Pirates of the Caribbean has to be one of the most unlikely franchises in movie history. It’s based on an amusement park ride, had a critically acclaimed first installment and that film made Captain Jack Sparrow as iconic a movie character that modern cinema has produced. Installments two and three, with the same writers and director, took everything that was good in the first film and completely ignored it, but both films and the fourth installment each made over a billion dollars. It’s been six years since the fourth film, Johnny Depp has a much different reputation as does Captain Jack Sparrow, but Disney plopped down $230 million to make Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (as a Disneyland fan, by far my favorite title of the series) and they’ve already made it back. It won’t reach the billion dollar heights of its predecessors, but it will probably make enough for an unnecessary sixth installment, and on we go. Is Pirates 5 any good though? Compared to some of the sequels, yes. Compared to the original, it’s as tired as Jack Sparrow looks during the 135 minute romp.
Dead Men Tell No Tales takes place roughly 20 years after the first film and five after the fourth. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were featured in the advertising, but your main characters in this film are “Pirates: The Next Generation”: Henry Turner, son of Will and Elizabeth from the first three films, and Carina Smyth, who also has a connection to one of our original favorites. Pirates 4 was a bit of a one-off and if you had no idea or connection to the series before, you could hop in and have a good time (I think On Stranger Tides is the best of the sequels). However, Pirates 5 requires you have knowledge of the first three films, as Henry Turner’s quest is to find Poseidon’s Trident, said to break any curse at sea.
Captain Jack Sparrow, as always, makes a grand entrance in his inimitable style during a bank robbery sequence that is one of the film’s highlights. He is; however, showing his age. He’s drunker than usual (I think…honestly, with Jack it’s difficult to tell), and seems tired. Honestly the whole affair feels tired, like we’re trying to make up for how bad an ending At World’s End was for the original characters. Javier Bardem’s undead crew of Spanish pirate-killers can’t lend the same sort of life to the series that Bardem brought to the Bond franchise as a villain. The film just sort of ….happens. It’s not boring, there are some nice action pieces, a few good one liners, a clever explanation to how Jack got his Pirate name, a fun cameo from Paul McCartney, but an hour after leaving the theater you’ll probably just remember zombie ghost sharks.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t awful, but I’d still rank it fourth out of the five films. No one seems to realize that it wasn’t spectacle that made Curse of the Black Pearl one of the best action/adventure films this century. It was fresh, original, unpredictable, witty, and (I never get to use this descriptor) swashbuckling. The blacksmith shop sword duel WAS a great sword duel, but it was a fantastic scene because of the dialogue and the absurdity of the choreography. That’s something that has been missing from every film since except in rare fits and starts.
The movie does have a heartwarming ending that makes you think this is absolutely the end of the series. Everyone is left in a good place and it would have done a lot to shake off the PTSD that people who made it through all of At World’s End are still shaking off a decade later. However, there’s a post-credit scene that makes it abundantly clear that they have every intention of making a sixth film, and-rather than rant about that-I’ve included it below. It’s certainly better than Alien: Covenant if you’re trying to kill two hours, but overall it’s just average summer fluff. Pass the rum.
If you didn’t stay for it, and before Disney yanks it off the net, here is kind of a dodgy view of the post credit scene that indicates we’re not done yo-hoing after all.