“The dead have taken command of the sea. They’re searching for Sparrow!”
Some things just won’t go away. A lifetime and billions in box office earnings later, it should surprise no one that Disney is back with yet another addition to the world of Jack Sparrow and co., this time with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Five films and fourteen years later, however, this ship has rapidly sunk in quality, ultimately making for one empty spectacle after another. After such a dragged out continuation, after all, this exhausted franchise carries quite a lot of baggage as it attempts to tell another story all this time later; so much has happened to the beloved central characters, and yet, none of them are nearly as interesting or exciting as Disney seems to think.
Perhaps appropriately, then, Dead Men Tell No Tales mirrors the occasionally entertaining yet tired antics of the hot drunken mess that is its protagonist, Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp, or is it the other way around?), who is again up to no good. You see, Jack is the sloppy glue that holds this overstuffed mess together, and yet he’s somehow also the dullest, most annoying part of it all. The cracks in his rusty exterior are obvious and run deep, his sarcastic, sexist humor is dated, and simply put, he’s just no longer fun to be around. Like the franchise he’s led to great financial success, Jack’s age is showing, and it ain’t pretty.
To attempt to breathe new life into the story, the film begins with a prologue, introducing a new hero in the form of a young boy named Henry, whose main objective is to lift a dreadful curse inflicted upon his dad, Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Doomed to the greatest depths of the dark sea, Will’s only hope for the surface is his son, who naturally takes after his sense of adventure. Fast forward nine years later, a grown up Henry (Brenton Thwaites, charming enough) is only more determined than ever to come to his father’s rescue; he concludes that the only way to save his father from the curse is to procure Poseidon’s trident, and of course, who better to guide him towards such a goal than his father’s good ol’ pal, Jack Sparrow himself?
But no, before the wheel is truly set into motion, Henry comes upon Carina (Kaya Scoledario, rather captivating and easily one of the best parts of this 150-minute slog), a young, ass-kicking astronomer who is forced to endure an overabundance of mansplaining from the almost exclusively-male cast of characters. Like Henry, Carina has her own personal reasons for going after the trident, and as literally the only one with any sense aboard Jack’s ship, she is essential to the crew. Despite her intelligence and obvious capability of looking after herself, the men laugh at her, call her a witch (only the tip of the iceberg), undermine her, underestimate her, and of course, objectify her (including creepy old Jack himself). Just another day in the life, it seems.
What a wasted opportunity it is, because in Carina lies a promising foundation for an empowered female character to truly shine, especially considering the fact that aside from another character who is a literal witch, she’s the only female in this dumb testosterone fest. When Jack and the gang do come across other minor female characters, they are nothing more than the butt of one unfunny joke after another.
Oh, and then there’s also the villainous Captain Salvador (the great Javier Bardem, who has been done so dirty here), who seeks revenge upon Jack for being at fault for his unfortunate ghost zombie state. Bardem, almost unrecognizable underneath CGI flecks of rotted skin, serves as another dead-on example of Hollywood’s tendency to physically alter actors of color when featured in blockbusters, all while the white leads are almost always kept fully intact. (See Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar, X-Men: Apocalypse, Warcraft, Lupita Nyong’o in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, so on and so forth.) He adds a much-needed edge to the chaos, but there’s only so much this Oscar winner can do with such a limp script.
Despite packing all the familiar ingredients that initially made the franchise so beloved and popular — fun action scenes, childish humor, and a predictable, contrived romance — the spark has dimmed to nothing, deeming Dead Men Tell No Tales an unnecessary addition to this sad, old ship. It may be a bit shorter in length than its predecessors, but oof, this film is a chore and a half nonetheless. Seasickness abound, mateys. Consider yourselves warned.