I still have a little affection for the Pirates of the Caribbean series from how pleasantly surprised I was by the first movie. That, plus a general love of swashbuckling adventures, was enough to get me to go see this unnecessary seeming fifth installment of the series. It turns out there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had with these pirates, even if in the end the movie feels unsatisfying.
Dead Men Tell No Tales is something of a reset for the series after On Stranger Tides, which I haven’t yet seen. It brings back Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa, but it places equal focus on newcomers Henry and Carina. Henry is on a quest to free his father from a curse and Carina, an orphan, is searching for a connection to her family. Their separate quests have them looking for the same artifact, the Trident of Poseidon, and leads them to the same place, or more specifically the same person: Jack Sparrow. Unfortunately, Sparrow is now ship-less and crewless. He is in no shape to deal with his own problem, being chased by the ghost of the Spanish pirate hunter Armando Salazar, let alone help them with theirs. From there is moves to the standard Pirates formula of ancient sea curses, supernatural monsters and constant double crosses.
Most of the movie works, and works quite well. The new characters are charming enough and Carina at least adds something new to the series’ dynamic. As they lay out their plans and set up their double crosses it all works well. Having old guns Sparrow and Barbossa there to play against the very young newcomers is a solid dynamic. Javier Bardem’s Salazar is a lot of fun. The problem is that while it has excellent build up, nearly all of the actions scenes are a letdown, especially compared to those in the earlier movies. The two best ones are early in the movie, as Jack attempts to steal a safe from a bank and ends up stealing the whole bank, Fast 5 style and then during an attempt to stop Jack from being executed. Even that second one, though, has some disappointment. There are a few very interesting shots, but the whole thing is largely played for jokes. At no point is there anything that matches any of the first movie’s sword fights or the second or third’s ship battles.
Dead Men Tell No Tales nails the banter and feel of the series, but the whole endeavor ends up feeling rather empty. It starts with some theoretically interesting themes, like playing with the idea that Jack is washed up and Barbossa’s lack of satisfaction in his success, but those don’t really come to anything once the train starts movie. It isn’t offensively bad or anything, just somewhat unsatisfying. This is a movie that is trying to rejuvenate a dying series, but it plays more like an attempt at a greatest hits. I didn’t dislike this movie, but it really felt like the adventures of Jack Sparrow have really run their course.