Well, would you look at that? A movie with actual resolution, surely you jest?
I remember trembling in a dark theater in the summer of 2003 with my hands up covering my eyes. The sight of the skeletal monsters rampaging on a British naval vessel visible through my spread out fingers. The swashbuckling, excited tone of the original “Pirates” blended action, comedy, interesting characters, and storytelling to create a mammoth of a Disney franchise.
Four sequels and 14 years later, the franchise has really run aground, in my opinion. After sequels of declining quality and convoluted plots, the series had basically become “the Johnny Depp Drunk Slapstick Hour.”
This new entry breathes some fresh sea air into the series that it seriously needed, but I still insist that the franchise should end now. We will get to that.
First let’s talk about the good. As I alluded to in my opening, I was relieved that this film actually gave me an ending, something that Alien: Covenant failed to achieve. We got resolution. This film begins and ends its story within the admittedly long 129 minute runtime. True, it may have left room for another adventure (which has already been officially hinted at, to my chagrin), but this was a plot with a problem and solution that adds to the franchise’s mythos.
Geoffrey Rush is as fun as ever, returning as peg-legged Captain Hector Barbossa. The series veteran has the perfect balance of subtle and boisterous. Barbossa continues to be one of my favorite characters of the franchise because of how unpredictable he is.
Captain Sparrow’s crew, led by first mate Gibbs (Kevin McNally) have some chuckle-worthy dialogue. The action is well shot and choreographed, using a good mix of practical and computer generated effects. Surprisingly, the bit of digital magic used to create young Jack’s face looks pretty good considering the uproar that followed Rogue One’s two completely CG characters. The first person perspective from Jack squeaked in a smart shot of Depp’s actual hand, making the scene more immersive.
Javier Bardem gives an intense, hammy performance as new villain Captain Salazar. Bardem somehow accomplishes making the character menacing, funny, and human (at least for a little bit:). His back story gives him some depth and allows the audience to understand why he does what he does. Bardem injects life into the role with his surprisingly nonchalant tone and subtle exercises of power over both his enemies and crew.
Newcomer Kaya Scodelario is a charming, charismatic, and effectively stubborn character, which fits the bill for this series. She holds her own with the intimidating Geoffrey Rush. Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg have a great grasp of the swashbuckling tone of previous entries in the series and continue in its tradition finding the most beautiful locations to shoot. The production value in the wardrobe and ships is A+ work.
A quick side note before we get to the negatives; I always thought the British Navy in this series was as disposable as Imperial Stormtroopers or zombies in any zombie movie in seems to poke a little fun at that.
The most glaring negative in my mind is that Depp can sometimes come off as a cartoon character. He exaggerates the “Jack-isms” too much at times, leading to some scenes where he’s trying too hard to recapture the Black Pearl magic.
Other newcomer Brenton Thwaites is unconvincing in the role of Henry Turner. The Australian has some fun bits of dialogue with Scodelario, with whom he has some decent chemistry. However, his scenes with Jack contain a lot of jokey dialogue that doesn’t land and reveals his lack of comedic timing.
I am also not a huge fan of the post credits scene and the allusions to more adventures, since this movie could have been a solid sendoff for the series. We got the resolution for new and old characters that left me very satisfied, especially after seeing Alien: Covenant do the opposite. Unfortunately, Disney wants to keep the cash cow running, so they drop some hints at future films just before the credits roll.
All in all, this is a perfectly fine popcorn flick that contains some good performances and beautiful visuals that is brought down a bit by some stale performances and humor. This would have been a nice place to stop the series, but I guess Disney need more money.
I give Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales a B-.