In 2003, superstar producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Top Gun, Bad Boys, Armageddon) and director Gore Verbinski (Rango) unleashed Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl on unsuspecting moviegoers. What made it surprising was just how outright good it was, and not just because pirate flicks were pretty much dead following the massive flop of 1994’s Cutthroat Island; here was a film based on a forty-year old Disney theme park ride, which is about as flimsy a premise as you can get without making a movie based on a board game.
While Johnny Depp had been in the public eye since appearing for four seasons on TV’s 21 Jump Street before making a name playing tragic-quirky characters for Tim Burton (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands), it was his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow that shot him to superstardom. Affectionately based on The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Depp’s decision to play Sparrow as eyeliner-wearing, slightly drunk, perpetually bewildered, and often cowardly scoundrel earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
With inventive action, spectacular visuals, and a genuinely witty script, The Curse of the Black Pearl was a hit with audiences and critics the world over, generating enough good will to yield three sequels. Despite being of decreasing quality after the first one, the Pirates franchise went on to take in somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 billion US dollars.
Thus, a sequel was inevitable, with the fifth installment, Dead Men Tell No Tales (unnecessarily renamed to Salazar’s Revenge for us ignorant Third Worlders), in cinemas now.
Here’s what to expect:
8. It’s Here to Push Product
In a world where Cars got a sequel (with another on the way) due to its being the most-merchandised Disney film in history, Dead Men Tell No Tales is here to justify its eponymous ride’s inclusion at Shanghai Disneyland (China being the world’s largest movie-going market outside the United States may also have something to do with this).
This, ironically, is the movie we were afraid of getting when it was announced that Disney was making movies out of rides 15 years ago: a shameless, cynical cash grab, playing off a familiar name to sell tickets. While the first film was god enough to prove its naysayers wrong, the latest one doesn’t.
Of course, it could have been worse; at least we didn’t get another Country Bears (2002) or Haunted Mansion (2003).
7. The Story is Nothing New (Literally)
An uncharacteristically (for the time period) educated young lady (Kaya Scodelario, The Maze Runner) crosses paths with a wide-eyed adventurer (Brenton Thwaites, Gods of Egypt) with an undead father. Later on, a botched execution results in the duo teaming up with Sparrow on a quest for something that can undo the curse of the undead while evading the forces of the Royal Navy and Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush, Shine, The King’s Speech). While this is the plot of the fifth Pirates movie, it is also the plot of the first Pirates movie.
Take from that what you will, but if you get a feeling of “been there, done that”, at least you’ll know why.
6. The Reveals are Terrible
Sadly, the areas in which the story could potentially rise above its predecessors are precisely where it falls even flatter, such as a third act reveal of a major character’s parentage that comes out of nowhere. Thank goodness, then for the sequence that opens the film, or there’d be next to nothing to write home about. This is particularly troubling
The puzzle-solving elements involving Scodelario’s horologist could have been fun (as in the first three Indiana Jones films and the first National Treasure movie) in theory. In practice, however, they come across as derivative and uninspired, with moments of ostensible mystery and wonder rendered anything but, regardless of how much money is up on the screen.
5. It has a Needless Jack Sparrow Prequel
When Jack Sparrow was introduced to movie audiences, he was fully formed: a bold figure on the open sea, announced with full orchestral fanfare before the big reveal that his vessel was actually in the process of sinking. His subsequent verbal dispatching of two inept British soldiers sealed the deal in telling us everything we needed to know about the anachronistic pirate. Now, 14 years later, it seems some genius thought that iconic intro wasn’t enough, so this movie gives us not just the origin of his name, but the source of his captaincy, hat, belt, beaded jewelry, compass, cutlass, and shirt(?!), all in the space of roughly five minutes (he was already wearing the eyeliner). It would be laughable if it wasn’t so contrived. I just want to know how he got the nickname when Salazar (Javier Bardem, Skyfall) died (and un-died) about thirty seconds after coming up with it.
4. Paul McCartney’s Cameo
It’s only a couple of minutes long, but seeing as the marketing team saw fit to dedicate an entire poster to Paul McCartney’s character, one might be fooled into thinking the former Beatle’s presence actually means something. Now, it’s bad enough that his entire scene adds nothing to the overall plot, but the entire film grinds to a halt for no discernible reason than for people to say, “Hey, I know that guy!”
3. The Visuals are Still Spectacular
If there’s something this series is good at, it’s coming up with inventive ways to depict the undead, and the fifth go-around is no different. This time, the deceased troublemakers are variations on the first film’s moonlit ghouls, bearing the wounds of their unfortunate first encounter with Jack Sparrow. Whether they’re standing around menacingly or running across open water to reign death on unsuspecting sailors, there seem to have been no expense spared in making these damned denizens of the sea as believable as possible. Best of all: zombie sharks that double as DIY torpedoes. ‘Nuff said.
2. The Cast is Wasted
If you saw the international trailers that spoiled the “surprise” of Kiera Knightley’s participation, you’ve already seen 70% of her part. At least Orlando Bloom (The Lord of the Rings) gets about five minutes’ worth of screen time, but then, he needs all the exposure he can get these days – it’s been a while since he had a career, and Heaven knows “The Hobbit” movies certainly don’t count.
1. Johnny Depp isn’t Even Trying Anymore
Alleged backstage dramas notwithstanding, Depp adds nothing new to the role that once had him up for an Oscar. While the past decade has just seen him play one accented eccentric after another, one would have thought he’d bring his A-game to reprise his signature character. Sadly, while Depp’s delightfully deranged pirate once stood out for being entirely any buccaneer we’d seen before or since, the man’s performance here just feels like someone doing a Jack Sparrow impression.
Here’s hoping he gets his mojo back soon, because at the rate this movie is making money, Disney would be nuts not to make a sixth one.
Quality be damned.
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