REVIEW – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

It’s been six years since our last outing with Captain Jack Sparrow and his lacklustre misadventure On Stranger Tides and after such a long absence, many signed the Pirates franchise to the gallows after 3 consecutive poorly received sequels. For whatever reason, Disney just haven’t been able to strike the same gold they did with The Curse of the Black Pearl and has left many fans abandoning ship on the once huge blockbuster.

14 years since the original, Dead Men Tell No Tales hopes to bring back that charm and magic the Pirates of recent failed at and promises to steady the sail and raise anchor for a brighter horizon of the IP.

For the most part it succeeds… almost.

There’s no denying, this DMTNT is much more solid and well rounded film than At World’s Ends and blows On Stranger’s Tides out of the water. A true sequel to the entire POTC series rather than a soft reboot, Disney were bold ensuring each major event of previous stories got the recognition and consequences they needed. Nothing has been slid under the carpet no matter how ridiculous it may have been. While there has been callous calls of continuity errors in the film’s plot, I do believe it’s something that could be addressed and “fixed” in future films. Personally though I don’t see these issues as big problems at all; which says a lot since I’m usually over lore errors like a pirate to treasure.

Taking place 5 years since the event of Stranger’s Tides, Dead Men uses a mix of new and old cast as a way to refresh the franchise into a new direction while still maintaining the charm of before. Newcomers Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodrlario bring a very new and interesting outlook onto the Pirates world, but ultimately lack the key chemistry with each other. While nowhere near as bad as the cliche romance subplot of the last film, our newbies feel like a discount Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly when together. It is their interactions with the older generation of the swashbuckling crew where their characters truly shine.

As for the old crew, it is great to see so many beloved favourites return and just as great as always. Regardless what you think of the previous sequels in the POTC series, it’s hard to fault the supporting cast of Mr. Gibbs, Barbosa and co. The pair along with a return to form Jack Sparrow really bring the home the humour, action and fun that Pirates of the Caribbean should always be about. Even in the fifth time of asking, it’s great to see the writers and crew know exactly how to handle these characters in the justice they should be.

It should be noted though that, probably with marketing to blame, Will Turner fans are going to be disappointed. Despite the heavy promotion that Orlando Bloom’s character has returning after a 10 year break, it is more a cameo than the starring role we were used to. His character as the new captain of the Flying Dutchman does play an important role and driving force to one of the main characters, but his inclusion almost feels like a tacked on addition just for that advertising push. The short period of time we do see him is very disconnected from the rest of the plot.

One man you can’t claim being disconnected however is the one and only Jack Sparrow. Love him or hate him, Johnny Depp’s pirate alter ego is a modern day cultural icon and the main reason many come for these adventures in the first place. With a strong cast holding up the structure of the movie this allows Sparrow to do what Sparrow does best, saunter in stealing his scenes like a gold sovereign. This is easily the best rendition of the character we have seen since our introduction to him in 2003, bringing the expected natural buffoonery while being a master tactician and genuinely fearful foe when needed. It is easy to forget that for all the funny walks and gibberish spurted in the previous sequels, Curse of the Black Pearl gave Captain Jack a dark, cunning side making him much more interesting character. One minute he was proudly commanding a sinking dingy, the next he’s stealing the fastest ship in the British navy in genius fashion. This unpredictability was the reason we all fell in love with the worst and best pirate had ever heard of. That Jack we loved is back.

Facing off against the legendary Sparrow this time is Javier Bardem’s Salazar; a villain deemed important enough to warrant the subtitle in the film’s international release. Fortunately, Salazar is everything I hoped and more and one of the strongest Pirates antagonists we’ve ever had. Spanning an interesting and rich backstory and motive, Bardem brings a unique performance that made me relish every moment he appears on screen on the hunt for his old adversary. Unlike the bland and boring Blackbeard of last time, Salazar feels like a genuine threat to our anti-heroes, with a creatively paranormal crew to rival that of Davy Jones’ fish people.

Visually is where Dead Men Tells No Tales really excels though, this movie is absolutely gorgeous and worthy of that big screen experience for this reason alone. It’s very clear to see where the giant budget these films cost has gone with massive set pieces, stunning locations and seemless use of CGI to bring a blockbuster to rival anything released by Hollywood on a regular basis with an outstanding soundtrack we have all come to expect from modern day marvel Hans Zimmer. Let me be the first to threaten with a mutiny if this doesn’t at least get a visuals nomination at the next Oscars.

Though technically a near perfect movie with a lot of detail and effort out in to the behind the scenes process, the same sadly cannot be said to the direction which I feel is where the latest Pirates ultimately falls short of tying in quality with the original.

The majority of the movie may be a fun, funny and action packed ride with fascination character new and old, the final act falls very short of the expectations the last hour and a half builds up. Perhaps it was just me, but quick cuts and a bizarre lack of lighting in the action sequences towards the end made it difficult and a chore to grasp what exactly was going on. When I’m watching a movie about sword fighting, cannons and undead pirates, I shouldn’t have to paint a strategic battlefield in my head just to know what’s going on.

I haven’t fully researched yet the production history Dead Men went through, but I can’t help but feel the film’s final act was rushed due to either deadlines or keep things under a certain budget. Though visually stunning, the grand finale lacks substance, payoff or even any real stakes in my opinion to the characters. It’s a real shame as up until the last 20 to 30 minutes I was having the best fun in the Caribbean since Aztec gold threatened the safe of Port Royal.

If you were disappointed by all the sequels in the Pirates of the Caribbean arsenal, you’re going to have fun here. For the most part this is a return to form of the first flick that reminds us why we fell in love with the franchise in the first place. Though falling short of 2003 gem, I would at the very least put this on par with the criminally underrated Dead Man’s Chest and an adventure I am glad to have watched on the big screen. Whether this sparks a new era in the Pirates franchise reminds to be seen. Personally I would be totally fine – even welcome it – if this is the final story of the Jack Sparrow and friends. I’m satisfied with how each overreaching plot arc has been wrapped up and relieved my last memory of the beloved Black Pearl won’t be trapped inside a damn bottle.

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