Movie critics could most likely that Walt Disney Pictures in 2003 near singlehandedly revitalized the floundering pirate film genre by releasing the summer blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”. It was quite mind-blowing then to imagine this as the beginning of an eventual billion-dollar multimedia franchise when it was all adapted from a Disneyland “dark” indoor amusement ride. Its popularity could also be rooted in the unique acting of Johnny Depp as the pirate captain Jack Sparrow, originally intended as the supporting mentor character to Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner, only to become the main star of the franchise itself.
The first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies formed a solid enough trilogy that would be a self-contained story saga in themselves, but Disney decided to persist with the franchise and produced a fourth, and now a fifth film. “Dead Men tell No Tales”, known internationally as “Salazar’s Revenge”, makes as if to follow hanging plot threads from its immediate predecessor from “On Stranger Tides” back in 2011. Note that the first trilogy ended in 2007, so a whole decade has passed in real time while 18 years went by in the universe of the movies, and this is reflected in Jack Sparrow’s situation when we see him in the film.
While previous films show the constantly staggering and slurring Jack to still be sharp as a tack and an efficient combatant when pushed, “Dead Men Tell No Tales” sees him to be clearly past his prime, an ineffectual joker whom the government in the Caribbean no longer takes seriously. His prized ship the “Black Pearl” is still shrunken in a bottle, his proxy ship is in dry dock and his crewmen have zero respect for him. It’s no wonder then, when a bank heist goes awry, a near-penniless Jack barters his magical compass for rum.
But doing so has serious repercussions. This “betrayal” of the compass unleashes Jack’s worst fear. Years ago a young pirate Jack faced off against a Spanish naval captain and pirate hunter named Armando Salazar (Javier Bardem). With his quick thinking, young Jack tricks Salazar into sailing his ship the “Silent Mary” into a rock formation called the Devil’s Triangle, which sinks them and curses the crew with un-death, preying on any other vessel that wonders inside the triangle.
One such victim is a Royal Navy ship containing Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Sawn from the first “Pirates” trilogy. He himself is on a personal mission: to find a magical relic, the Trident of Poseidon that will enable him to break the curse that keeps his father Will bound as captain of the “Flying Dutchman”. Salazar makes Henry look for Jack as a warning that he will soon come after him for vengeance (which he does after Jack’s loss of his compass set him and his crew free from the Devil’s Triangle).
Henry finds Jack as he’s to be executed for piracy, rescuing him along with a woman about to be hanged as a witch at the same time. Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoledario) is a self-taught astronomer whose knowledge of the stars marks her for witchcraft. She’s also looking for the Trident in order to vindicate the book of astronomical calculations she believes was left to her by her father. The freed Salazar meanwhile learns of the Trident and desires its power to kill all the pirates of the world, and he brutally coerces Jack Sparrow’s rival/ally Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) to help him find both Jack and the Trident.
If the movie’s plot has already lost you, then you and I are on the same boat, or page as it were. The storyline of “Dead Men Tell No Tales” has the same slapdash writing quality as the third “Pirates” film “At World’s End”. About the only clear thing is that the fifth film seems to be following the beats of “Curse of the Black pearl”. Henry and Carina are near dead-ringers for Will and Elizabeth of old. Salazar, his ship and crew take the place of Barbossa as the original bad guy. The surprising reveal of a character’s true parentage – Carina’s – is the same as Will’s and his dad (seen in the second and third films). One can surmise that Disney’s “Pirates” film team is running out of fresh ideas.
About the only saving grace for this installment is the tackling of the old concepts from different angles. And the comedic elements are still true to form, if getting a tad tired. Speaking of tired, the decay of Jack Sparrow’s awesomeness seems to reflect his actor’s own decline in real life. Promotional items describe “Dead Men Tell No Tales” as the “final adventure”. Perhaps for the franchise’s sake, it would be best not to count on a sixth movie, or at least get a new creative team for it. The film’s still enjoyable and will earn lots, but the idea is so paint-by-numbers at this point.
Photo courtesy of DailyBruin