guess confirms a new tradition that Jack’s family will all be played by aging rock royalty (Keith Richards played his father in the third installment). I can’t wait to see Joni Mitchell play his mom in the next one.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a flawed film, but an exciting one and, if nothing else, you will at least enjoy the visuals. Despite its problems, the film will probably garner enough money for a follow-up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the next one is even a little better. Pirates has proven itself to be a resilient franchise capable of a lot of creativity. So, if Disney assembles the right team, I could certainly envision the series making a comeback. I’ve got four words for you: Bring back Ted Elliott.