Thursday, 25 May 2017

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales - Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean was another franchise that not many people were expecting to see succeed. Not only was The Curse of the Black Pearl based upon a theme park ride in Disney but it was, quite obviously, a pirate film, the likes of which were regarded to be box office poison following mega flops such as Roman Polanski’s Pirates and Renny Harlin’s Cutthroat Island, the latter being named as one of the biggest money losers of all time. As such, the idea of a film such as this seemed absolutely laughable, especially after Johnny Depp effectively hijacked the film with his more comical, drunken and Keith Richards-esque interpretation of the character Jack Sparrow, meant to be a supporting figure originally, which executives originally thought would sink (no pun intended) the film. How wrong they were – The Curse of the Black Pearl proved to be an excellent high flying adventure and got a great critical and box office reception. Depp was even nominated for Best Actor for his sterling performance as Jack Sparrow. The bar was set high but the back-to-back sequels, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End, killed a lot of that momentum as a result of its overcomplicated and overstuffed narrative and ridiculously long runtime, with the indulgence going up. The fourth film On Stranger Tides scaled things back a bit, as well as dropping Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but couldn’t stop the franchise fatigue.

But the Pirates keep sailing on into a brand new adventure, with the directing team of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, the duo behind another seafaring tale Kon Tiki, taking control of the ship. This time the film focuses upon Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner, grown up and trying to bring his father back from the Flying Dutchman, which he has been consigned to for eternity. His quest leads him to stumbling across Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), a ghostly pirate who was previously tricked into death by a young Jack Sparrow. Henry is recruited to find Jack and bring him to Salazar for revenge but ends up getting side-tracked by a mission with Jack to find the Trident of Poseidon, a weapon that will allow those who wield it to control it. Together with feisty young horologist Carina (Kaya Scodelario) they set out on an adventure pursued by Salazar and the ever present Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is roped into the ploy to kill Jack.

Since the second film in the series, Pirates of the Caribbean has had a reputation for being very overstuffed in their narratives. That once again is the case with Dead Men Tell No Tales as the film has a lot of baggage in it. Too many subplots and characters flood the screen – there’s the issue with Trident, Salazar’s revenge where he wants Jack dead and Jack, Henry and Carina being chased by the British Royal Navy (who end up being dropped very quickly, almost as if they were pointless or something). Though Dead Men Tell No Tales is thankfully the shortest film of the series at just 129 minutes it still suffers from being packed with far too much as much as the longer films in the series. This can be felt with a lot of the action scenes which leave a lot to be desired quite often – many of the fights are shaky and take place too much in the dark, making it hard to know what’s going on. There are some highlights, such as a bank robbery near the start of the film, but for the most part the action feels rote. Additionally, the effects are a mixed bag – there are some brilliant design choices such as the look of Salazar and his ghostly crew that feel real, but there’s also some obvious CGI, such as in an action scene featuring Jack and a guillotine and a scene with undead sharks which look absolutely dreadful and not indicative of the whopping $230 million budget that this film reportedly has.

The movie sinks further underneath the characters – the old hands feel played out and the new characters are simply not interesting. Johnny Depp started out great as Jack Sparrow in Curse of the Black Pearl as his performance was unexpected and completely enjoyable, with Sparrow essentially strutting round and being a massive troll. But after four films – and subsequent years of Depp playing similar characters, insane and annoying individuals who more often than not wore silly hats – the schtick’s wearing thin. He gets some good zingers here and there but for the most part it’s just business as usual for him. Same thing applies with Barbossa and the rest of Jack’s crew – they just sort of do the same things as before. The new characters don’t pick up the slack at all – Henry and Carina are basically even duller carbon copies of Will and Elizabeth, already weak characters themselves, doing nothing at all to stand out. Salazar is meanwhile such a generic villain with poor motivations and never really does anything of worth – the only notable thing about him seems to be that he has a Spanish accent that is ridiculously overpowering. Javier Bardem’s having a bit of fun but he can’t save this character from being very weak – which applies to quite a bit of the cast overall.

Dead Men Tell No Tales is by no means the absolute worst instalment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise but it’s far from inspired. Sometimes it shows itself to be reminiscent of the glory days of Curse of the Black Pearl but throughout most of the film it’s simply a flabby and overpacked story that’s filled with substandard action scenes and characters who are boring or completely played out. Despite the change in directors the franchise fatigue hasn’t stopped at all. If this really is the final Pirates of the Caribbean adventure as the advertising would have us believe (which I’m pretty sure will be false – At World’s End was thought to be the last film and this instalment does have a sequel hook after the credits) it’s an entrance that’s going out on a ridiculous wimper.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, story by Nathanson and Terry Rossio, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, starring Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Kevin McNally and Geoffrey Rush. A Jerry Bruckheimer Films production, a Disney film

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