It’s sad looking back on Pirates of the Caribbean after it’s embodied the Transformers movies: paying for the exact same experience four times. Mindless entertainment can be fun if it brings something different to the table, but every sequel is as bloated as a pufferfish, has more plot holes than Swiss cheese and are borderline confused on how to evolve. And just when you thought that the box office results of The Lone Ranger put an end to these high budget clones, Jerry Bruckheimer and company are back with new team directors, Joachim Ronning and Espan Sandberg (Kon-Tiki) in the crow’s nest. Meanwhile, screenwriter Ted Elliot is replaced by Jeff Nathanson (Rush Hour 2 and Catch Me if You Can) at the bow to hopefully to breathe fresh air into this one trick seahorse fatigue.
Will Turner’s son, Henry (Brenton Thwaites) wants to free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman by finding the elusive trident of Poseidon. He’ll need the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), who’ seen better days after a failed bank robbery and trading his compass in a drunken rant. This awakens a long dormant ghost known as Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem): A pirate executioner in life who was brought to an end by Sparrow many years ago. Roped along is witchcraft accused astronomer, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoldelario) and now wealthy pirate lord, Captain Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush). All of who want to benefit from locating the long lost relic
After catching up with the past four movies, I was reminded on how boring, bland and tedious the previous two adventures were. So walking out of this came as a surprise in comparison. For all the rehashing, retreading and confusing direction there’s a lot of creativity as a reward. Out of all the rogue’s gallery, Blackbeard was unfortunately the most forgettable villain. Then again everything about On Stranger Tides was forgettable. He did wielded a magic sword that controlled ropes and the undead, but he felt like Droopy Dog in personality instead of the infamous historical figure that struck terror where ever he went. Armando Salazar couldn’t be more polar opposite here. His backstory makes him severely sympathetic, but he’s quick-witted, ruthless and confident despite being a combination of Davy Jones and the Black Pearl’s skeleton crew. And that’s without mentioning his lochness monster of a ship that devours other vessels and spits out their remaining planks like bones. His zombie sharks are just as out-of-the-box when they get their own Jaws tribute even if they aren’t nearly as intimidating as the Kraken. Yet with everything going on, the main focus of finding the trident of Poseidon isn’t completely thrown overboard for another McGuffin. Little details like that can really ease the brain from trying to keep track of everyone’s own story.
The action itself is much more creative, all be it completely removed from reality. Six horses that can somehow pull a two story bank across 3 miles of dirt. And if that wasn’t illogical enough, then an acrobatic encounter with a swinging guillotine will have your head spinning out of control. But the key ingredient is fun. They’re so much fun in execution on land and sea whenever the cannons erupt and the swords get their taste of flesh. There’s all the Bruckheimer stunts that are a huge saving grace for the action and the computer animation on the high seas is just as breath taking. The 230 million dollars definitely didn’t go to waste.
That said it does have the same problems as before with way too many diversions that go nowhere or are uninteresting to invest time in. The new leads are like adding two more slices of bread on a complete sandwich. They have platonic chemistry, but they’re soon converted into Diet Orlando Bloom and Diet Keira Knightly including a forced romance. There’s a wedding that comes out of nowhere like the natives in Dead Man’s Chest, except it’s even more pointless. Worst of the bunch is a post-credit sting at the end of what is supposed to be the final treasure hunt making this battle of the aspects a perfect draw.
And then there’s Jack Sparrow. If Bugs Bunny lost his brain, then this is who he would be: A running joke with a couple of laughs but a far cry from the unpredictable swashbuckler everyone wanted to be at some point in their life. Now you’d have to have a suspension of disbelief all the way to believe he can survive this entire adventure with only a quarter of his fencing skills intact. The fact that he’s a clone of himself and the other Jack Sparrow clones like the Mad Hatter, Barnabas Collins, Tonto and Willy Wonka doesn’t savor any credibility when it comes to half his improvisation.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is far superior to the bland On Stranger Tides and the awful At World’s End, which may or may not be saying much. Yes, there’s a lot of repeat like the previous films and unimportant detours. Yes the new leads and their bland romance aren’t fit enough to take the reigns of this series. Yes, Jack Sparrow is a worn out copy of himself that needs to find new footing. And yes, it does need to be put out to pasture even with that cringe inducing post-credit scene. But at the very least, there was more creativity in the action, Havier Bardem was as an intimidating villain, the treasure hunt wasn’t nearly as hard to follow and above all there it was a fun time. Something I’ve never felt since Dead Man’s Chest. I’ve fully accepted at this point that there’s no chance of any future sequels recapturing everything that made the first film an action classic after 15 years. There are definitely smarter adventures like Treasure Planet and The Pirates: Band of Misfits. And it’s definitely time for this crew to be put out to pasture for other franchises. But it wouldn’t hurt to give this black pearl one last shot to go out on a fun note. Just be sure to anchor your brain into the abyss before sailing on this adventure.
Pros: Creative action, Havier Bardem, simple treasure hunt, mystical effects,
Cons: Post-credit sting, blander romance, unwanted diversions, over-used jokes