Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, 129 min, PG-13
Directed by: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Orlando Bloom
We are now five features deep into the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN cinematic universe, and we can only point to one film in this franchise critics haven’t told to walk the plank. (The first one.) World-wide audiences, however, keep lapping it up. In the fifth film, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, Norwegian auteurs Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg lend their awe-inducing, electric vision to the series, infusing their film with a gorgeous vibrancy lacking in the previous three PIRATES sequels. Though the crackling energy peters out by film’s end, it’s a perfectly fine, entertaining enough adventure back into the treacherous and fantastical waters. It’s also best experienced on the big screen to grasp all the visually spectacular grandeur.
Every main character has a macguffin, so try to keep up. Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, in his most charismatic role yet) has been studying myths of the sea all his life hoping to resurrect his cursed father, Will (Orlando Bloom). Henry’s a crafty felon, just as nimble and resilient as rumored-to-be-dead Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the man he seeks to aid his quest for Poseidon’s trident. The legend is that once the trident is broken, Will’s curse will be too. And not just one curse will be reversed – all curses cast at sea (Hint: keep that rule in mind when you stay for the end credits tag). Joining them is headstrong astrologist/ horologist Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoldelario), whose map “no man can read” will be the guide to the treasure. It’s just too bad that Sparrow has beef with many enemies – including rage-spewing wheezy baritone Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem, whose turn as the villain is worth the admission price and your time), who’s after a magical compass in Sparrow’s possession; Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who’s seeking to retain control of the oceans; and an entire British armada, who perpetually seek to stop Jack Sparrow.
The spectacle of the outstanding practical and CG effects takes center stage for a large portion of this chapter. Most remarkable is the wildly fun and innovative guillotine sequence, which involves Depp channeling his inner Buster Keaton. The bank vault heist is unabashedly lifted from FAST 5, but there’s at least a narrative drive to the action – and it feels like there are actual stakes since it’s done with practical effects rather than CG. Though the de-aging technique doesn’t work as effortlessly in the “young Jack Sparrow” segment, the visual effects are largely stunning, giving an otherworldly quality to the peril at sea. The ocean battles during Salazar’s flashbacks have gravitas – as do the tactile aesthetics of his crumbling, ashy crew.
Perhaps what I value most is the feminist streak screenwriter Jeff Nathanson (working from a story also by Terry Rossio) infuses into the character of Carina. She’s more than the stereotypical, studio-mandated “strong female character.” She’s a quick-thinking badass, branded smarter than men in a time not conducive to feminism. Replete with a fully fleshed out arc (though not a perfect one as “daddy issues” pervade), she’s brave, intelligent and would stand up to any intimidating force. Well, almost anything. It’s a little goofy that she would turn tail at the sight of “G-G-G-GHOSTS!” She’s proven herself to be unintimidated by anything thrown her way – yet this is what sets her off.
All this said, there are many draggy bits. There are almost too many big action set pieces, leading to fatigue by the time the climax rolls around. That’s something in line with other films in that series, but I want to say to the filmmakers, “Pick three and make them great.” There’s little tension during many of these segments about whether Jack will escape his deadly predicament du jour. Through some sort of bufoonery, he always does. That’s why he’s so beloved. Nevertheless, playing it constantly as broad comedy also becomes tiresome. A minor stickle but it also fails to follow the comedy rule of threes. I kept waiting for a third “you call that a ship,” dig to befall Jack’s tiny “Dying Gull,” whereas the double entendres about male and female body parts fly fast and loose. And while there are all-ages laughs aplenty, these adult-leaning jokes may lead to boredom by kids who won’t understand the humor.
Essentially, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES happens to be the best PIRATES sequel the franchise has had so far, but then again, a low bar has been set.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES opens on May 26.