For over 10 years, we’ve been a passenger on the Black Pearl, following Jack Sparrow and Will Turner as they fight everything from skeletons to squid-men. Disney has established quite the franchise and has made Jack Sparrow one of the biggest pop culture icons. But drunken slurs can only make folks laugh for so long. Fans of The Curse of the Black Pearl have been growing up, while Johnny Depp has stayed in this juvenile stage. Jack Sparrow has not developed as a character at all, leaving his only gimmicks to be about rum and getting caught with his pants down (literally). Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth (and supposedly last) installment of the Pirates franchise, and it suffers from all of the same problems: tired-out characters running in circles trying to get through these convoluted plot lines that leave the audience unsatisfied.
Dead Men Tell No Tales follows Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom) son. The only way that he can break his father’s curse is to coerce Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) into helping him find Poseidon’s Trident with “a map that no one can read.” Luckily, they have Korinna (Kaya Scodelario) on their team, who is a woman of science and uses the stars to guide their way. However, their trip is disturbed by the presence of Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who is obsessed with exacting his revenge on Jack after remaining stuck in an eternal limbo.
Besides the swashbuckling scenes, people loved the unique characters that this franchise offered. But, as the series went on, they started to lose their freshness. In the first Pirates, Jack Sparrow was an alcoholic who acted stupid but still could put up a fight. In Dead Men, he’s just stupid and borderline obnoxious. The writers didn’t even try to cultivate a relationship between Henry and Sparrow despite Henry being a Will’s son. They might as well have been in different movies because they had no worthwhile dialogue between the two of them.
One of the other elements Pirates has gotten right was their use of villains. Captain Barbossa and Davy Jones were compelling adversaries because they had multiple films to develop their characters. Bardem certainly looked the part of scary pirate captain, but he had almost no substance to him. A good chunk of his screen time has him mumbling, “Sparrow” over and over again. His character had potential to be interesting, but the rushed pacing leaves him without a big punch and with a terrible ending to boot.
In fact, Dead Men’s writing suffers in almost every aspect. It feels like the writers have never seen the previous films before and erased previous continuity and mythology of the trilogy. The origin of Jack’s compass comes into play and differs dramatically from the second film, which will deeply bother true fans of the series. We’ve come so far in this universe, and it’s almost insulting that so little care is made to the lore that has been developed over the years.
Putting the lore aside, Dead Men feels like a blatant rehash. Henry Turner finds Jack Sparrow in prison to go on an adventure and battle ghoulish pirates along the way. It’s almost exhausting in how predictable it is. Directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg try to distract with a few exciting action scenes including a house being dragged by two horses and a guillotine execution gone wrong. Unfortunately, Ronning and Sandberg weren’t able to capture Gore Verbinski’s swashbuckling magic and rely heavily on CGI spectacles. That being said, the CGI is mostly well done and lets the audience indulge in the madness (there’s even a moment where Jack Sparrow literally jumps the shark).
It’s a shame that Disney won’t let this franchise sink. Soon enough, we’ll forget why we loved this series in the first place. Dead Men Tell No Tales is certainly a Pirates film at its core, but it lacks the heart that Verbinski put into the trilogy. Dead men may not tell tales, but apparently, living men don’t either.