In what was intended to be a fun, easy ManDate episode, has not devolved into a mindless rambling by yours truly on the 5th installment of a film series that should have ended as a trilogy. In case the title and the accompanying photo didn’t give it away yet, I’m talking about Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. While I can honestly say that I highly enjoyed the original trilogy of the series and was, at least, entertained by the 4th film, I’m not entirely sure who asked for a 5th film and why it exists outside of money. The 3rd film, At Worlds End, wrapped up the Sparrow/Barbosa/Turner/Swan storyline and the 4th film, Stranger Tides, was pretty ill received by the critics despite making a ton of money. Seriously, I had to look up what happened in that movie because I already forgot everything that wasn’t Penelope Cruz. It was a series fatigued but here we are.
The only thing I knew going into this film was that Johnny Depp and Jeffrey Rush were reprising their roles as the drunken swashbuckler Capt. Jack Sparrow and the prototypical Captain Barbosa, respectively, and we were getting the series’ most menacing looking villain played by Javier Bardem. Press releases confirmed the return of Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightley and that this film was going to be the end of the franchise….for now. I was relatively blind to what the actual plot was but had the instinct to know that it was going to be as formulaic as the rest of the series. Each film typically opens with recapping of what stupidity Jack has been up to, we get introduction to the villain and their motives, some high seas adventuring occurs until Jack is inevitably caught by the antagonist, a climax ensues, and Jack sobers up enough to thwart the villains plans and save the day. End credits.
Reverse some of that order and I was pretty spot on in my assessment of how the film would play out. As a matter of fact, this film was pretty much a recreation of the very first Pirates film but with different lore. Taking the place of Bloom and Knightley are Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario as Henry Turner (son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Shaw) and Carina Smyth. The Turner child mimics his father’s tendency to be naive in his quest and quick to fall in love with his counterpart in Smyth, who is not too unlike Shaw in her strong-willed and cunningness. Hell, there is even an attempted public execution scene that goes horribly array for the captors, like in the first film. From there all the plot points stick like glue to the formula of the rest of the series and only deviate slightly to suffice the point of the film, which is every character is intent on finding the Trident Of Poseidon for a variety of reasons, all while the frightening Armando Salazar and his dead crew hunt down and kill Jack. There are a few surprise plot devices that, although fairly predictable, help the audience stay engaged, a Sir. Paul McCartney cameo, and there is a nice emotional, swansong-like, moment for a character that fans should appreciate.
One of the reasons I thought the first film was successful was that Jack Sparrow was not the lead of the film. He was kind of the constant nuisance that accidentally pushed the story along, either by stupidity or his personal agenda. The film was always about the supporting cast, their interactions, and development of the relationships between them. The end game almost seemed futile and there just to have a conclusion to the film. An interview with Director Joachim Ronning revealed that the intent of this film was to mirror that approach and it’s not shy in how obvious that is. Copying a previous framework for the film is a bit lazy but it paid dividends in the long run.
Ultimately Pirates Of The Caribbean 5 was like revisiting an old acquaintance after years of not seeing them. It’s fun to play the catch-up game and you feel satisfied after the meeting but know in your heart that you will probably never do this again. Dead Men Tell No Tales is another fun, and hopefully final, installment of a decent, big production, popcorn series but will likely not require many subsequent viewings outside of the children who are the target audience. With Guardians and Alien both currently out, and Wonder Woman coming this Friday, you have some options to choose from, in terms of big pictures. Pirates should be your last choice but you won’t feel too bad about yourself if you decide to see it.