Review: 'Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales' Is A Ship Ready To Be Retired

The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has always been a complete mystery to me. I've never understood why anybody cares about it, why each movie makes so much money, and why nobody can ever explain to me what the heck is going on in each movie. The reason for pretty much all of it is Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. His crazily outlandish mascara-wearing performance as Sparrow clicked with audiences like nothing else the actor had done and has done since. He brought personality to a Disney franchise designed to get more butts on the (lousy) theme park ride that shares its name, and that was enough to make this the king of the summer blockbusters more often than not.

But now we're at the fifth movie with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Zzzzzzz....sorry, even the title is overlong and dull. The magic, which I think never existed in the first place, has definitely been sunk to Davy Jones' Locker by now. For four movies 'Pirates' has basically been Jack Sparrow groggily tripping his way in and out of ill-defined trouble that can all be solved by finding one oceanic McGuffin or another. Whenever the plot stalls, create some new all-powerful object that will solve everything! Well, this movie doesn't deviate from that stale formula one iota.

There's an attempt at least to recapture some of the old "magic", the back-and-forth will-they-or-won't-they banter between Orlando Bloom's Will Turner and Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Swann. But it doesn't quite work as well with new additions Kaya Scodelario as Carina, a brilliant astrologer whose smarts get her labeled as a witch; and the always-dull Brenton Thwaites as Henry Turner, the son of Will and Elizabeth. Will wants to break the curse that has banished his father and turned him into a walking barnacle, while Carina...I'm not sure what she's hanging around for. Something about a Trident that has all of the power of the seas. Not sure why she wants it, but she wants it. And soon, so do others. Hot on their trail is Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), yet another in a long line of foes seeking revenge on Sparrow for something that happened years earlier. Oh wait, THAT is the plot of all of these movies. In this case, Salazar has been cursed to roam the seas as a ghostly spirit of vengeance, with a crew of undead soldiers by his side. Haven't we seen that before, too?

Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg try their hand at swashbuckling spectacle and the results are pretty underwhelming. Even the opening sequence, a tired, clumsy extended circus in which Sparrow tries to get away with a giant bank vault, fails to cause even a ripple of excitement. And surprisingly they don't do much that's novel with the naval battles, either, considering their sea-faring experience on breakout Oscar nominee, Kon-Tiki. You've seen one cannonball rip through a ship's hull you've seen a thousand, although Salazar's odd transforming death ship is momentarily shocking.

Depp's Sparrow has long since overstayed his welcome, and the troubled actor is clearly phoning this one in. Sparrow's weirdly effeminate mannerisms are more deliberate and telegraphed than ever, which aren't helped by a lousy script that gives him little to joke about. Sparrow walks a delicate character balance. Is he sly like a fox or a damned fool? Well, the answer is indisputable this time. He's a moron, or at least he's written like someone who shouldn't have a ship, crew, or a plank to walk. He needs a good straight-man foil to contend with and Thwaites is theoretically that guy, but he's so bland nothing can really be said about him. Scodelario's trademark feistiness (best seen in Wuthering Heights and The Maze Runner) is sunk by unclear motivations and lousy writing. The one character who comes off really well here is Geoffrey Rush's Captain Barbossa, as the villain-turned-antihero gets more than a few moments to shine. The revelation accompanying it is fool's gold but Rush, a consummate veteran, at least pretends every line is a treasure.

An impressive flashback involving a young Sparrow should serve as a guidepost to where this franchise should go, if by some chance it takes the seas one more time.
There's always the chance Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales racks up a booty full of treasure this summer season, but even if it does this is a franchise that has long since run aground. Time to drop anchor and retire this ship once and for all.

Rating: 2 out of 5