“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is a movie sequel that exploits the loyalty of its fans; mindlessly splatters hundreds of millions of dollars of budget across the screen; and finally was the victim of diva controversy that robbed the Australian film industry of promotion and reward for its investment.
The “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise is like blockbuster heroin; the original film, against all odds (hell it was based on a fricken ride), became a pop cultural phenomenon. With every single film the audience and those given permission to steer the ship are relentlessly and hopelessly chasing the dragon to feel that same magic feeling. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” is an empty echo of the best elements of the series so far.
Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), now the same age as his father was before he set sail with Capt. Jack in “The Curse of the Black Pearl” has spent his youth scouring myth, legend and the Caribbean for Capt. Jack for a way to free his father from his curse aboard the Flying Dutchman. He’s working as a deckhand on a British ship that travels into the devil’s triangle and all aboard are slaughtered, except Turner. He encounters Capt. Salazar (Javier Bardem), a Spanish sailor zombie who spent his living days purging the pirate presence in the Caribbean, until he was bested by a young Jack Sparrow. Salazar leaves Turner alive to tell the tale . When he returns to land he’s branded a madman and a traitor sentenced to death, where he encounters Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) a young astronomer branded a witch. When Carina convinces Turner that she can find the location of the Trident of Poseidon, a mystical item that can break all ocean curses, they set sail with the dopey, eyeliner wearing alcoholic.
Despite the fact that the last “Pirates” was a critically lax experience - I personally enjoyed it vastly more than this film - it was a financially profitable one for all involved and kept the series and the beloved Capt. Jack alive to flail about another day. Disney admirably enlisted the directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg of “Kon-Tiki” (a fantastic 2012 nautical adventure) to break new ground with the series and they anchored to this sinking ship’s script template. The writing has a tremendous premise, but the life and laughs are as rare as an albatross.
Fast-forward to “Dead Men Tell No Tales” and again the production consumes resources and garners Australian governmental sponsorship to exist. While one can take nothing away from the ridiculously talented technicians and performers who got handily paid for their services, the spectacle of this nautical fantasy was dwarfed by the off screen spectacle.
Unfortunately for the distributors and the other creatives, Hurricane Depp wreaked havoc. Depp broke the law, bringing animals into Australia which triggered Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources resorted to the most farcical and classless threats to murder small dogs that you sat hoping that John Wick was a service one could order online to eliminate idiots with extreme head shot precision. Tabloids, morning television and U.S talk shows plastered our screens with Depp and his then wife Amber Heard (they’re now in the process of divorce). The conclusion of this delay and distraction was a video of Depp and Heard reading a script to relay the importance of Australia’s Quarantine policy. Joyce must have been watching (and one imagines - masturbating to) hostage videos from Mexican Cartels or ISIL and thought, how does a government officially degrade a law breaker and thereby the political institution. The video itself was steadily mocked by Depp’s scowling insincerity. The shame of that video in retrospect is that the feeling, the bubbling hostage like hostility actually features a concentrated dose of passion that’s completely absent in the film.
Johnny Depp’s once iconic and inspired Jack Sparrow has regressed to the tokenistic series of tics and an increasingly less convincing fake intoxication. The original “Pirates” saw Sparrow as swashbuckling and a permanently ‘fuzzy’ force of nature. The last franchise character who had the same level of immediate love was Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. In “Dead Men Tell No Tales” Jack Sparrow has gone full Jar Jar Binks. He’s a blundering dope who is not only devoid of charm but acts like a hole in the hull of a spaceship; vacuuming out the oxygen and life in every other aspect of the film.
The difference between the first, and maybe even the second movie in the series is that we were invested with the blooming love story of the smithy swordsman with Pirate’s lineage Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and the rebellious and adventurous daughter of the British interests in the Caribbean Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly). Jack stumbles in and ignites the film, the haze of booze and reflexive flailing often put Jack into a vice grip that revealed that he was a diamond on the inside. The second film in the series had balls; and the final film in the series ultimately failed, but was admirably ambitious in its failure. Gore Verbinski - a filmmaker with an eye of spectacle and texture with a penchant for 3+ hours films was just the kind of madman and Depp collaborator that knew how to balance the gaffes with the cunning.
Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario were cast because they fill the archetype hole in this vacuous machine. Geoffrey Rush does his best to elevate the film and provide a formidable counterpoint to Salazar, but you get a sense that he’s exhausted everything that he could possibly want to express with Barbossa. Bardem is an incongruous force. Imagining that Capt. Jack was the only pirate able to defeat him, in the context of the sub par street performer that Depp has mutated him into, castrates him.
The theatre where I viewed “Dead Men Tell No Tales” had the energy of a tomb, in the first thirty seconds of the film, the digital sound skipped and the crowd hooted and crowed. A technical glitch caused the loudest reaction in the entire bloated, distended, pointless and lifeless excuse for a sequel. Every film that continues to build its foundations on an actor that’s clearly become more interested in resembling ride animatronics and performing, seals its fate.
Perhaps cold, dead men and women write no reviews. Fortunately, there are survivors to herald the warning. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is shamefully unforgivable; wasting money, industry support, talent and time.
BLAKE HOWARD IS A FILM CRITIC & THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF/CO-FOUNDER OF AUSTRALIAN FILM BLOG GRAFFITI WITH PUNCTUATION . BLAKE IS THE HOST OF THE ONE HEAT MINUTE PODCAST. BLAKE IS ALSO A MEMBER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS ONLINE FILM CRITIC SOCIETY (AND A MEMBER OF THE GOVERNING COMMITTEE), IS A CO-HOST OF GAGGLE OF GEEKS ON SYDNEY'S 2SER COMMUNITY RADIO, A COLUMNIST AT THE AUSTRALIAN ONLINE INSTITUTION DARK HORIZONS AND SWAYS THE TOMATO METER WITH ROTTEN TOMATOES APPROVED REVIEWS.