The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise returns with the fifth film, Dead Men Tell No Tales. The series has continuously seen a drop in quality from one film to the next leading into the awful On Stranger Tides. One of the big aspects that got people more excited about Dead Men Tell No Tales was the touted return of Orlando Bloom as Will Turner.
In truth he barely appears in the film, only in the very opening and ending of the film. Instead the majority of the focus is on his son Henry Turner, played by Gods of Egypt actor Brenton Thwaites. The young Turner is on a quest to find the Trident of Poseidon in an attempt to free his father from the curse of having to captain the Flying Dutchman. He joins with Jack Sparrow, who is stuck on land and has hit rock bottom, and a young astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario). To complicate matters Jack is now being pursued by the ghost Captain Salazar, a former pirate hunter for the Spanish Navy, who harbours a grudge again Jack. The film also throws Captain Barbossa back into the mix.
Really this film encapsulates all the worst aspects of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Thwaites’ Henry Turner is such a bland and completely uninteresting lead for the film. He makes Bloom’s Will look one of the most charismatic presences in film history. Whilst Scodelario actually manages to offer a likeable presence in the film, the big disappointment is how far Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow has fallen.
There are virtually no points in the film where he feels connected or important to the plot of the film. Worse than that his character feels so far removed from the intelligent and resourceful pirate that the franchise has establish, instead actually living up to the hapless image that he’s often presented a front to disarm people. There is one brief moment when Jack first appears that generates a sense of excitement, but after that he is just an irritating shadow of his former self, that never really gains any redemption from the pit of despair that he’s in. In fact the only time he truly comes across as likeable in Dead Men Tell No Tales is a brief flashback to a younger version of the character played by Anthony De La Torre.
On top of that the story here is even less interesting On Stranger Tides. Around half the film takes place stuck in a city. It’s takes so long to get to the real swashbuckling adventure, and even when that does come it feels dull. The story feels as jumbled and confused as At World’s End, and yet without the ridiculous enjoyability that it came with. Maybe it’s because we’ve seen three previous undead ship crews (and Salazar’s feel as though they have no real motivation for their actions), Barbossa’s constantly switching allegiances, and a quest for a mystical object several times before, but it feels so tired and unoriginal now.
The other big failing is humour. Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s script for the original film, The Curse of the Black Pearl, is so sharp and funny, but there is none of that here. Jeff Nathanson’s script only offers one or two small chuckles, and instead just falls into innuendo. The action sequences from directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg prioritise some admittedly impressive special effects over well-constructed and entertaining action. There are moments like an entire building being pulled through city streets, which just feels cartoonish.
Given how great the first Pirates of the Caribbean film was it’s sad to see the franchise end up here. Bar some great effects and one or two performances there is nothing to really redeem this outing. Even Johnny Depp can’t seem to make his usual schtick likeable any more. There is an end credit sequence that hints at a possible sixth film in the franchise, but given how low they sunk with Dead Men Tell No Tales it’s probably best they leave it at the bottom of the ocean to rot.