All the way back in 2003, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise kicked off with a bang, bringing with it plenty of exciting action, thrills, drama, and romance. It sparked several possibilities as to where such a series could go, and while popular opinion likes to say that the second and third films (“Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”) were not quite as good, in this critic’s humble opinion, they were even better than the original. Then came the fourth entry, “On Stranger Tides,” in which things started to go downhill at an alarming rate. It wasn’t particularly terrible, but it was very much on the dull side for an action/adventure flick. Was the franchise already out of ideas, or was this just an unfortunate case of an idea that didn’t pan out as well as the filmmakers had hoped? To answer that question we now have a fifth entry, “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” which will tell us if the fourth entry was just a fluke or if there really are no tales left to tell.
As the film opens, young Henry Turner sets out to locate his father, William Turner (Orlando Bloom), who has captained the Flying Dutchman for the last several years. He finds him and promises that he will find a way to break the curse with the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Years later, we find Jack and what’s left of his crew trying to pull off a bank heist, only to end up empty-handed. After Jack’s crew abandons him, he is caught and sentenced to death, along with a young woman, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), an astronomer who is accused of being a witch. With a little help from Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and Jack’s crew, everyone escapes and sets sail on a new voyage to find the legendary Trident of Poseidon, an object that can break any curse, including the one that plagues Henry’s father and another that fell upon a crew led by Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem), who wants revenge upon Jack for trapping him in the Devil’s Triangle many years ago. The race is on to recover the Trident, for whoever controls it controls the sea.
“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” is what you get when you put together a franchise film on an assembly line, using whatever standard pieces happen to be lying around. This is a cookie-cutter film where it’s painfully obvious that not one iota of original thought went into its production, which is quite unusual given that there was a lengthy six-year hiatus between this and the previous entry, so you would think that the writer (Jeff Nathanson, writer of “Catch Me If You Can”) could come up with something fresh and exciting to wipe everyone’s mind clear of the previous installment. Instead, he delivers a tale that is even more banal, forgettable, uneventful, and tedious than its predecessor.
In fact, to say that it’s “forgettable” is something of an understatement. Thinking back over the two hours spent watching this latest entry, it’s difficult to remember any specific details about the characters or their adventure. Usually there are at least one or two stand-out action scenes that provide the film with some excitement, but as far as that element goes this time around, we get lazy scenes that include dragging a bank/vault through the streets, a typical “escape from the gallows,” and a bloated climax that goes on for far too long. Even for the naysayers of the second and third films, I don’t think they’d be able to deny that they had their fair share of fun and exciting scenes.
Speaking of staples of the series, even Johnny Depp appears to be giving a sloppy and phoned-in performance at this point. The charisma that flowed from his character in those early entries just isn’t there anymore, perhaps because even he realized that this latest entry had no spark to it, no means to bring the series back to its glory days. Not even the great Javier Bardem was enough to bring any kind of life to the film, though it certainly didn’t help that his character was stuck on that oh-so-familiar lust for revenge, pretty much damning him to be a one-note villain from the start. This is not even to mention that Nathanson felt the bizarre need to rehash the idea of having a cursed crew come after Jack. Again, surely there was something a little more original that he could do to bring some freshness where some was sorely needed.
Going back to the question of the fourth entry being a possible fluke, it seems quite clear that that wasn’t the case. “Dead Men Tell No Tales” makes it quite evident that the franchise has run out of ideas and that it’s time to finally put it to rest. What’s rather bothersome is that we are inevitably left with a post-credits scene that indicates that there will be another film, one that will rehash an old character in the series’ continued indifference to originality. If it should happen, we can only hope that they can at least find a writer willing to go in new and interesting directions, instead of looking backwards and doing what’s already been done. However, most importantly, they need to be able to breathe some excitement back into the franchise. This was a great series once, filled with wonderful excitement and wondrous adventure. With the right talent involved, it could be again one day. 1.5/4 stars.