“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” Review

(Warning: Spoilers) Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a movie that I saw. I wasn’t expecting much. I think most people agree the first movie is quite fun. Unexpected, at least. They go downhill from there. The third one is such a mess I think everyone on Earth was surprised they made another.

And now this. The fact that the movie premiere was in Shanghai tells you where Disney expects to make their money. US audiences clearly don’t care much about this franchise any more, but they still make money in China, so we’ve got this movie.

Here’ the trailer. After this, there be spoilers.

It is not the worst movie I’ve seen, nor is it the worst movie in the last few years. It is, however… boring. The big opening action sequence involving a bunch of criminals stealing a bank vault (and accidentally the bank itself), is the high water mark of the movie. It’s fairly interesting to watch, as far as cold opens go, and involves big practical sets the likes of which we rarely see anymore.

From here, the movie meanders along from cameo to cameo, relying not on the plight of interesting characters, but largely on the waning charm of Johnny Depp. I find it hard to separate an actor from a role when I’ve learned too much about their personal life. And since I actively try to avoid gossip and celeb news sites, if I’ve somehow still learned about something, it’s got to be bad. And that’s certainly the case here. It doesn’t help that it seems like Depp has been in every movie for the last 10 years and his shtick is tired.

That’d be ok if the other actors in the movie were compelling, and maybe they are, but the roles sure aren’t. The other male lead starts the movie with strong motivation (save my dad!), but it’s barely addressed until the final scene (and then basically to just set up another cameo).

The female lead is, at least, not a damsel in distress. She’s got her own reasons to chase the McGuffin in this movie. And while this is resolved, it’s done so quickly and sloppily, it feels hollow. As an audience you feel cheated.

The sad thing is, I could imagine a version of the script that was able to play with these plots, interweave them better, and make a much, much stronger movie. All the same pieces, mind you, done slightly differently for a greater result.

But that’s not the movie we got. It’s not “so bad it’s good,” it’s not interesting enough to be “dumb but fun.” Leaving the theater my thought was “meh”, and now, a few weeks later, I can barely remember more than 3 scenes.

The biggest problem with boring movies is it allows the mind to wander. Tell a compelling story and you can get away with anything. Star Wars is a great example. You can nit pick if you want, but while you were watching it, you were in.

With boring movies, you’re not in. You’re not involved, so anything that doesn’t quite work stands out a LOT more. Jar Jar, for example. Everyone points to Jar Jar as the problem with Episode 1, but in reality, if the movie worked Jar Jar would be a footnote like the Ewoks.

So by the end scene of this movie, I couldn’t stop questioning the reality of the created universe. Not the ghosts and pirates and magic. All that is part of the premise of the movie. No problem.

No, the main thing I remember about the movie right now, was the main climax scene. I said spoilers, right?

In the scene, magic parts open the ocean, Ten Commandments-style, and our heroes run along the seafloor to nab Poseidon’s Trimcguffin. The baddies show up, all of whom are ghosts that can walk on or through water, whatever is needed. Then, after the Trident gets used, the ghosts suddenly become mortal again. They can drown. The walls of ocean start closing, and more and more of the pirates die.

I have so many issues with this scene. First, at no point does the movie give the ghosts a chance to redeem themselves, or even stop fighting. It’s established the ghosts are pissed they’re ghosts, their vague hatred of Captain Jack their main motivator. But at one point these were men, and upon returning to their mortal form… don’t you think some of the would be like… “OMG, I’m alive again, I’m free! Screw this noise, I’m out of here!”.

But nope, that doesn’t happen. They’re still bad and we’re supposed to be happy when they die. That’s… odd. It doesn’t feel right. But whatever, that’s what the script said.

Second, and my bigger issue, is this: people float. The tension of this scene is that the encroaching water will drown those caught still on the sea floor. It’s vital for all movies to stick to the reality they create. If you want to establish that ghosts exist among pirates, sure. That’s the conceit of your movie. But if you also establish that humans float, and can swim (which is done), then you can’t expect your audience to then fear something you’ve shown they can get out of.

Because sitting there in the theater, I looked at the walls of water and just thought… swim. Walk in, float up a bit, and when you need a breath, stick your head out the water wall. Rinse, repeat. It looked like one or two breaths would do it.

But no, an elaborate action scene involving an oversized anchor and needless sacrifice is required. The script says so, so it is.

And again, if the movie was compelling, I wouldn’t have given this scene any thought. But because I was bored, this is the stuff I notice.

Anyway, yeah. This is a way to spend 2+ hours of your life, if you want. I wouldn’t.

pw's picture

It's the Film Industry not the Film Artistry .. This film will play well in China and Russia.. Just like the Transformers movies it's just an export product..

javanp's picture

Can't tell if you're talking about there being a 5th Pirates of the Caribbean movie or why there's a movie review that doesn't cover the audio/video quality of the movie on a website called "Sound & Vision."