To say the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise changed my life is by no means hyperbole. It was December of 2004 when I first auditioned for the series, and by March of 2005, I stepped aboard the decks of the Black Pearl and Flying Dutchman for the first time. The experience was short lived, but beyond memorable for that chapter in my life and the years beyond. And while I tried again for a role in the fourth film in 2010, it simply wasn’t meant to be. However, drinking rum on the beaches of Kauai for that particular audition week was its own reward.
Pirates of the Caribbean is a tricky series. The first film legitimized the pirate genre film to a broad audience, highlighting the comical and vaguely incoherent swagger of Captain Jack Sparrow to audiences throughout five films over the last fourteen years. I’ve loved the supernatural mythology that the world that has created, but I don’t think the stories have always translated as well as they should. I’ve often wondered if the films would hold up better if serialized into smaller chunks with less numerous plotlines (such as an animated series), and as much as I love Jack, sometimes less is more.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales attempts to return more to the roots of the first film.
Touted as the “final chapter” in the series, Dead Men Tell No Tales returns to familiar beats, namely Johnny Depp’s performance as Jack Sparrow. Depp could likely play Captain Jack in his sleep (ironic, considering how many times he does fall asleep throughout the film). The titular pirate mumbles, slurs, and swaggers his way from one event to the next, somehow wobbling between competent and inept, to moralistic and conniving as needed. Geoffrey Rush returns as Hector Barbossa, giving my favorite performance in the film due to his depth and growth as a character.
There were several other familiar faces and cameos throughout the film, providing a more than nostalgic personal reunion than I expected. One cameo was an unexpected surprise, highlighting a member from my favorite band of all time. The notable “missing” roster omissions were Pintel and Ragetti. I missed seeing Lee Arenberg and Mackenzie Crook, though the film did have very similar substitutes in roles that were clearly intended for those original pirates. Like other films of late, Dead Men Tell No Tales goes back to a number of “Best Of” moments.
Javier Bardem portrays the primary antagonist Captain Armando Salazar, another supernatural based entity with a grudge against Jack Sparrow (who clearly has spent his time pissing everyone off at sea). The ghostly effects really stood out, making him another creepy addition to the roster. The characters of Henry Turner and Carina Smyth are serviceable, but also feel like familiar replacements from the Will/Elizabeth duo. Notably, the film also pulls the “de-aging” CG effect that is seen in more and more movies of late, featuring a young Johnny Depp. While not as off-putting as Jeff Bridges was in Tron Legacy, it doesn’t seem as convincing as it should.
The film itself was another “everyone race to the big treasure” theme, which worked better in this installment than others. Again, I like the mythology to this franchise’s universe, and would still like to see that explored outside the films. The special effects were impressive and kept the story and enemies going along well, and there was surprisingly amount of sexual innuendo in the film. Enough to pass over the heads of kids, but ribald enough to get a few raised eyebrow chuckles from the audience.
In the end, film franchises usually keep their experiences contained within the theater, but this really was the final close of a particular chapter in my life. For a brief moment, I lived this one. The Pirates of the Caribbean series was one of the greatest experiences in my life that in some ways ended far too soon. And yet….
And yet, it some ways it still does, as here I am in 2017 watching yet another entry of the tales of Captain Jack Sparrow. The film give me one last fond good-bye to old friends, and see off two of the ships that I sailed upon through the imagination of cinema.
Dead Men Tell No Tales was a pleasant enough experience to fill two entertaining hours in the movie theater. It’s familiar. More than it should be at times, but manages to fall just under the original film in terms of being enjoyable. This fifth film was a good way to maintain the what goodwill the series has created, but I do think it’s time that the series is laid to rest.
There is, of course, a stinger at the end, with one more visit from another old friend….
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales
Release Date: May 26th, 2017
Written By: Jeff Nathanson
Directed By: Joachim Rønning, Espen Sandberg
Starring: Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem