The weakest of all Disney franchises -at least creatively-, the Pirates of the Caribbean saga is better known for being a bloated mess than delivering any narrative satisfaction. Once Pirates’ saving grace, Johnny Depp’s perennially sauced Captain Jack Sparrow has become a handful of annoying tics. The actor’s image problems of late are not making the character any favors.
Yet, of all the franchise’s wobbly wheels, none is more problematic than Terry Rossio. A writer in every Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Rossio’s penchant for byzantine plots and arbitrary character development has made the films a challenge to watch (Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa has been good, bad or dead for no other reason than to patch a leaky script).
Here are the good news: Rookie directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg (the duo behind Academy Award nominee Kon-Tiki) nearly save Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales from marooning in convoluted storylines. The film in the end comes up short, but at least the visual spectacle is there.
For what I gathered watching the movie, the plot goes like this: Early on in his career as outlaw, Jack Sparrow lead fanatic anti-piracy zealot Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, actively chewing the scenery) and his men to the Devil’s Triangle, where they were turned into ghosts. Understandably, Salazar wants to get back at Sparrow, but is imprisoned in the area by a curse. It’s always a curse.
In classic Pirates fashion, Salazar’s thirst for vengeance intersects with other characters’ agendas: Henry Turner (the son of Orlando Bloom’s character) wants Poseidon’s Trident to free his father from the curse that has him living under the sea. A comely young woman accused of witchcraft may know where to find it, but first must avoid the authorities (she is not a wiccan, she is just smart. Girl Power!). Lastly, Sparrow himself wants the trident to gets his mojo back or something of that order.
The film takes nearly half its length establishing characters and alliances. Sparrow takes the back seat to Henry Turner and the presumed witch, which is just fine: Too much Jack is unpalatable. The Norwegian directors come up with rather original action sequences (Sparrow and the guillotine is a showstopper) and execute them fluidly. Not only that, Rønning and Sandberg cut a lot of the fat of previous entries, thus making Dead Men Tell No Tales is the leanest chapter in the saga at two hours ten.
Sadly, the main course is underwhelming. The ridiculous contrivances the heroes must solve in pursuit of the trident are more exasperating than fun. A medium size plot twist is shoehorned artlessly hoping to inject some emotion to the proceedings. The result, however, underlines the mainstay characters’ maddening inconsistency. Sparrow, who at times can be the Columbo of the Seven Seas, is particularly inept this round. He just stumbles in and out of the action and may not affect the story at all (I would confirm it, but I can’t bring myself to watch this movie again).
Like is now tradition in tent-pole films, there is a post-credit scene hinting at a sixth feature. There are only so many directions the franchise can go, and it has already used every PG pirate storyline at least twice. Seriously, how many supernatural rogue ships could possibly roam the Caribbean Sea? 2/5 prairie dogs.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is playing everywhere.