With the likes of Marvel Studios and Star Wars making huge profits, many thought that interest in another Pirates of the Caribbean film had waned. Yet Disney has seen it fit to release a fifth entry in its once-popular franchise, hoping that the series still resonates with audiences. Even if that is the case, it’s hard to see anybody warming to Dead Men Tell No Tales.
Much like his pirate father Will, youngster Henry Turner (Brendan Thwaites) loves journeying the high seas, even if it is as a lowly-ranked officer in the British Navy. On one of these journeys, a warship is pursuing a pirate vessel into a rocky outpost known as Devil’s Triangle. Henry, being familiar with the myths and legends of the sea, tries to warn his superiors that the area is cursed, but to no avail. Instead he is accused of treason, and placed in a prison cell below deck.
Henry’s hunch about the curse turns out to be correct, as soon after the Navy’s ship is boarded and its crew slaughtered by a group of ghostly corpses, led by a Spanish captain named Salazar (Javier Bardem). Luckily, Henry’s life is spared by Salazar, but only so he can deliver a message to the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who humiliated the Spaniard years earlier. Ever since that day, a curse has been placed upon Salazar and his crew, one which leaves them trapped inside Devil’s Triangle.
Meanwhile, on drier land, Captain Jack and his cohort are in the process of robbing a newly-constructed bank. While making a getaway with the loot, Jack encounters a young lass named Carina (Kaya Scodelario), an amateur astrologist. She is seeking the Trident of Poseidon, an ancient relic which, it is claimed, has the ability to break curses bestowed upon pirates, and which is also being sought after by Salazar, who is about to break free from his curse.
Apart from the highly enjoyable first instalment, the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has always been the cinematic embodiment of mediocrity, neither being good enough to incite interest nor bad enough to earn hatred, and things are no different with Dead Man Tell No Tales. In fact, the film doesn’t seem any different to the entries that came before it – whereas other films would insert idiosyncrasies to set themselves apart, as the Marvel movies do, Dead Men Tell No Tales possesses no individuality whatsoever.
Not that this is entirely a bad thing, as many of the positive attributes of the previous movies have carried over into this one. The cinematography and stunt work are immaculate as always, the swordplay is entertaining enough, and the set pieces look spectacular. Additionally, Geoffrey Rush has made a return as Jack’s adversary-turned-ally Hector Barbossa, again appearing to take great pleasure in his performance.
It’s a pity the same cannot be said of the other actors. Depp partakes in his usual schtick but his heart doesn’t appear to be in it – there’s a lack of motivation present in this turn. Academy Award-winner Javier Bardem is hardly even trying as Salazar, appearing to be an obstacle rather than a threat to the protagonists. Not to be outdone, the movie wastes a talented performer in David Wenham, whose antagonistic character Lieutenant Scarfield is discarded ungraciously in the third act.
Sadly, the criticisms don’t end there. Much of the humour falls flat, and the jokes that do land aren’t all that funny anyway; the computer-generated effects are only a minor improvement over the original Pirates; the soundtrack, now composed by Geoff Zanelli, is nowhere near as rousing as it should be; and Paul McCartney appears in the most pointless cameo since Keith Richards in On Stranger Tides.
If the post-credits scene of Dead Men Tell No Tales is to be believed, this won’t be the last film in the Pirates of the Caribbean saga, but it really should be. Save for some welcome thrills, this picture is dull and uninspired, factors unforgivable in what was once a promising franchise.