When the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of a Black Pearl hit theaters in 2003, it felt fresh. At the time, movies about pirates had often faltered with critics and at the box office but this one broke those trends. The Disney film achieved critical support, reaped box office rewards and even earned Johnny Depp his first Oscar nomination. It’s been nearly fifteen years since then though and although the Pirates sequels have been financially successfully, they have never reclaimed the fun and excitement that was so prominent in the original.
That being said, the series latest entry Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a step up from some of its predecessors but it still feels like a tired addition to this long-running franchise.
The focus of the story here is Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Will is now cursed to the sea and Henry pledges to help him escape his underwater torment. In order to save his father, Henry allies himself with the mischievous Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer searching for the elusive Trident of Poseidon.
By focusing on Henry’s plight at first, the story seemingly shifts away from Sparrow. Henry isn’t as unique as Sparrow but Thwaites brings a great likability and naivety into the energetic character. When he eventually meets the “legendary” Sparrow, he’s disappointed that Sparrow acts just like a drunk foolish pirate. Sparrow’s antics stand out but it’s unfortunate though that the character of the young Turner isn’t given the chance to really come to life.
When Sparrow arrives, the focus again tilts toward him and Depp continues to show off great skills as the eccentric pirate. However, his character isn’t enough to keep this franchise growing in each installment. Too often, it feels like these movies are built around his character with not enough attention to the plot itself.
Jeff Nathanson, working alongside Terry Rossio on the story, wrote the screenplay for this fifth entry. The focus on Henry starts the story out on solid footing but eventually, the plot becomes rather forgettable. Javier Bardem joins the cast as Captain Salazar – a ghost seeking revenge on Jack— and he’s a solid villain for the franchise. It’s too bad that his back story is relegated to a single flashback scene.
His story would’ve likely been a better one than the one we’re given, which oftentimes lacks focus and depth.
Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg seem able enough to carry this franchise on but they rely on too many old tricks here to make this feature stand out. It doesn’t help that many of the action scenes are a bit overwhelming and set with darker lighting, leading viewers to try to keep track of all of the disparate action.
With a running time of two hours and nine minutes, this feature doesn’t feel as long as some of its predecessors but many of its elements feel worn out and tired. With a fresh character like Henry, this feels like a wasted chance to reboot this franchise or revive it. If there’s a sixth installment, one hopes that Depp’s unique character will be matched by the material surrounding him.
Review by: John Hanlon