There was a time when a new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was a cause for excitement. That time has long since passed. “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” the fifth (and hopefully final) entry in the Johnny Depp (“Mordecai”) led franchise is quite possibly the worst one yet.
Picking up approximately five years after the forgettable “On Stranger Tides,” this new film follows Jack Sparrow as he joins forces with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites, “The Giver”) and Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario, “The Maze Runner”) to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which gives its wielder control over the seas. If this all sounds a little familiar, that’s because this is essentially the same plot that three of the other films have as well. Sword fights, chases and curses abound, but in the end it all just feels like a cheap knock-off of the earlier (and better) Pirates movies. The only things this film does well have been done better in previous films and so much of what this film does badly only takes the franchise lower than it was already.
It’s difficult to say whether or not this film is worse than the derided fourth one. Although that movie was largely meaningless in the overall trajectory of the Pirates saga, this time around the audience is constantly reminded that there are better Pirates movies out there, with the presence of Orlando Bloom (“The Lord of the Rings”) and Keira Knightley (“The Imitation Game”) continually reminding the audience that these movies were actually good once. Unfortunately their limited presence only adds to the sense that this is a ship that should’ve been docked long ago. By the end of the third film the character arcs were all played out, the ship-to-ship battles had reached their crescendo, and it was time to let Jack Sparrow sail off into the great beyond. What could’ve been remembered as a fun trilogy of action flicks has instead become one of the most continually disappointing franchises in recent memory. By this point the series has lost almost everything that once made it great. But by far the biggest sin of all is what has become of Jack Sparrow.
What more can be said about Captain Jack? What was once an iconic character has slowly become a bumbling buffoon reminiscent of Jar Jar Binks. In the first three Gore Verbinski (“A Cure for Wellness”) directed films, Sparrow was witty, charming, smart and, yes, just a little bit drunk. Now the drunkenness is all that remains. Jack Sparrow does not do a single thing that could be called even semi-heroic in the entire runtime of “Dead Men Tell No Tales.” He barely even does anything useful. If he was taken completely out of the movie and everything else was the same it would probably be a more enjoyable film. It’s truly the death knell for the franchise when, during the emotional reunion that is the climax of the film, it cuts back to Sparrow and there are audible groans from the audience. What was once the main draw has become a horrible drag on the proceedings. It’s high time for this franchise to be put into port — asking audiences to continue to sit through these things would be akin to asking pirates to wash up and brush their teeth. Enough already.