Normally, I’d be a little reluctant to follow up a review of a big, Hollywood schlockbuster like Alien: Covenant with a review of an equally bloated, CGI-laden sequel like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. However, this time the budget busting prequel in question was so disappointing, that Dead Men felt positively fresh by comparison. And, considering that Dead Men is the fifth film in a franchise that is based on a fifty year-old theme park attraction at Disneyland, that’s really saying something. It’s not that Dead Men is a great film – because it’s not, in fact, structurally speaking it’s a total mess – but rather that the longevity of the Pirates franchise is proof positive that when it comes to callously milking a franchise for all that it’s worth, it’s best to stick to a formula. And, for better or worse, nobody does that better than Disney.
Now, I’ll admit straight away that I have not seen all of the Pirates films. In fact, I fell asleep twice while trying to make it through the first and arguably best of the series, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, back in 2003. But the best thing about the Pirates series is that it doesn’t really matter. Like a long-running TV series that you can follow or unfollow for years on end and always catch up with in a matter of minutes, the Pirates franchise is the epitome of comfort food cinema. The movies don’t have to be good or make sense anymore, all they need to succeed are a few spectacular action sequences at sea, a creepy, crawly villain or two and Johnny Depp hamming it up as Captain Jack Sparrow and they’re golden. Hell, I don’t even know what’s happening half the time or who wronged who, but the true joy of the Pirates films is that none of that matters. Boom, slice, hic, pass the popcorn!
That said, the gloriously garbled plot of this latest installment has Sparrow facing off with a ghostly, half-decomposed Captain Salazar (played to scenery chomping perfection by Oscar-winner Javier Bardem) and the undead crew of his ghost ship the Silent Mary. Seeking vengeance against Sparrow for dooming him and his entire crew to the purgatory of the Devil’s Triangle years earlier, Salazar manages to break the curse against him and align himself with Sparrow’s longtime frenemy Captain Barbosa (the equally game Geoffrey Rush) to find Sparrow. This being a Pirates film, there’s also way too much other stuff going on, including some McGuffin-y business about a mythical Trident of Poseidon, but when push comes to shove on the gangplank and beyond, all that really matters is that Sparrow and his cohorts live to see another adventure. Wait, actually, that’s not even true anymore. So many of the characters in the franchise have died and returned from the dead over the years, who says Sparrow couldn’t do the same some time?
Featuring fine supporting turns from newcomers Brenton Thwaites (Maleficent, Gods of Egypt) and Kaya Scodelario (The Maze Runner series) as next-gen pirates Henry Turner and Carina Smyth, the film was co-directed by Norwegian helmers Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg and written by Catch Me If You Can’s Jeff Nathanson from a story by Nathanson and longtime Pirates scribe Terry Rossio. But again, the real star here is the action, Depp’s goofy humor, and the stunningly-beautiful digital effects. Seriously, dead pirates never looked so dazzling!
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is now playing on select British Airways, Delta, JetBlue, American, Emirates, Qatar Airways, United, and All Nippon Airways flights worldwide.