The subtitle of the fifth—fifth!—Pirates of the Caribbean movie is Dead Men Tell No Tales and, y’know, they really shouldn’t, because they suck.
Please don’t ask me what the plot of this film is, because it’s completely nonsensical. There are several different parties trying to get their hands on a magical artifact called Poseidon’s Trident, which apparently can do whatever the plot needs for it to do at any given time. The story—sort of—centers on Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley). Henry wants the Trident to break the curse that binds his father to the Flying Dutchman in undead servitude. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) wants to find the Trident because she has a journal from her father, whom she never knew, that apparently leads the way to it—I honestly can’t remember why she wanted to find it beyond that. Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) also wants the Trident to break the curse on him, which resulted after a run-in with Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) decades ago. Now, he and his crew are ghostly wraiths intent on revenge on Sparrow. Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) also wants the Trident in order to get Salazar off his back and maintain his luxurious lifestyle. Also, the British navy, represented by David Wenham, wants the Trident so that the Brits can control the seas, but they are mostly ineffectual and redundant in this film. Jack Sparrow…really has nothing to do in this story besides being the target of all these different parties.
And that’s one of the biggest problems with this film. Who is the main character? Sparrow doesn’t drive the action at all and Turner and Smyth blend into the background about halfway through. In fact, I remember thinking in the last third of the film, “Oh, there’s Henry Turner. Isn’t he supposed to be the main character in this mess?” The film is directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg and while they do a good job with the elaborate, but absurd, action set pieces, the main problems with this film come from what laughingly passes for a script by Jeff Nathanson.
There is zero subtlety in this film. Everything that happens is completely obvious and spelled out for the audience. This extends to the characters as well. I’m sure the filmmakers think they came up with a strong female lead in Carina Smyth, because she follows science. However, all of her dialogue is essentially exposition about her father’s diary and how it will help them find the Trident and how she only believes in science even though she’s chasing after a magical artifact that supposedly belonged to a Greek god. We’ll get to the other contradictions that are littered throughout this film, but everything I described above does not make for a well-rounded character. The filmmakers needed someone to explain the plot and an obligatory love interest for the hero, so they combined those attributes into Smyth.
Another issue with the plot of this thing is that everything happens completely by coincidence. The characters conveniently wander into each other’s paths and the story goes from there. There is definitely room for coincidence and convenience in stories, but when everything hinges on it? That’s asking for too much suspension of disbelief from the audience. The filmmakers go to convenience because they can’t figure out a way for these characters to meet up organically in the story. Another convenient/arbitrary element of this film is the “big reveal” that occurs in the third act. Two characters that had no reason at all to meet are magically related to each other and that reveal throws much of the rest of the film’s narrative into question. The plot twist makes no earthly sense but to give one of the characters some actual reason for being in this film, which is lazy writing of the highest magnitude.
I mentioned the contradictions earlier and they pile up as well as the coincidences. Like I said, Smyth is adamant that she only believes in science, but she ignores the fact that she’s hunting a magical artifact and the fantastical things happening around her that science can’t explain. Also, David Wenham’s character has a hard-on for arresting and executing witches—they accuse Smyth of being one from the get-go—however, later in the film, he has no problem turning to an actual witch for help. They don’t even bat an eye as they do this and Wenham doesn’t even joke about the contradiction. It’s insulting, really.
All of this leads to the film being a complete mess. It’s really just a bunch of action set pieces strung together with a weak story. The special effects are impressive, but that’s about all I can say good about it. When nothing makes sense and the characters are either lifeless (Turner and Smyth) or caricatures of caricatures (Sparrow), the film becomes rather boring. The only actor giving it his all here is Bardem as the vengeful Salazar. In a film with a better script, he could have been a terrifying villain, but he’s hindered by the fact that there’s no rhyme or reason to how his ghostly ship and crew actually work. Like everything else in this film, it was frustrating. The two leads are simply ciphers with no real personality or character development of their own—“I’m Exposition Girl!” “And I’m Daddy Issues Lad!”—they really do blend into the background at times. Not a really great place for the two leads to be. Finally, Depp’s Jack Sparrow routine is completely played out at this point. It was refreshing in the first film, but four movies later and it’s just tired. There’s not even a character there, he’s just a gimmick now.
Overall, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is godawful. There are some inventive action sequences and some nice effects, but beyond that, there is nothing to see here. Also, I guess this is a spoiler, but I’m doing you a favor: if you’re pinning your hopes on this one because Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley have been promised, he’s in this for maybe five minutes and she has a non-speaking cameo. Literally. Do not go see this piece of crap.