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Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

The Pirates of the Caribbean series is one of the highest grossing movie franchises ever to come to the big screen. With four movies grossing over $3.7 billion from 2003 to 2011, it was only a matter of time until the fifth installment of the swashbuckling action movie got the green light. Dead Men Tell No Tales may share the name of the franchise, but differs in the puerile tone of the previous three installments, instead drawing inspiration from the original flick. It is still what you would expect a Pirates of the Caribbean film to be: funny and enjoyable at times, but suffers from pacing and narrative issues that leaves the audience wanting more.


Like the previous entries in the franchise, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is in a pickle. He may not be trapped in Davy Jones locker, but he is being hunted by the Spanish ghost Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) in revenge for the first ship he sunk as a pirate due to his own cluelessness of losing the mysterious compass that doesn't point North. Along the way, Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites) enlists Sparrow to lead him to the Trident of Poseidon to free his father William Turner (Orlando Bloom, making a return to the franchise after opting out of the last installment, On Stranger Tides). Lead by altruistic astronomer Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, of UK's Skins fame), they embark on an exciting adventure for the Trident before Salazar or the Royal British Navy use it to rid piracy of the ocean.


The narrative is fairly simple in nature. Salazar seeks revenge for the deaths of himself and his crew, and Henry Turner desires to break his father’s curse. Little else thematically is offered, but that's no surprise given the history of the franchise. It is full of humor, leaning heavily on wordplay and slapstick. Depp is the conduit for most jokes, fully showcasing his A-list talent, but newcomer Scodelario’s Carina delivers just as many laughs. Her elitist attitude towards intelligence provides hilarious wordplay sequences. Thwaites’ Henry Turner resembles Bloom’s character from the original movie, delivering an inherited performance as the naïve and good-natured young man. Fan favorite Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) makes his appearance as the reformed pirate as he is a mercenary for various governments.


The standout performer here is Javier Bardem portraying Armando Salazar, a malicious and maniacal Spanish Captain. Bardem has made something of a career out of villainy, from his Oscar-winning role in No Country for Old Men to his creeptastic turn as Raoul Silva in the James Bond film Skyfall. His presence is ferocious and often savage, depicting a genuinely cutthroat pirate hunter. This serious tone Salavar offers resembles the first movie as a semi-horror, rather than the most digestible action-comedy of the last three installments. This back to basics approach is refreshing for the storied franchise, especially one that depicts it as more silly than serious.


Bardem and Depp are well used throughout the picture, as no attention to detail was spared for its visual production. From the grimy and dingy Devil’s Triangle to the vibrant and animated city of Saint Martin, Pirates is one of the most technically impressive movies to release this summer. The original score by the brilliant Hans Zimmer is always a high point for the franchise. Here, the set pieces are jaw dropping, the costume design consistently period-specific, and the CGI is smooth and, thankfully, not overused given the surreality of some of the scenes. (One plot point includes ghost sharks — need I say more?) 


Unfortunately, this is where the praise ends for the movie. The narrative of an adventure-laden revenge tale is simply not satisfying. The story structure is basic, and motifs are nonexistent. It is full of humorous scenes, but the rest feels like a drag through the 129 minute run time. Those scenes are the highlights of the film, but the rest feel cliched or plain boring. The Pirates films have never been narrative masterpieces, but this iteration falls flat despite offering some of the most shining moments in the series. Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg capture the spooky feeling of the first movie when Bardem is onscreen (frankly, consistently the best moments of the film), but these scenes cause the rest of the movie to pale in comparison. The conclusion left me wanting a better supposed finale for the franchise. (Or is it if it rakes in enough money?)


Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is another iteration in the franchise, with some tonal shifts and technical tweaks here and there, but it retains the core elements of the franchise that we've come to know and love over the last 15 years. It follows the same zany Jack Sparrow outrunning the clutches of death while spitting out some solidly hilarious quips. That is essentially the movie. If Pirates flicks are your guilty pleasure movies (as they are one of mine), this is worth the money. If you are thinking about seeing this as a standalone experience, you may want to save your doubloons.

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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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